Business Lessons Learned From Van Halen & M&M's

Hi there. Russell Stratton, President and Leadership Champion with Bluegem Learning. I work with organizations just like yours to help managers improve individual and team performance. You might remember from one of my previous vlogs, I talked about the objective briefing process and a way that we can brief teams in to get optimum success for the projects and the works that they're doing.

With that in mind, I'll like to follow on to think about some lessons that are learnt from the rock band Van Halen and from the candy M&Ms. Now, that may look to be a funny connection there, leadership lessons from Van Halen and M&Ms. One of the things that we found with Van Halen, that's a band as you may know, is when they very first started going out on tour in the United States, late 70s, early 80s, they hit all of the small town markets. Rather than go to the sort of traditional markets of LA, New York, et cetera, they were hitting a lot of the small towns across middle America.

One of the things they found in doing that is that they venues that they were playing were not used to hosting the rock band that they were with the type of stage show that they had. What they did with their rider was to make it very detailed and very specific about what they needed in terms of the equipment, the sound system, the stage show, and also the safety elements that they've acquired. To make sure that they could check that people were reading the rider, they used to put a light in there on their requirements for catering that said that with their M&Ms, all of the brown M&Ms needed to be taken out of the bowl.

Now, David Lee Roth's autobiography looks at this and laughs and says the rumor got 'round that this was Van Halen being "rock stars" and making these unrealistic demands on venues. Even thought they canceled a show because they walked into their dressing room and the brown M&Ms were still in the bowl, the reality of this was quite different. The reason they put that in there to say that they didn't want the brown M&Ms was as he explained. If they got there and found they were still in the bowl, it meant that the venue hadn't read the rider correctly. If they hadn't read the rider correctly, what else had not been done? They found at one stage they continued with a concert, ignoring that warning sign, only to find part of the stage show collapse during the set. By putting this rider in, this particular element, it actually meant that they were focusing on that safeguards for safety and performance.

What does that mean for us in business? Well, linking back into our idea of the strategic briefing process with our back brief, is making sure that everybody in the team understands the specific requirements of the project, or the particular activity that they're gonna be doing. If you can get people to be able to repeat that back to you so that you're clear that you're both on the same page, you're unlikely to have those disasters take place. Now, in a lot of organizations it's not gonna mean the stage show is gonna collapse middle of a concert injuring people, but it could be costing your organization thousands, if not millions, of dollars if something isn't completed on time or to specification.

In the future, if people ask you why are you focusing on the details, tell them the story about Van Halen and the M&Ms. If you found that interesting, please feel free to share with your colleagues. If you'd like to find out a little bit more about the work that I do and the workshops that I run, then check out the website at I'll speak to you soon.

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Russell Stratton

Leadership Champion

RUSSELL STRATTON is an international Leadership Expert, Professionally Certified Trainer and Coach, with a Masters Degree in Human Resource Management. He is co-author of the book 'I Need to F@#king Talk To You - The Art Of Navigating Difficult Workplace Conversations'.


He is a Master Facilitator for Bluegem Learning's ground breaking "Leadership Success" workshop series - providing a practical toolkit for building engagement and improving individual and team performance. Using live actors in a stop/start forum theatre approach and a combination of dynamic experiential learning techniques, participants come away with a greater ability to actually perform better as employees and leaders in your organization.


He is an accomplished management education, learning & development professional with a proven track record of working with clients in the public, voluntary and private sectors to achieve lasting, measurable step changes in business performance.


Russell works internationally with a wide range of organizational cultures and with all levels from front line customer facing staff to executive management boards. Having worked as both a Personnel Manager and Operational Manager he works at both strategic and tactical levels.

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