“The Defiant Ones” Tells you Everything you need to know to be a Success in Business
Did you forget about Dre?
In case you are not familiar, The Defiant Ones is a docuseries on HBO that chronicles the journeys of music moguls Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine. It’s incredible for two reasons: first, it’s a great reminder of how fucking amazing and powerful music was in the 1990s (and a little before then) across multiple genres. Almost all the breakout artists seemed to be driven by a deeper message at that time. Not sure that’s the case today, but that could also partially be because I am older now and the messages don’t resonate with me. Still, most of the great artists of my lifetime are from that decade. Second, the documentary is really an experience in itself — the videography, the story-telling and Allen Hughes’ use of sound and music as a character in its own right is mesmerizing.
Beyond the viewer experience and the nostalgia lie some pretty inspiring reminders about how to excel in business — though I am fairly sure providing a guide for business is not the intended point of the series. Specifically there are four principles that I have yet to find in any one business book, though you’ll find each of them in a book separately, no doubt, and they seem to be a common denominator in those outliers that really leave a mark in the world:
1. They know that relationships matter. Every single point of success and escape from sheer demise was credited to a relationship that Dre or Jimmy had with someone — and that relationship was a genuine connection over music, not business. Having a shared focus and purpose that is bigger than measurable business impacts is a tie that binds. Those bonds create better, more efficient working relationships, as well as open doors that may have been shut or never presented in the first place. This is how N.W.A. could feel safer taking the risks they did with their lyrics, how Iovine got into Apple, and how Dre kept his label the Aftermath when he put out multiple records that flopped. They all had relationships that, because of their shared bond around a common purpose — making great music that mattered — saved their asses and pushed them even further than their individual limits might have logically condoned.
2. They use intuition as their ultimate guide. Both Iovine and Dre speak about moments where other people might have thought a song was “good enough” and they kept working on it until they felt it was perfect or “there.” Neither Iovine nor Dre had formalized professional training in their fields — just intuition and over time, experience telling them the right moves to make and when something was “done/perfect.” This also applies to risky partnerships that everyone told them was a bad idea but they “had a feeling” they couldn’t ignore that led them to cut out the noise. And they were right — to the tune of billions of dollars with their Beats by Dre Apple deal. The truly successful pay attention to what’s going on around them for context, and then listen deeply to their inner guide (call it what you want) to create a whole new way. Usually this means making some decisions that seem downright insane to your typical business person.
3. They know that reinvention is a terrifying necessity. To some degree reinvention is a result of #1 and #2. There comes a point in some relationships or business paths where you are no longer driven by the same purpose, and that signals it is time to move on to new relationships and ventures. This is precisely why N.W.A disbanded. Easy-E was driven by the business side more so than the relationships that got him there, which made working together impossible. Goals were no longer aligned. There is a point in the series when Dre says he got to a place where he made decisions based on how people/things made him feel — if he felt like shit being around certain people, he cut them out and moved on. If they made him feel the magic and the artistry, then he stayed close to and invested time and resources in those people. That included labels, as well. Still, they each point to several times in their lives where they had to push the reset button in order to lay down the next path, and it was terrifying and lonely, but ultimately led to their next great successes.
4. Obsession or Passion is just part of it. It is really unclear whether Iovine and Dre are passionate or obsessed or if there really is a difference between the two. It seems like passion when Dre and crew all buy a house together with a studio in it so they can work anytime the inspiration hits. Or, it could be seen as obsession when Iovine lives and works out of his bathroom for a year so he can keep focus on his chief business goal for the year. Both Iovine and Dre are driven as fuck, and the series really highlights how talented people like this don’t know how to turn “it” off, sometimes to great sacrifice. There is no such thing as work life balance for these people. Work is life and life is work — this is what makes them so fucking good. This is the cost or sacrifice that talented people make for the world they impact. They can’t not do what they do. It matters too much and it is simply who they are, more so than what they do.
I watched the series because a friend recommended it and hip-hop is a part of my teenage DNA. I had no idea that their stories, like the music they influenced and created, would have an inspirational impact on my professional outlook. But when you look closely, these guiding principles are common among anyone who has mattered in the world. For those of us that are inspired to do something that matters, however we define that and in whatever industry we play a role, it is a good reminder that these principles, though rarely talked about in business environments, are the only things we need to take ourselves beyond our own limits and do what we are born to do in this world.