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When the boss sits down with the intern, both of them get better at their job.


One of the things that struck me in Holland was an air of mutual respect. I was impressed by the fact that the newest junior recruit at one of the companies I visited dined at the same table as the Managing Director, and that the same courtesy was accorded to a young, nervous attendee at the conference as was to a genuine VIP guest from America.

Of course, this may have just been a bit of a show just for the day, but it did get me thinking about hierarchy in an interesting way. While it’s important for any business — including little independent record labels… or even bands and their managers — to have a sense of who’s in charge of what, creative businesses work best with a flattened structure.

I think about it this way: who ever got into an independent record label, promotions company or venue to get rich? Well then, there has to be some other motivation. It seems to be that love of the music in question seems to be one of those possible motivations. Even stronger is the desire to contribute to that process in some way.

But seniority is not a pre-requisite for creativity. The newest, freshest ideas often seem to come from the newest, freshest people.

If my students ever figured out that I learned more from them than they learn from me, they’d want to stand up the front of the room and have me sit down the back taking notes.

But that’s not to minimise the importance of experience. An understanding of the context and the complexities of the real world of music business needs to be applied to any radical, new, creative suggestion in order to refine it and make it realistic. But you need the permission to have those ideas emerge and be worked upon.

There are good reasons for hierarchies of responsibility. The buck has to stop somewhere. There are good reasons for hierarchies of experience and even seniority. But I can think of no good reason for imposing a pecking order on new and innovative ideas — and nor should the boss be afraid to have stupid ideas.

And yeah… this is sounding like management-speak and it’s just not that sort of blog. But I was so impressed at the enthusiasm and contribution of the young staff at the organisation I visited, and the attention and interest paid by people in positions which in many other companies would make them entirely inaccessible.

And I thought that was kind of cool. Do with that as you wish.

So… this may not be relevant to you as a direct comparison, but every transaction in business has some sort of implicit power relationship. Think about who’s in charge, and whether things might be improved by sidestepping that power relationship.