You, Me and Pete Seeger

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A lot has been written and reported about the life of American folk musician Pete Seeger, who died last week at the age of 94. Like most 50-somethings, I knew little of the man beyond “If I Had a Hammer,” made popular in the early-60s by Peter, Paul and Mary.

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I happened to see a tribute on CBS Sunday Morning from Bill Flanagan at VH1. What got me to thinking was this passage in his essay:

I knew that Seeger had been outraged when Bob Dylan went electric at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival — one of the greatest moments in the history of rock ‘n’ roll. I did not understand then what Pete understood immediately: that when rock and roll took the youth audience away from the old folkies, it was also creating a hierarchy where the performers were going to be up there, as stars, and the people were going to be down below, as spectators. Pete wanted everyone to be equal.

This idea of equality was perhaps the essence of Pete Seeger. He wanted us all to sing along, to be a part of the song.

So how does any of this relate to our businesses?

• I think there’s a profound parallel between the singer and the business owner.

• I believe Seeger’s simple and enduring songs are very much like an organic mission statement.

• I’m convinced that Seeger’s sense of equality between the singer, the song and the audience, is the model that highly successful business leaders naturally adopt in establishing a sustainable corporate culture.

This is the foundation of “The Human Company” that I wrote about last month. It begins with a sense of true mission. It’s allowed to flourish through dedicated servant-leadership. It’s manifested every day in the attitudes and work ethic of “everyday people” who feel connected to the common cause.

At SHIFT, we look for these kinds of businesses. Companies with new stories to tell, day by day, week after week. More important than all our digital ingenuity is this sense of mission we feel about telling the human stories that make your business what it is.

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