The Van Halen Manifesto


“Listening to the radio one day, I heard the story behind rocker David Lee Roth’s notorious insistence that Van Halen’s contracts with concert promoters contain a clause specifying that a bowl of M&M’s has to be provided backstage, but with every single brown candy removed, upon pain of forfeiture of the show, with full compensation to the band. At least once, Van Halen actually followed through, peremptorily canceling a show in Colorado when Roth found some brown M&M’s in his dressing room.

This turned out to be, however, not another example of the insane demands of power-mad celebrities but of an ingenious ruse.20120809-141140.jpg

As Roth explained in his memoir, Crazy From the Heat, “Van Halen was the first band to take huge productions into tertiary, third-level markets. We’d pull up with nine 18-wheeler trucks, full of gear, where the standard was three trucks, max. And there were many, many technical errors—whether it was the girders couldn’t support the weight, or the flooring would sink in, or the doors weren’t big enough to move the gear through. The contract rider read like a version of the Chinese Yellow Pages because there was so much equipment, and so many human beings to make it function.”20120809-142934.jpg

So just as a little test, buried somewhere in the middle of the rider, would be Article 126, the no-brown-M&M’s clause. “When I would walk backstage, if I saw a brown M&M in that bowl,” he wrote, “well, we’d line-check the entire production. Guaranteed you’d run into a problem.”

The mistakes could be life-threatening, the radio story pointed out. In Colorado, the band found that the local promoters had failed to read the weight requirements and that the staging would have fallen through the arena floor.”

From the brilliant Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande.

So what’s this got to do with systems thinking then?

  • the importance of risk based sampling to check quality. They didn’t bother checking all the equipment if there were no brown M&Ms, only if there was a risk because a tiny sample of the requirements hadn’t been met.
  • complexity the system they had to set up was so inordinately complicated that there were many failure points. They used the M&Ms as an easy failure point to check.
  • pragmatic experimenting and hacking They invented from 2 store bought items, M&Ms and a bowl, a rigorous risk testing kit that anyone could use.


Next week: AC/DC and their use of Newcastle Brown Ale in managing flow and pulling value.

This entry was posted in communication, purpose and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to The Van Halen Manifesto

  1. Brilliant example with parallel lessons for business.


    • ThinkPurpose says:

      Thanks for the comments. There’s examples everywhere aren’t there? Bit like Grimms fairy tales are applicable and have meaning outside of the medieval German forests and villages they were set in.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s