Les McKeown's Predictable Success Blog

  • November 17, 2010
  • minute read

Lessons from Life 

Keith Richard’s recently-released biography, ‘Life‘, is surprising for a number of reasons, not least its wonderful voice (Keith didn’t write the book, James Fox, his co-writer did that, but it’s very clearly the voice of Keith Richards) and the fact Keith actually has a lot to say (I guess I wasn’t expecting much more than some version of ‘Get high, play music, crash…Get high, play music, crash…‘).But by far the most impactful aspect of the book – for me anyway – are the business lessons. It’s always been Mick Jagger who received the plaudits for cleverly and creatively managing The Rolling Stones as both a band and a brand, but it’s obvious from ‘Life‘ (even discounting for the obvious bias inherent in anyone’s biography) that without Keith, there would never have been a Rolling Stones – at least not a band that would ever have become the sort of enduring brand and high-value business that it now is.

Here are the business lessons I saw affirmed while reading ‘Life‘. If you haven’t read it, get it (not an affiliate link):

1. Start with the 10,000 hours.
Nobel Prize-winning sociologist Herbert Simon calculated that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to achieve mastery in any field (a prescription further developed by Malcolm Gladwell in ‘Outliers’).

Richards does this in spades – in fact, he’d probably completed his 10,000-hour apprenticeship in his early twenties, so he’s now well past the level of mastery and into some other realm.

While it is galling, I’m sure, for people in the early stages of their life’s calling to hear it (I certainly found it incredibly frustrating and thought it narrow-minded when people made equivalent statements to me in my youth), it’s true. You need to put in your 10,000 hours if you want to be a master of your vocation – whatever it is.

2. Never compromise.
Richards stories from the recording studios are what really blew me away. I never thought of the man as such a hard worker as he clearly is, nor, frankly, did I think he was such a perfectionist. I’m not sure why, but I just assumed he’d ‘settle’ for a cut pretty easily. Quite the opposite, it turns out.

I don’t suggest you call upon quite as much pharmaceutical help to do it, but KR (as he occasionally calls himself) is an incredible role model for standing up not just for quality work, but the best quality work – and not just mostly, but all the time.

3. True brilliance is only a micron thin, but it’s a mile wide.
I’ve been teaching this precept for 3 decades now, but I’ve never seen it more graphically illustrated than in the pages of ‘Life‘: being brilliant doesn’t have to mean demonstrating to everyone at every opportunity that you’re streets ahead of everyone else in whatever your chosen field is. In fact, that type of arrogant jerk brilliance is usually nauseating – laying it on as thick as plaster is not very pretty to see or to be around.

Most truly brilliant people – and all the non-jerks – do three things: they achieve mastery by putting in their 10,000 hours, they never compromise, and they make sure everything they do is gently, lightly, elegantly touched with their brilliance.

You see it over and over again in ‘Life‘ – whether it’s playing his guitar, sourcing the purest form of narcotics he can find, buying a house, touring, attacking someone with a knife, sleeping, or just cooking bangers and mash (in fact, everything except parenting), Keith does it all with style, panache and, well… brilliance.

Get the book, enjoy it for the romp it is, but watch as a serious business is built before your eyes. After all, if there’s one institution that is the epitome of Predictable Success, it’s surely The Rolling Stones.


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