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The Alchemy of Leadership Blog

From Tragedy to Greatness

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Recently, Jimmy Wales was on ‘Desert Island Discs’.  Jimmy is the co-founder of Wikipedia, the ultimate source of internet knowledge.  The first disc he chose was ‘Sweet Home Alabama’ by Lynyrd Skynyrd, the group named after the founders’ high school PE teacher.  You may recall that many of the band died in a tragic plane crash in 1977.  After a 10-year hiatus, their remnants went back on the road.  The outfit currently touring includes just one founder member.  It’s a kind of recursive tribute band now.

‘Sweet Home Alabama’ is, of course, a classic.  It’s still a huge hit in America with a starring role in the (not-so-classic) film ‘Con Air’ and, indeed, its very own film: ‘Sweet Home Alabama’.

Lynyrd Skynyrd really only have two great songs.  The other is ‘Free Bird’, the 15-minute ballad/guitar jam.  Over the years, the track has achieved legendary status.  Too long for a jukebox!  Three lead guitars!  Even better live!  For many years in the USA it’s been a running joke to demand the song as an encore, no matter who’s playing on stage.  You’ll hear people yelling out “Free Bird” at a Taylor Swift, Pharrell Williams or Miley Cyrus concert (so I’m told).

That other source of internet knowledge, Spotify, reveals something rather interesting.  When the band originally came up with the song it was just a few minutes long.  There was a rather strange neo-Hawaiian slide guitar thing going on and no hint of an extended triple-guitar solo.  It was just another track.  But over a 2-3 year period, the band developed it bit by bit into a classic.  The same is true in business.  Work away at your idea and keep on building over time, piece by piece.  Greatness takes time and energy.  Persistence pays.

© Patrick Macdonald 2015

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