What can the Red Hot Chili Peppers & U2 Teach Us about Building Enduring Teams?



We love studying greatness in all its forms. Any person, group, company that can sustain dominance over the long-term is worth studying. Yes, and even rock bands. I want to thank intelligent fanatics member @kevin for sending me information for this article.

After meeting at L.A.’s Fairfax High School, singer Anthony Kiedis, bassist Flea, guitarist Hillel Slovak, and drummer Jack Irons formed the Red Hot Chili Peppers in 1983. Well, actually they were called the Miraculously Majestic Masters of Mayhem for a short time period. Since 1983, they have released eleven studio albums, three live albums, eight video albums, five extended plays, 44 singles, and 47 music videos. They have sold over 80 million albums worldwide.

U2 formed in Dublin in the fall of 1976 after a 14-year old Larry Mullen, Jr. posted a note on the bulletin board at his high school seeking musicians for a new band. Five interested teenagers showed up at Mullen’s house later that day. Adam Clayton on bass, Paul Hewson (Bono) on vocals, and Dave Evans on guitar. After rehearsing for 18-months, they entered a talent show in Limerick, Ireland and won. They changed their name to U2. Since then the band has received over 95 awards and have sold 170 million albums.

These two groups have had incredible enduring success. Their talent and history have molded them together but in many ways, it’s been the incentives that have kept them together for so long. The Red Hot Chili Peppers and U2 are dissimilar in style but very similar in other ways. I believe business leaders can learn some valuable lessons from them on how to keep great teams working together over the long-term. Here is an excerpt from this Forbes article written by Ruth Blatt:

They didn’t see fame and riches overnight, so they had time to adjust their internal dynamics to the changes and challenges of success. The Red Hot Chili Peppers didn’t become a household name until their fifth album, Blood Sugar Sex Magik, eight years into their careers. Likewise U2 didn’t make it big until their eleventh year together with The Joshua Tree. As I’ve argued elsewhere, success may be a good problem to have, but it’s still a problem. With success come new kinds of pressures to keep doing better, invasive exposure into personal lives and ego-inflated temptations to go solo. But because growth was gradual, each band had the opportunity to test their resilience through small challenges and develop coping mechanisms both individually and as a unit. Arguably one of the reasons the Red Hot Chili Peppers lost guitarist John Frusciante following the massive success of Blood Sugar Sex Magik was that, as the newest and youngest member of the band, he had not had time to adjust to life in a band before its success made the experience overwhelming.

Both bands have a loose jam-based songwriting practice. The Red Hot Chili Peppers lay down the basic framework for their songs through extended group jams. Then they polish the songs by developing parts separately, with each person taking charge of their area of expertise. According to their longtime collaborator, producer Rick Rubin, “A lot of bands, people just play their parts, but the Chili Peppers are truly an interactive band.” Likewise U2’s songs emerge out of group jams, a system that Bono has dubbed “Songwriting by Accident.” Like the Peppers, U2 eventually get systematic about polishing their songs, but the genesis is in the group. It’s not always easy. “When we’re making the records,” Bono has said, “it always feels a bit like we’re drowning, and you do wonder if there’s an easier way. But we seem to need some chaos to bring us together.” But it works, in part because the constant verbal and musical communication and discussions that are required to stay on the same wavelength help maintain the team.

U2 and the Red Hot Chili Peppers divide royalties equally no matter what each person’s relative contribution. Most bands allocate royalties based on each person’s contribution, which can create problems as band members compete to get their songs on albums or to increase their relative contribution to each song. Hence the joke, “What was the last thing the drummer said before he was fired? ‘Hey guys, I’ve written a song!’” Once credit and money cloud band members’ judgment about the music, it can be difficult to maintain the high quality of a band’s product. U2 divides credit equally for the music (though not lyrics, which are mostly written by Bono) as do the Red Hot Chili Peppers, who “give it away” to anyone who was present on the jam that created the song. When songwriting credits are allocated equally, everyone in the band feels valued for their hard work and the interests of the songs prevail over personal agendas.

Both bands see their bands as being greater than themselves. “They never lose sight of the entity and its paramount importance,” told me Eliraz. “Everything is subservient to the interests of the group. Everything is about the group. Even their ego is a group ego. They cultivate pride in their joint exploits, rather than in individual accomplishments.”

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