Rock Opera and Trust

Kevin Grossman at Glowan Consulting Group is hosting this week’s Carnival of HR and has declared it a “rock and roll” carnival. This theme opened the door for me to write this post, which admittedly, I was having a hard time reconciling with The People Equation’s theme of workplace dynamics. Now it fits perfectly. Thanks, Kevin!

What a Rock Guitarist with a PhD Teaches Us About Collaboration 

In August, I listened to a Fresh Air broadcast in which host Terri Gross interviewed Brian May, former guitarist with the rock band Queen.  May is now an astrophysicist with a Ph.D., having left his rock guitarist days behind him. He was on Fresh Air to talk about his research on space dust (wow, the guy is smart) and to promote his book A Village Lost and Found.

From a human resources and career perspective, I was certainly taken with May’s transformation from rock guitarist to astrophysicist— talk about rebranding yourself! But what really stood out in this interview for me was a section during the interview in which Ms. Gross returned to May’s time with Queen. She asked about their rock-opera styled song Bohemian Rhapsody, one of Queen’s enduring hits.

At this point in the interview, Gross asked May about the lyrics.

Gross: “So, can you tell me the lyrics ‘scaramoush, scaramoush, can you do the fandango?’ means?”

May’s reply is surprising. “No, I really can’t.”

Gross: “Why not?”

May: “Because I don’t know what the lyrics mean. You’d have to ask Freddie [Mercury, Queen’s lead singer and author of the song] what they mean.”

Gross: (sounding incredulous) “So, you mean, you were singing lyrics that you didn’t know the meaning to?”

May: “Yes.”

Their conversation then proceeded to explore the dynamics of the band’s collaborative process.  May recalled that in the early days of the band, they didn’t really question each others judgment on the song-writing process. “We just trusted that the writer knew what he was trying to convey and we went along with it.” For Bohemian Rhapsody, May said, Freddie Mercury had an overall vision of what he was trying to accomplish. According to May, Mercury explained his vision for Bohemian Rhapsody to his fellow band members and helped them figure out the proper emotion underlying the lyrics. Then the band got to work on creating the music.  No second-guessing, just the creation of a catchy (albeit odd) tune.

Here’s what struck me: the level of trust required for this type of process to work is astonishing.  If you are familiar with Bohemian Rhapsody, you know it defies classification. The song’s “sound” was a blend of rock and opera, which at the time was very unusual. Add to that the fact that some of the lyrics made no obvious sense.  It required a leap of faith on May’s part to engage fully in the recording process. According to May, he did so without trepidation.

This interview prompted me to reflect on how trust impacts a team’s ability to make progress. Admittedly, it’s is a stretch to compare the dynamics of Queen’s creative process to a workplace collaboration scenario.  There is a connection and it’s this: both scenarios require the element of trust in order to produce a quality product.

 The interview left me wondering how people in a workplace setting would react to May’s total trust in his band mate’s vision.

 If you are a member of a work team, in what ways does trust shape how your team gets things done?  Is the trust level high enough that if your team leader said, “Follow my lead, I know what I’m doing” you’d be willing to take that leap of faith?

 Would you be willing to sing a song without knowing what the lyrics meant?

Postscript: Want a good laugh? Watch the Muppets sing Bohemian Rhapsody (which was approved by Queen’s estate) on You Tube.

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