David Lee Roth, the legendary lead singer for the band Van Halen, was the poster child for 1980s excess.
He was chastised in the news media for demanding only non-brown M&M’s in his dressing room, the obvious sign of a narcissistic diva. While his ego may have been the size of the stadiums he rocked, the M&M’s rule had nothing do to with self-aggrandizement. It was a business smoke detector.
Deep in the 100-plus page contracts, Roth included the clause about no brown M&M’s as a quick detection mechanism to monitor the attention to detail of venue organizers. If he walked into his dressing room and saw a bowl of M&M’s that didn’t include brown, he knew the venue staff read the contract carefully and that the lighting, sound, video and staging requirements were probably in good shape, too.
On the other hand, a bowl of mixed colors that included brown immediately alerted him that details were missed and gave him a warning signal that other, more important things were probably also askew. When this occurred, he knew he had to double-check everything — from the wattage of the amps to the specifications of cable placement.
Early detection of problems allows for much less expensive, painful and invasive solutions. This applies to fires, disease, relationships and business.
In my experience building ePrize, I didn’t see the warning signs early enough at one point in our evolution. A problem that could have been easily extinguished grew into a much more difficult and widespread challenge.
We ultimately solved the issue, but it took a much heavier toll than was necessary. Since then, I’ve been a fan of building and monitoring “smoke detectors” in business and life.
Take a look at your organization and explore what leading indicators may signal smoke.
For example, if the number of pending proposals to new clients begins to drop, your sales will likely decline in the future. By reading the signs early, you have the opportunity to course-correct before it’s too late.
Think of all the problems we could have avoided in Detroit if we established early warning systems and took corrective action decades ago.
As you examine the critical aspects of your business, make sure that you have a smoke detector for each to alert you quickly when things heat up.
You can do the same thing for your personal life, monitoring health metrics or even relationship fluctuations. If your teenager slams the door five days in a row, there may just be smoke that needs to be addressed before it begins to flame.
To drive forward momentum, make sure you don’t become derailed by unexpected flare-ups. Build and monitor an early detection system, and you’ll be well on the way to being a rock star in your own right.
I wonder what the 15 bottles of whiskey represented for Roth’s band mates? Must have been a different type of smoke detector.