Jimmy Guterman's blog

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Everything I need to know about business comebacks I learned from Tina Turner: my 2012 TED Talk

with 3 comments

After I’ve had time to recover from being shot out of that cannon, I’ll write about the experience of preparing for and delivering my talk at TED today. But a bunch of people have asked me to post a transcript right away, so here it is.

photo by James Duncan Davidson, http://www.flickr.com/photos/tedconference/6940703801/

Everyone of a certain age has felt washed up. Your old tricks … are old tricks. Whether in your business or personal life, whether you’re talking about a country, the environment, a world economic system, there comes a time when all you want is a big, dramatic comeback.

Not too long ago I found myself without my job, a job with a lot of meaning, working alongside people I loved. I was uncertain what to do next, some days not so sure I had much to offer anyone.

Turns out there’s plenty of comeback advice out there, a small subset of it based on empirical evidence. As I took responsibility for my own comeback, I found the conventional models unsatisfactory. I needed a sustainable model. What I needed, I realized, was Tina Turner.

Now you might think that the woman who wrote “Nutbush City Limits,” the woman who double-timed “Proud Mary” into the Top Five, the woman who taunted Mel Gibson in the thunderdome, might not be a model for businesspeople. Well, I studied plenty of business comebacks while I was sweating out my own and I’m here to share four lessons from Tina Turner that can help any individual or organization.

1. Comebacks take a long time.
When Tina hit with her version of “Let’s Stay Together,” it was the first time she’d entered the Billboard pop charts in nine years. Nine years. That’s about three lifetimes in pop music. During that decade, she’d done everything she could to keep going: Vegas gigs, Hollywood Squares. But even when she was doing corporate events to pay the rent, she was doing her job. She kept going.

2. Comebacks don’t come all at once.
Private Dancer, her comeback album, was her fifth solo record after she left Ike. She tried different approaches until a younger generation of British producers caught up with her. She experimented and refined, experimented and refined, until she got it right.

3. You can’t do it all yourself.
On Private Dancer, Tina Turner was able to surround herself with top collaborators because her previous work earned her so much goodwill. People who need comebacks had something good going before they needed to come back. The people who’ll accompany you on your comeback? Chances are they know about you already.

4. Be yourself, but be current.
Private Dancer worked because the voice sounded like Tina Turner, but the music didn’t sound like the Tina Turner you remembered. Everything you loved about her was still there, but this wasn’t nostalgia. She was making up-to-date hits, with way more gravity than the kids on the charts. Stick to your strengths, show ‘em off even, but employ them in a modern context.

I’m not Tina Turner. No matter how well your legs have held up, you aren’t either. But the steps Tina took to not merely come back but surpass her impact the first time around — they’re steps any person, any business, can use right now. It wasn’t until her comeback, after all, that Turner had her first Number One record.

And, best of all, after you mount a successful comeback, you can get away with looking like this:

Thank you so much.

Written by guterman

February 28, 2012 at 8:37 pm

Posted in TED

3 Responses

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  1. Love this Jimmy. This goes not only for comebacks but also for “get starteds” …. Hope your new beginning is a real surprise and a great adventure.

    Angela Blanchard

    February 28, 2012 at 10:42 pm

  2. Thanks for this, Jimmy. It resonates w/ me this morning.

  3. [...] recovered from my TED Talk (transcript, TED blog coverage), so I thought I’d share a few thoughts on the experience of giving a TED [...]


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