“When there’s no future, how can there be sin?
We’re the flowers in the dustbin.
We’re the poison in your human machine.
We’re the future. Your future.”
-Sex Pistols, God Save the Queen.
On the surface, entrepreneurship might seem like it has little in common with the ideologies behind such iconic punk hits as God Save the Queen. Dig deeper, however, and you’re bound to discover that the two are more alike than you think.
Punk rock was founded during the 1970s in a climate of disillusion. First appearing in New York and London before spreading around the world, few art forms have experienced such a dramatic arrival into mainstream culture, nor as quick a departure from it as occurred just a decade later.
When you refuse to play it safe, when you are driven by passion paired and a cause rather than a bottom line, such wild fluctuation is just about expected. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
Let’s take a look at some of the things punk rock got both right and wrong during the era it came to define, and what the likes of Rotten, Ramone, and Strummer can teach modern day entrepreneurs.
“First thing you learn is that you gotta make it
in this world alone.”
-Rancid, Time Bomb.
The DIY ethos is the cornerstone of punk. They were bootstrappers who, even though they came from a low economic class, chose to produce their own music rather than submit to a label or any other organisation that played a part in the systems they were fighting against.
When they needed labels, they created their own, but they never let anyone else dictate what they did, and how they did it. In fact, some barely knew how to play their instruments, but they didn’t let that stop them.
We’ve talked about our problems with venture capital before; about how purpose can be perverted when others try to define it for you. If purpose matters for you, then hunker down and get the work done that will allow your purpose to be realised, no matter what anyone tries to tell you.
Speaking of which…
“This is just a punk rock song
written for the people who can see something’s wrong.
Like ants in a colony we do our share
but there’s so many other fuckin’ insects out there.
And this is just a punk rock song
(like workers in a factory we do our share
but there’s so many other fuckin’ robots out there).
-Bad Religion, Punk Rock Song.
No organisation or group has ever been able to activate their niche in the same way punk can.
Why? It comes down to honesty, or what naysayers preferred to think of as controversy. Punk rock is not about attraction. It’s about repulsion.
The same should go for your company. Properly defined culture and branding should tell people whether your business is one they don’t want to work with just as often, if not more so, as it makes them feel they should work with you, so that nobody’s time is wasted.
Don’t let a fear of losing clientele stop you from doing what’s right. Entrepreneurial activism is on the rise, and now more than ever, a definitive reputation matters.
“You’ve gotta pay your dues before you pay the rent.”
-Pavement, Range Life.
“Hold up,” music fans are saying. “Pavement aren’t a punk band.”
That’s true, but as an underground, independent band that shrugged off tradition, Pavement have a lot in common with the punk scene. The main difference – besides the sound, of course – is highlighted in the lyric above.
The first decade of punk was driven by ego. To audiences, it was part of the charm, yet it was doing significant harm behind the scenes. For instance, The Clash got into fights with more established bands like The Damned and The Stranglers because they thought they were better.
Entrepreneurs are born to make a difference, but in the rush to become a leader, we often forget a crucial fragment of the formula: learning to follow.
Ideas are important. Having a plan to implement them, based on experience and understanding, are even more important.
For every one Clash, there are a dozen forgotten bands that decided they didn’t need anything more than an idea to be successful.
Pay your dues. Do the work. Understand your limitations, then conquer them.
“We need a change, and we need it fast,
before rock’s just part of the past.”
-The Ramones, Do You Remember Rock’N’Roll Radio?
Adapt, or die.
By the early 1980s, the second wave of punk came up against new opposition in the form of hardcore. Rather than creating songs that set the two genres apart, punk and hardcore went to war, and punk lost. Few bands survived the transition, and even fewer managed to hold onto their roots as increased competition for audience forced changes in approach.
Entrepreneurs that take a stubborn approach to their business are likely to face the same results when faced with challenges they could not have predicted.
As the Facebook employee guidebook states, “If we don’t create the thing that kills Facebook, someone else will”.
If you are willing to not just accept change, but to pursue it, you are ensuring for your company the future classic punk never had.
Entrepreneurs are the punk rockers of business. We disrupt, loudly, and without warning. We are driven by passion…and a little bit of ego. And if we don’t heed both the successes and failures of the punk phenomenon, we are missing out on some very important lessons.
Hey, ho, let’s go!