In business, we can find inspiration in the most unlikely of places. Recently, I found some valuable lessons when watching a documentary about, of all things, KISS – the American rock band known for its gaudy face makeup, outlandish costumes, and shocking live performances.
KISS was formed in the early 1970s and achieved international fame as one of the most influential rock bands of all time. Nearly 50 years later, they are embarking on their final world tour. In an industry full of one-hit wonders, fleeting fame, and a one-in-a-million chance of hitting it big, they clearly found the secret sauce.
As I watched their story unfold, I saw clear similarities in the way to successfully approach business. And what business wouldn’t like to be thriving half a century after launch? Here are some basic parallels for the business world I gleaned from Biography: KISStory.
Have a Vision
Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley, the founding members of KISS, connected as teenagers and discovered they both shared a dream of becoming globally recognized rock stars. At the time, it seemed like a stretch, to say the least, but nothing great ever happens without first having a vision for success. Their strength of vision allowed them to overcome many obstacles along the way and ultimately make their dream a reality.
Put In the Work
KISS was not an overnight sensation. Gene Simmons had to cold call a small venue in Queens, New York, to convince them to book the band for their first gig, which was performed in front of about 10 people. As they booked more shows, they drove themselves around in a station wagon and scraped by on the bare minimum, but they never gave up. They continued to work hard and seek opportunities, maintaining their vision of becoming a success.
That drive never faltered. To date, KISS has released 20 studio albums and 50 singles. The band has been active for nearly 50 years and the founding members, though now in their late 60s and early 70s, are still performing in front of sold-out crowds.
During their career, KISS didn’t just record and perform. They built a multi-million-dollar brand, releasing merchandise, comics, memorabilia, and more. They even created a feature film which, among other endeavors, was a flop, but KISS never threw in the towel, nor did they ever rest on their laurels. They continued to remake themselves and thrive.
In business, that kind of drive is invaluable. It’s a universal truth that hard work pays off, but moving forward with determination regardless of circumstances in the way that Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley did can elevate any individual or organization from good to great. Enduring success means maintaining the drive and focus you had on day one, no matter how long you’ve been in the game. Always be seeking new opportunities, and if they fail, seek more.
Adapt and Evolve
KISS has endured the test of time because of their ability to adapt. When their initial albums weren’t selling, their live performances were capturing attention, so they pivoted and recorded a live album. Things only went up from there. As times changed, they sought a fresh approach, and if it didn’t work, they changed again. In 1983, for example, they abandoned their gaudy makeup and costumes in what’s known as their “unmasked” era. Then, more than a decade later, they brought them back to wide acclaim. They kept their fingers on the pulse of popular culture and refused to get stale.
KISS band membership has also gone through many incarnations, with Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley remaining the only permanent fixtures, but it never meant the end of KISS. When a band member didn’t fit or it was time for a change, they made it.
Similarly, the trajectory in business is never what you expect. Things will happen, and people will help you and hurt you. It’s how you react and adapt to those circumstances that dictate your future. People’s tastes will change, client needs will change, and technology will certainly change, but if KISS can survive a shift from records to cassette tapes to CDs to iTunes, you, too, can find a way.
Know Your Fans
KISS has always known how to put on a show. If the sparkling costumes and big hair and makeup weren’t enough, the pyrotechnics, smoking guitars, and fire-breathing stunts really got your attention. Fans came to performances in droves. KISS recognized early on that these performances were the best way to connect with their fans, so they focused their energy there. Their fan club, the KISS Army, which has hundreds of thousands of members, would never have existed to the degree it has without that focus on live performances.
Your business might not have fans, but it likely has clients or customers. How well do you know them and what they prefer? Knowing how, when, and where to best serve your clients is the cornerstone of an enduring relationship.
Whether you’re a fan of KISS or not, their story is, at its core, an “American Dream” tale of two teenage boys from immigrant families who achieved their dream of rock and roll greatness and maintained it for five decades. By modeling even just a small bit of that same tenacity, perseverance, agility, awareness, and shrewdness, I believe that any business, no matter the industry, can be successful.