Young, Scrappy and Hungry
Just go with me on this…’Musical Theater’ has always meant something special to me. As a child of the 1970s, my parent’s albums included many musical soundtracks. I grew up a strange boy knowing every note and lyric to A Chorus Line, Cabaret, Annie, Funny Girl, Guys and Dolls, Jesus Christ Superstar, the list goes on. I’d eventually find my own way to Billy Joel and Bruce Springsteen, but for a good long stretch I basically had Sinatra, Streisand and a long list of musical theater albums running around my adolescent brain.
Despite my musical theater upbringing, growing up I was far more drawn to the dramatic works being staged by the fearless folks at Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theater. In high school, I got lucky and acted in a number of really great stage productions both in and out of school. For college, I went down to Illinois State University (where the Steppenwolf Founders had gone) and, for a time, seriously contemplated making a run at life as an actor. In the end, I didn’t want it nearly enough. I went “the safe route” and left my acting dreams behind by earning the kind of college degree that would help me avoid starvation after graduation.
Why all this theater talk from a CMO? Two reasons:
- I can’t emphasize enough just how much my theater background has informed my marketing work throughout my career. And it’s not just the “creative” thing, though I suppose there’s some connection to right brain vs. left brain thinking. What it is, is everything. It’s the ability to communicate; to know how to talk to a large group of people and be heard; to inspire when inspiration is required; to get honest with people; to get personal. Theater taught me to write. It taught me to collaborate. It taught me the value of storytelling long before I learned it from Bruce Springsteen, err, I mean my university professors. It taught me the value of specificity. It taught me a lot of things I use every day in my role as CMO. So while I never made it to Broadway, that piece of me that loved my time as a thespian is constantly satiated by my marketing career and for that, I’m incredibly grateful.
- As a marketer, I’m routinely looking for and learning from the “disruptors.” And just so we’re clear, the disruptors are those businesses that come along and change the category, sometimes when you didn’t even know there was a category to be changed. I’m talking Starbucks, Amazon, Uber, Tesla, etc. There are critical business lessons to be learned from these stories of disruption, and you’ve got to keep your eyes open or you will be replaced. It reminds me of a story I heard about Pete Townshend calling up Bruce Springsteen and asking him to go out to a small club to check out this young band on the rise called U2. Bruce noted that Pete was always on the lookout for those about to “unseat” us. Pretty smart if you ask me.
What I’m getting at is that I’ve come across a disruptor that I believe demands your attention. And crazy enough, it’s the new musical, Hamilton. If you’ve seen it, or heard the entire album, you already know. If not, or if you’ve only vaguely heard of it or caught a glimpse of it at the Grammy’s, you might think you know. But you don’t.
Hamilton is a game changer, a disruptor if ever there was one. It’s not just the best “musical theater” album in years, it may be the best rap album in years as well (apologies to Kanye and Kendrick). It’s complicated. It’s smart. It’s funny. It romantic. It’s sad. It’s a history lesson. It’s --- a musical. The show plays with diversity and convention so effortlessly that the fact that George Washington and Thomas Jefferson are African American, and Alexander Hamilton is Puerto Rican, is so totally irrelevant and inconsequential to what’s happening. It’s a revelation.
If you’re a marketer or business leader in need of some creative inspiration, do yourself a favor. Buy the Hamilton soundtrack, put on your headphones, and take a listen to what disruption sounds like. Broadway will never be the same.
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