The Parliament Masterclass: Entrepreneurship Lessons From George Clinton

by Terri Scott 8 Minutes

George Clinton Album Cover“One nation under a groove. Gettin’ down just FOOOR the funk of it!”

I remember that chorus so well-it was all over the radio when I was in 1st grade, and the car radio was always on whenever my grandmother and I were riding in her car back in Philly, traveling here and there, to and fro.

I’m telling on my age a bit, but like many of my generation (and older), the sounds of Parliament/Funkadelic were an integral part of our lives.

So it stood to reason that I was very interested in watching a PBS-produced documentary about the origins of the band that started a movement-one that influenced at least two generations of musicians, and rappers.

Sure, I knew that when I watched the documentary, I was in for some great memories. But, what I didn’t know was that inside the mind of the man who has taken to wearing rainbow-colored braided extensions lied a treasure trove of entrepreneur lessons.

I realized that George Clinton, Dr. Funkenstein himself, without any formal education, was implementing entrepreneur lessons that even the most buttoned-up C levels could learn from, and there’s a lot here for you to keep in mind and use, immediately.

And, while you might not grow your brand into a multi-generational influencer, you can use these lessons to break away from the freelancer/agency pack, or at least, out of any professional funk that you might currently find yourself in.

Here’s lessons that George unknowingly showed me, causing me to have multiple flashlight moments about entrepreneurship:

1. Embrace Authenticity

Parliament was originally named The Parliaments, and the group originated sometime in the late 1950s in Newark, New Jersey. At the time, the biggest thing in R&B music was Motown, so the group tried winning a Motown contract.

It took the group around 10 years to win a serious recording contract, and it wasn’t with Motown, although the group did relocate to Detroit (Michigan). During this time, George recognized that the strength of the group wasn’t in keeping up with the polished black musical acts of the time. The strength of his group was in following a more blues/rock sound with a hippie aesthetic.

It’s tempting to want to follow the crowd, and everyone is tempted to emulate industry leaders. This can often lead to discouragement and disaster, because everyone isn’t meant to be a follower. Sometimes, a company or an outfit is made to be a leader.

When you lead in manner that is completely organic, your company and your employees will thrive. The right types of vendor partners or clients will gravitate towards you. And, in the case of the Parliaments, the polished, veteran musical acts eventually became fans of the re-branded group!

2. Newer Doesn’t Always Equal Inferior

Based on the strength of their first hit, The Parliaments headlined their Apollo Theater appearance over more established acts on the same billing-The O’Jays and The Impressions

Although the original Parliaments were the new kids on the block, they were promoted to the headlining performing act, because they stood out. Sometimes, the right clients or customers can perceive greater value in a company/agency/freelancer who isn’t afraid to take a fresher, different approach.

3. Persevere Past Embarrassing Mistakes And Missteps

The Apollo Theater appearance was so horrible, George and the group stepped back and reassessed their talents. Although their performance was embarrassing, they knew they had what it took to become one of the major acts of the era.

Whether you are learning or are already established, embarrassing mistakes and mishaps will take place. There will be times when you’re not able to live up to the perceptions that your clients have formed about your company. Sadly, you might not be able to keep the promises that you advertised about your services.

But, it’s not your lack of preparation or experience that always counts. Sometimes, it’s all about learning from mistakes and moving forward, quickly. Or, as George was known to say:

Without humps, there’ll be no getting over!

3. An Entrepreneur Must Be Flexible In The Face Of Unforeseen, Uncontrollable Issues

Due to internal problems within The Parliaments original record label, the group lost the right to produce new content or perform under their original name, as the name became the property of the record label. Thinking quickly on his feet, George managed to score another recording contract for the group:

He renamed the group Funkedelic, and proceeded to record content for their new record label.

4. Building Strategic Industry Relationships Is Key

On the way to a concert, Funkadelic’s equipment was transported in another vehicle, and the vehicle’s driver got lost, leaving the band with no equipment to play their gig. Another band on the gig, Vanilla Fudge, allowed Funkadelic to borrow their equipment, on the condition that Funkadelic didn’t ruin the borrowed equipment.

That act of goodwill not allowed allow everyone to play their set, but George and the band realized their full playing potential by gaining access to superior-quality equipment.

There will be times when an an agency or a freelancer needs help. Whether the help involves acquiring new clients, new equipment, software, or information, it’s always a great idea to build friendly, strategic relationships with industry peers, and with the appropriate industry veterans.

They’ll often be glad to offer a hand-up, because they remember their struggles. And, when you’re presented with the opportunity, you can offer a hand-up to others less fortunate than you.

5. Don’t Be Threatened By Talented Underlings And Newbies

When a handful of Jame’s Brown musicians became disenchanted, they left his backing band. In time, they hooked up with Funkadelic, adding their unique talents, along with the skills they learned from their time with James Brown. These musicians included legends such as Bootsy Collins, and Maceo Parker.

It might feel tempting to become threatened by the talented new kid on the block, especially if they bring unique talents or training with them. But, it’s a mistake to push employees or contractors like these off to the side, especially out of misplaced ego or insecurity.

Inviting new talent only adds to the value of your company, and it allows you to take advantage of resources that your competition would have gained access to, if you hadn’t hired the talented newbie.

5. The Wise Entrepreneur Encourages Creativity And Innovation

Unlike notorious micro-managers like James Brown and others, George Clinton was famous among his band of musicians (and later, the recording artists he produced) for encouraging vast levels of musical innovation and creativity.

Do whatever you feel like in the moment. I can always edit it out later.

George understood that the secret sauce of his sound (and the band’s brand) was in allowing his musicians free range of their capacities. Not only did this create a musical brand that eventually became legendary, this also allowed his musicians to explore the full capacity of their talents.

Again, allowing contractors or employees to reach their potential only allows the entrepreneur’s company to have access to greater, richer, more sophisticated levels of resources.

6. There’s Always More Than One Way To Accomplish Your Goals

Around 1975, Funkadelic had the opportunity to sign with Casablanca Records. The problem was that the Funkadelic name belonged to their current record company. Faced with breaking the band’s current recording contract if they defected to Casablanca, George Clinton came up with an idea that was ingenious, and quite lucrative:

He kept the band with their current record label, performing as Funkadelic. He also signed the group to a simultaneous Casablanca recording deal, while re-purposing the band’s original name. When the group recorded and performed Casablanca content, they did so as Parliament.

This allowed him to take advantage of the promotion and marketing budget of two different record labels, while enjoying the revenue that was generated by producing content for two labels. At the same time, George only used half of the resources necessary for the content-all of the band members who performed for Funkadelic also performed for Parliament.

It’s great for entrepreneurs to follow established ‘playbooks’ of their peers or respected industry leaders. However, the savvy entrepreneur will also look for legal, ethical loopholes and opportunities that allows them to gain access the most revenue, while spending the least amount of their financial or creative resources.

7. A Great Leader Encourages Their Team To Invest And Share In The Company’s Long-Term Vision

Due to George’s financial acumen, money was starting to flow into the band like water. All of the band members spoke about all of the nice “toys” they were going to purchase for all of their hard work.

Being the forward-thinking genius that he is, George persuaded the band members to band members to postpone buying fancy cars and other “tokens”, and instead invest in one of the most notable concert stage props ever:

The Mothership

George had the insight to observe that none of the other R&B bands of the era were performing with fancy stage prompts. He had the foresight to observe bands such as KISS, who specialized in megawatt pyrotechnic-infused stage events.

He reasoned that if he could create a ship that floated over the crowds during concerts and landed on the stage, and if he could build an act around the landing and the unloading of the ‘mothership’, then people would flock to the concerts just to partake in witnessing the landing of their specially-made spaceship.

As a result, the ship became the mascot of the Parliament/Funkadelic brand, and the number-one draw for prospective concert attendees around the world, allowing all involved to recoup their financial investment, ten-fold.

The best leaders not only have wild visions for their brands, but they’ll also encourage their teams to dream bigger, and brighter. They’ll assist their team members to think beyond their momentary needs, and this encourages employees to take pride and ownership in everything they do for the company.

8. Who Says That Marketing Content Has To Be Stale Or Inauthentic?

One of the hallmarks of the group’s musical lyrics was a cool and slick, yet silly and nonsensical approach. George and his writing team were famous for sliding in serious social messages and history lessons in a manner that was so relatable and inviting, they were almost imperceptible.

At the same time, George liked to tickle his fans’s sensibilities. He’d create lyrics that were perceived at serious, but they were meant to be silly and playful.

George understood that at the end of the day, if he gave his fans what they wanted (original entertainment content), then they’d give him what he needed (long-term customer value and revenue).

He understood that just because musical content containing social messages were popular at the time, this didn’t mean that he had to deliver the messages in a heavy-handed, stale, unattractive manner.

Ask yourself this:

When’s the last time that you delivered your brand’s message in a way that was inviting, and even, entertaining? Or are you delivering the same stale, recycled message that everyone else is delivering (with limited results)?

9. The End Of A Good Running Streak Doesn’t Equal The End Of Your Dreams

Around 1980, George Clinton’s fortunes took an 180-degree turn. Due to legal issues with his current handful of record labels (and recording acts), George found himself in a load of financial trouble, as no one wanted to do business with him anymore.

Soon, some of his band members deserted him, as did many of his management team and legal advisers. But in 1982, although George was certainly down, he was determined to get back into the game.

Yet again, he re-branded into a solo act, marketing himself under his personal name (while using many of the same band members from the Parliament/Funkadelic days).

Then, he created a song that’s commonly considered the opus of his catalog that knocked fans and music industry insiders straight on their rears:

Atomic Dog

Legends are labeled as such because they believe in themselves through the highs and the lows of their careers. Driven by their legacies, they won’t allow everything that they’ve build and worked for die in obscurity.

While you might not consider yourself a legend just yet, know that you’ll never become more than what you are now if you’re ready to throw in the towel when the storm clouds are drenching you with bad luck and hard times.

***

Although George Clinton never re-lived his Parliament/Funkadelic glory days, he continued to produce musical content throughout the 80s, and the 90s. He’s produced records for other artists, and he influenced just about every rapper this side of the galaxy.

Most important to digital creatives, he left you plenty of entrepreneurship examples that are sustainable, allowing you to create a professional odyssey of your own.

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by Terri Scott
Terri is a content marketing storyteller and strategist. She teaches marketing and entrepreneurship through stories for marketers of all stripes. Her specialty is creating narrative and she writes essays and memoir in her spare time. You can view her work at terriscott.contently.com, and she'd love to hear from you: https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100011073971177