Deadheads, Frat Stars and Fraternity Men

The March issue of Atlantic Monthly is running a story on management secrets from the Grateful Dead.  I’m not really a Grateful Dead listener (no particular reason, they just never caught on for me) but, believe it or not, I found a few passages that relate to fraternity life.

What binds us together?

As the band’s following grew, the notion that it might have something to offer scholars, particularly in the social sciences, became somewhat less far-fetched, though still not without professional risk. In the late 1980s, Rebecca G. Adams, a sociologist at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, who studies friendships formed across distances, noticed deep bonds between Deadheads.

Today, everybody is intensely interested in understanding how communities form across distances, because that’s what happens online. Far from being a subject of controversy, Rebecca Adams’s next book on Deadhead sociology has publishers lining up.

Similarly (sort of), Sigma Nus from Orlando to Seattle and L.A. to Boston share deep bonds.  Hazers and true fraternity men agree that brotherhood is about bonding, but bonding around what exactly is where hazers get confused.

In a way, hazers are correct that people can bond together by enduring negative experiences together.  Surviving a natural disaster with your neighbor will surely bring you closer together; however, bonding through negative experiences is a backwards way to create genuine relationships, especially when the situations are created intentionally.

On the other hand, true fraternity brotherhood is built on the foundation of common ideals and positive experiences.  Those who have attended a Grand Chapter and recited the Ritual with hundreds of Sigma Nus from across North America understand what it means to be bonded by common ideals with otherwise complete strangers.

Enduring success relies on innovation

Recently, Barnes has been lecturing to business leaders about strategic improvisation. He’s been a big hit. “People are just so tired of hearing about GE and Southwest Airlines,” he admits. “They get really excited to hear about the Grateful Dead.”

The long-term success for any organization hinges on its ability (and its willingness) to adapt to constantly changing surroundings.  While it’s natural to be skeptical of advice from outsiders, we should also recognize that valuable lessons often come from unlikely sources.

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