May 27, 2016
A few months after being ousted as CEO of Chicago-based daily deals company Groupon, founder Andrew Mason revealed his intention to dive into a number of new ventures.
The most interesting among them, especially to those familiar with Mason’s outwardly goofy personality and background as a music major at Northwestern University in Chicago: producing a collection of business self-help songs for those just entering the workforce, akin to the many books written on the subject.
Much of Groupon’s young workforce during Mason’s tenure had little to no business experience and expressed little interest in reading books, Mason reasoned in a May blog post announcing he had spent a week recording the album. “These songs will help young people understand some of the ideas that I've found to be a key part of becoming a productive and effective employee,” he wrote.
The result of that venture, “Hardly Workin’,” hit online outlets in July. The seven-track album features lyrics written by Mason and music produced with the help of Don Gehman, a Los Angeles-based producer who worked on albums from John Mellencamp and Barbra Streisand, among others.
Overall, the music is very well recorded and catchy — someone listening to the album without context might not realize its purpose as a work of self-help for young business professionals. The sound on the record is mostly light rock, with a little bit of a country feel and some rap. Each song runs about three minutes, typical of most popular music tracks.
Lyrically, the business lessons Mason lays out are generally basic; many of them sound similar to what most have heard before. Throughout, Mason drops in references to influential business leaders like Apple’s Steve Jobs, former General Electric CEO Jack Welch and Charlie Munger, Warren Buffett’s longtime right-hand man as vice chairman or Berkshire Hathaway.
On the album’s opening track, “Look No Further,” Mason sings convincingly: “If you’re seeking business wisdom, you don’t need no MBA. Look no further than the beauty that surrounds us every day.” The song speaks to the idea that successful business leaders are not defined by degrees but intuitive wisdom derived from our lives each and every day — although, given Groupon’s horrid stock price tumble after the company went public (a factor that most definitely led to the CEO change) perhaps an MBA would have come in handy for Mason.
On “The Way to Work,” Mason sings of how he used his morning commute in Chicago to reflect on what’s ahead. “On the way to work, I reflect on the days behind. I look at the road ahead. It reminds me the journey is the reason.”
The album’s ballad, “My Door Is Always Open,” stresses the importance of leadership transparency in organizations. With Mason singing lyrics from the manager’s perspective and a child’s voice taking the verses as an individual contributor, the song bounces back and forth between the points of view. The chorus, sung together: “Why would we keep our thoughts bottled inside of our heads? Worried they might do some harm. But instead, we let problems fester.”
The hard-charging and driving “Risin’ Above the Pack” takes a heroic tone, encouraging young professionals to sidestep traditional new-hire mistakes — “don’t bring people problems, bring them solutions,” Mason sings — and to have an unyielding sense of ambition.
“K.I.S.S.” — keep it simple, stupid — reveals Mason’s crooning vocal style. Punctuated with terse saxophone licks on top of a funky rhythm guitar and smooth bass, Mason sings the first verse: “When Steve Jobs invented the first mouse, it had a single button. Point and click.” The chorus: “Give me a kiss. Keep it simple stupid.”
Perhaps the most impressive track musically on the album, “Stretch,” targets the always-important topic of goal setting. “Nothing better than to drive the org to align around the metrics that really matter,” later singing, “your goals should bounce, bounce, bounce, because you’ve stretched them out so far.” Rapper Bishop Lamont makes a guest appearance on the track, spewing a silky rap interlude: “You’ve got to stay focused. And retain that hunger. Or you’ll never ever be the next Charlie Munger.”
Finally, the album ends with the all-inspiring “Up to Us,” a track driving home the typical motivational tactics expressed in many of the books written in this space.
Overall, both the production and lyrics are impressive, given the fact that the entire thing was put together in a week. Time will tell how many young workers actually buy the album for anything more than to be entertained by its ridiculousness.
As for Mason, he wrote in a blog post the morning of the album’s release of a desire for managers to find creative ways to include the songs in their day-to-day management.
“Try ending your next all-hands meeting with ‘It's Up to Us,’ for example. Or, having trouble communicating with a low-per/hi-po employee? A ‘Thinkin' of You’ note attached to a flash drive preloaded with ‘My Door is Always Open’ might be the catalyst you need for that transformational breakthrough.”
Frank Kalman is an associate editor at Talent Management, a sister publication of Workforce. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.