Brown M&Ms

I recently came across a great example of using visual management as a check on compliance from the 1980s rock band…Van Halen. I must admit they were my favorite band for much of the mid-1980s which is, in part, why I love this story.
Let’s start with musicians, we know they can be total divas demanding all kinds of extravagant (and sometimes strange) items when on tour. This was true for Van Halen, buried in the middle of their 53-page contract was a line item for a bowl of M&Ms with “Absolutely no brown ones”. This made the news as an example of diva rock stars and their strange requirements. However, there is more to the story.
Let’s go back to the 1980s, Van Halen revolutionized rock concerts with huge sets and giant sound systems. They arrived at concert venues with nine semi-trailers of gear…most bands had three. Plus, they played lesser-known markets where the venues were often outdated and old. Some of these older buildings needed to be modified to accommodate the incredible amount of gear. Van Halen wanted to feel confident the venue read to contract details and made the necessary upgrades; how could they know? Answer, they put a little test in the contract…the specific line item for a bowl of M&Ms without any brown ones.
This happened March 30,1980 at the university of Southern Colorado in Pueblo. Entering the dressing room there were brown M&Ms, which led to lead singer David Lee Roth “having a bit of fun” trashing the buffet table. It was clear the contract was not thoroughly read, and sure enough the stage buckled under the weight of all the gear because it had not been reinforced to contract specifications, resulting in $85,000 in damage. (Note: Days after the show a concert ban was announced)
So, what appears to be diva behavior is actually a brilliant construct of using one of our Lean Six Sigma tools (visual management) to check compliance. Pretty smart for a bunch of rock stars. Taiichi Ohno would approve.
Stay hungry my friends, Erik
“You can observe a lot by watching”
Yogi Berra
(NY Yankee’s Catcher 1946-1963)
I want to credit Craig Plain for bringing this awesome story to my attention. His newsletter is “Chronicles of a Facilitator”. Link to article: Brown M&Ms