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Inspiration and motivation can come from the most unusual places and people.  Every now and then, somebody says something that makes you stop and think, “I never expected to that from them!”  Not only didn’t you expect it, but also it made perfect sense in a bizarre way.  Sometimes it’s genius in its simplicity.

Not to show my age, but my friends and I were fans of Van Halen during their heyday until they crash and burned like most bands.  When they reunited in 2009, I recalled a story related to brown M&M’s and trashed dressing rooms.  I caught an interview with the lead singer, David Lee Roth that reminded me of the story and the details.  Basically, the way it described in his autobiography, Crazy from the Heat:

Cover of "Crazy from the Heat"

Van Halen was the first band to take huge productions into tertiary, third-level markets.  We’d pull up with nine eighteen-wheeler trucks, full of gear, where the standard was three trucks, max.  And there were many, many technical errors … So just as a little test, in the technical aspect of the rider, it would say “Article 148: There will be fifteen amperage voltage sockets at twenty-foot spaces, evenly, providing nineteen amperes . . .” This kind of thing.  And article number 126, in the middle of nowhere, was: “There will be no brown M&M’s in the backstage area, upon pain of forfeiture of the show, with full compensation.”
So, when I would walk backstage, if I saw a brown M&M in that bowl . . . well, line-check the entire production.  Guaranteed you’re going to arrive at a technical error.  They didn’t read the contract.  Guaranteed you’d run into a problem.  Sometimes it would threaten to just destroy the whole show.  Something like, literally, life threatening.

When the band arrived for a show at Colorado State University in Pueblo, Colorado, they went backstage and saw the brown M&Ms on the buffet table, which told them nobody read the contract.  Turns out the college had just added new flooring to the arena and failing to read the contract resulted in $80K worth of damage because the weight of the stage sunk 6” into the floor.  Somebody missed the most critical requirements.

The “Brown M&M” theory has helped identify risks and issues as early in the project lifecycle.  As a parent or a project manager (are they really different roles?!) we’re assigned a “project”  either from the start or somewhere along the timeline.  If you are fortunate enough to kick off the project” , it’s your job to remove the brown M&Ms. if you inherit the project”, you have to find them.