Business lessons from the life and times of Mark Knopfler and Dire Straits

Its a curious case about Dire Straits & Mark Knopfler. People who know them would die for their music. People who don’t know them don’t know them at all. When I tell the younger generation about them and make them listen to their music, they find it weird and boring. But when I go on the internet I see kids swearing by their music. The disparity is so vividly glaring. This is the legacy Mark Knopfler has created for himself and for Dire Straits.
The name of their band in itself defines their music. They were asked to give a name to their band during their struggling years and what came first to their mind was that they were broke and had no money with them. Dire straits actually reflected their situation at that time and was not put as a funky name like other music bands at that time. This honesty has always reflected in their music. Mark Knopfler has been in many ways the Steve Jobs of the English music world. As music evolved from jazz and rock and roll from the 1960s to fixed categories of rock, pop, blues, etc. towards the late 1970s, Dire Straits was inspired by all the different categories. Their music had everything going on together. In those times when heavy synthesizers, guitars, drums, long hair and crazy outfits came to be considered necessary to be successful as a music band, Mark Knopfler refused to throw in the towel and give up his dream of making music he wanted to in exchange for fame and money. This is essentially why they were initially in dire straits. For quite some time, Apple did not make computers for everyone to use. Steve Jobs waited for his computers to evolve in the market and its demand to build up. Microsoft makes Windows for everyone to use which is in fact the hardest business model to follow. It is simply not possible to have something for everyone which is reflected in the numerous updates Windows versions needs and the different Windows versions themselves. In the similar vein to that of Apple, Dire Straits made the music they wanted to make and let people evolve into their music. Commercially this is a huge risk to take. But thankfully, in the world of art and music, creative satisfaction always takes precedence over commercial success. What this translates into is how we should position ourselves and/or our products in the market. If what we have is genuine and can truly cause disruption and create it’s own space in the market, put it out there, keep working on making it better and be patient. Success will eventually catch up.

The second and the more important aspect is evolution. From the late 70s when they started off their music evolved as more and better musical instruments were added. Mark’s lyrical and singing skills became more silken with each album. Their popularity peaked in 1985 with the release of their “Brothers in Arms” album. After being on the road for almost 2 years on shows across most of the world, Mark seems to have realized that they were moving away from making music for themselves to playing music for the people. It might have sounded ludicrous to many at that time, but when the passion goes out, so does the creativity. He could not let fame and fortune take control over his passion for making music which was possibly why he disbanded Dire Straits. This is a massive lesson for the business world. No matter how successful a company or a product becomes, to continue to be successful it has to keep evolving and to evolve the passion for it has to remain intact. This is probably why Bose Corp. has never been on the stock market. They do not seem to want business and commercial success to take precedence over their need for creative excellence.
Dire Straits did come back together to make one more album “On Every Street” in 1991 but that experience also taught them an important lesson. It is a superb album by all means but unfortunately ended up being compared with Brothers in Arms which should have never happened. They were like two different products from the same company and should have been seen and evaluated as such. If Dire Straits fans are longing for their reunion which Mark is staunchly refusing to go back into, it is because people themselves killed the confidence he had on them. Mark disbanded Dire Straits forever and started collaborating with other great artists such as Eric Clapton, Elton John and Phil Collins among many others and eventually started to make music under his own name.
Here is the most critical lesson to learn. Be it with someone’s life or academics or jobs or business or products, the growth graph will hit a high sometime. But it won’t stay there for long. What goes up has to eventually come down. Many musicians and music bands shot through the roof initially and then disappeared without a trace. This keeps happening all the time. There are two aspects to consider here. The lessons we learn from our experiences as our graph grows up and realizing that our graph has hit the high. Mark seems to have realized this when On Every Street got compared to Brothers in Arms. Dire Straits had hit their peak with Brothers in Arms. Unless they created something better than Brothers in Arms, every album they released in the future would have had been subject to comparison with Brothers in Arms. That was a phenomenal expectation and disappointment to live with. Their evolution was complete with Brothers in Arms. The option was to either continue to exist in that painful situation or let it all go and mature as a musician by himself and give everyone else in the band the opportunity to figure out their life ahead on their own.
When businesses grow and hit their highs their evolution gets complete at that point. Then they need to settle down and mature. True fans of Dire Straits know what a gifted and amazing songwriter and guitarist Mark is. He has wisely and craftily used the reputation of Dire Straits to build his own brand name. Steve Jobs has always used this strategy with Apple products. Apple has a core consumer segment that will buy anything Apple sells. After establishing that segment they released a dazzling array of products to bring more customers into that group. Now they are in the maturing phase and are focused on improving their products.
Mark Knopfler still makes music and does world tours but at his own pace. His music has always been what his passion for music has brought out from him. We need to tread the same path, be it in our professional or personal lives. True passion will eventually bring in fame and fortune but the key is to hold on to that passion at all times. Fame and fortune will wither away with time. But everything we do and create with passion will have the hallmark of fine quality and it is the quality that always stands the test of time.

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An analysis on self motivation

What excites and motivates human beings is one of the most interesting areas to explore. I have been observing and trying to comprehend human behavior for many years now and ironically, what excites and motivates human beings more than anything else is sex and porn, testimony being the physical abuse of our fellow beings through time. When I was in the Netherlands, I was told that in Amsterdam, people can pay and watch live sex being performed by a man and a woman. That was intriguing and eye opening because I realized how depraved our motivation levels can go to. My take is, we can 1) be influenced 2) be influenced and get motivated or 3) be self motivated.

How do I differentiate between the three? Getting influenced is not something that sits well with me. I see many top executives getting branded as influencers on LinkedIn. For me, getting influenced by anyone no matter how high and mighty that person can be means losing my individuality and my freedom to think clearly. Blind faith is the biggest deterrent to free thinking. I cannot let anyone’s thoughts and experiences cloud my judgement. We are all on our own journeys in our lives and I believe the Universe in itself is learning from the experiences of each being within it as it keeps evolving. We can get influenced by people and get motivated to be like them, but trying to impersonate someone or trying to create our personality from an amalgamation of many other personalities will only consume too much of our time and effort without taking us forward meaningfully. For me, getting motivated by people is to find myself or make myself better by imbibing the best from their personalities and achievements. I realized why I am hooked on to Mark Knopfler and Dire Straits when I started watching videos of their live shows on Youtube. He was thorough all the way down to each and every note they played and the focus was completely on making good music. When snazzy outfits and over the top emotions and antics on stage were in vogue in those times, none of those had any space in his world of music. I have a good laugh every time people talk of someone getting addicted to alcohol by being in the company of people who drink. Sounds to me like a girl getting into a live-in relationship with a guy and filing a case for rape against him when he refuses to marry her.

A lot has been written about motivating people at work places. My observations are very simple. There are people who prefer public sector jobs simply because their focus is not on a high pay package but on the benefits associated with government jobs and the recognition they get in the society for being government employees. To put it simply, I can put up a name board outside my house with the details of the public sector enterprise I am working for and it would be easy for anyone to find my house. But does that work in the private sector? No one would even care. The only real benefit of working in the private sector is a higher pay package. This is why so many rumblings can be heard in private sector companies during yearly appraisals because when companies dither on giving more pay, unsurprisingly, employees revolt and leave. As long as money has the stranglehold on private sector employees, they will keep getting grilled at work. This changes only when we reach a point where the motivation to work is no longer for money. What irks me most is when employees quit their jobs and companies tries to hold them back by offering more compensation under the completely absurd assumption that money can solve all issues. Showering money on disgruntled employees without comprehending what will really motivate them to stay back is the worst way to handle them.

What I truly believe in is, nobody or nothing can influence us beyond a point unless we allow them to and external factors start influencing us increasingly only when there is lack of self motivation in us. Empty spaces get created in our minds when we go through difficult times or when we lose someone or something dear to us. How we choose to fill up those spaces will define how our life will go forward from there. When life weighs us down, we invariably end up losing sight of how we reached that far in life and start looking for motivation from external sources. It is almost as if with every new problem, we just lapse into selective amnesia and forget all the tough times we have survived before. Quite a few people I have spoken to have told me that talking to me has helped them get motivated to improve themselves. I have no clue how but it could probably be because I try to be very straight and honest in everything I do and I tell people to keep looking inward and keep their focus on themselves. Introspection is the key for self development. For everything that goes wrong in one’s life, there is always some blame or a missed step from that person that has triggered the situation. So looking to lay the blame on someone else will only end up creating more negative energy in our lives. There is a neighbor near my house who has mental instability issues because he is sterile and he can be seen walking on the terrace naked. All ladies including my mom call him mentally unstable. I told her he has only issues with his focus. If he had engaged his mind in other things in life and was constantly learning, neither he nor anyone else for that matter would ever have any mental issues. The key to self motivation for me is to find those little positives from every situation in life, no matter how bad things can get. I used to curse a potentially crippling back pain I have for a long time, then I realized, this is life’s way of keeping me healthy with mandatory workouts, long walks and correct posture. These are the things I pass on to the people I talk to. I hear them out, understand where they are coming from and then put a mirror before them. All of us are constantly struggling from the time we are born and one of the biggest hurdles most of us have managed to cross is the face off with gravity to stand up and walk. People just have to open their minds and see these little things within themselves and sometimes, we all need someone to smack our heads and remind us that life keeps testing us to make us stronger and better beings.