U2 went from a band people laughed at to become one of the greatest bands in history. Today, U2 has been awarded more Grammy awards than any other band and it surpassed the Rolling Stones’ record for the highest revenue generating concert tour. How did such a remarkable transformation happen and how has the band continued its success for more than four decades?
Bono, the band’s lyricist, lead singer and leader-among-equals has said the way the U2 works is more extraordinary than its music. He’s referring to U2’s culture — in other words, the predominant attitudes, language and behavior of U2’s members. Here are four character strengths that reflect U2’s culture and help explain how the band achieves sustained success.
- Appreciation of Beauty and Excellence
U2 has an appreciation of beauty and excellence. The band members have high standards for their music and concert performances. They never feel they’ve achieved perfection but always strive to become better. This attitude drives U2 to learn and grow.
U2 is willing to try new things and take risks. For example, the band teamed up with Apple to provide an instant download of its last record, Songs of Innocence, to 500 million users of iCloud. Although the unsolicited free gift received criticism from users who are not fans, the move was a big hit with the band’s followers. The surprising and generous move shows U2 is willing to experiment. This is a healthy sign that bodes well for U2’s future.
Achieving excellence and perfection is difficult. It requires hard work, perseverance and resilience to overcome obstacles. The character strength of love helps U2 get through the inevitable professional and personal challenges. Love means people value close relations with others; sharing and caring are reciprocated.
The members of U2 share their economic profits equally among the four band members and their manager, which differs from many bands where the most popular band members make the most money.
The guys in U2 have an inspiring history of caring for one another. When Larry Mullen’s mother was killed in an accident a short time after the band was formed, Bono reached out to help him get through a time of grieving. Bono’s mom had died a couple years earlier. He empathized with Larry. Some years later, when the band was offered its first recording contract with the condition it replace Larry with a more conventional drummer, Bono told the recording company executive to shove it. Through sickness, divorce, addiction, and death threats, the members of U2 know they can count on their band mates to be there for them. They have each other’s backs.
If any member of U2 strongly opposes a proposed decision, they band will not implement it. This gives each member of U2 a voice in decisions. The band recognizes that it takes more time to make decisions this way, and it can be frustrating, but it believes this approach produces superior results.
This consensus-oriented decision-making approach reflects humility. It recognizes that no one has a monopoly on good ideas and the best results come about when everyone is encouraged to share their opinions and ideas.
The character strength of spirituality exits in a group when its members hold common strong and coherent beliefs about the higher purpose and meaning of life. U2 is influenced by the Christian belief of loving and serving others. The band’s music is about human rights, social justice and matters of faith. Bono says this makes U2 different than most bands. He has described U2 as traveling salesmen whose ideas are communicated in songs. Bono “walks the talk,” too. He and his wife Ali are philanthropists who support the poor, particularly in Africa.
These four character strengths — appreciation of beauty and excellence, love, humility, and spirituality — help U2 perform at the top of its game. Entering its fifth decade, look for U2 to continue to evolve in new directions. Given U2’s outstanding culture, the band’s best may be yet to come.
Adapted from Connection Culture: The Competitive Advantage of Shared Identity, Empathy and Understanding at Work. Read the complete story about U2’s culture in the sample introduction and first chapter of Connection Culture.
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