Oprah, Black Eyed Peas, and Creating a Feeling

Whether you thought the Super Bowl XLV half-time show was good or not, in the fall of 2009 the Black Eyed Peas were a part of a rather fantastic experience.  The event was Oprah Winfrey’s 24th Season Kickoff Party.  Below is the video of this performance.  As you watch the performance, pay attention to the young woman in the blue dress in the crowd at the front of the stage…


This video has gone viral, with people sharing this version or posting alternate versions, many with comments like “girl starts dance party,” or something similar.  Many of the comments talk about the amazement that a single person can get 21,000 people working together, and then lament why we can’t even solve our own problems, either for the country or at work.  The belief is that this spectacular event just all seemed to happen on its own, and all of these people just magically worked together all of a sudden.

But that isn’t the case.

I must admit that as I watched the video I felt the power from the crowd; its excitement; its focus; its energy.  And while I do believe that powerful things can and do just “happen,” I also know that this isn’t usually the case.  Powerful things that are well executed come from inspiration, yes, but they also come from good planning.  So I went off to investigate and find the real story behind turning this “mob” of individuals into a well functioning dance machine.

What I discovered was that, like most great things, it did start with a person or at least a small group of people, although it wasn’t the young woman in the blue dress.  It was from director Michael Gracey and choreographer Ashley Wallen, and the planning for this began many months prior, long before the young woman in a blue dress started dancing.

First came the idea to do this as part of the Kickoff Party.  Then simple steps were designed into the dance that would make it easy to teach others.  Then a core of about 20 professional dancers learned the dance and how to teach it, and they helped teach it to 800 other professional dancers.  On the day of the event, and prior to Oprah arriving, these 800 dancers were placed throughout the crowd, and then the crowd was taught the basic moves.  If they happened to forget the moves it wasn’t a problem.  All they had to do was watch one of the 800 professional dancers who were stationed throughout the crowd who already knew the dance by heart.

So, no, this dance wasn’t spontaneous at all, but actually well thought out, well planned, and well executed.  And guess what?  Yep, the young woman in the blue dress is one of the professional dancers.

So what does this have to do with organizational performance?  Well, the same thing is true in the best organizations.  High performance does not just happen spontaneously, nor is it left to chance.  It doesn’t happen simply because a CEO or other leader starts jumping around and getting excited, hoping that others will get excited too.  Rather, it begins with some well thought out goals and plans that are created by a small group of people; the senior executive team.  Then the senior executive team “teaches” what is important about the plan and how to accomplish the plan to the managers in the organization.  Then the managers “teach” what is important to their employees.  These managers also make sure that they are around to be good examples for their employees, and that they are being good coaches to help their employees perform within the parameters of the plan.

When you create clarity, focus, and alignment in the organization, then all of a sudden everyone is moving at the right time and in the right way to accomplish some really great things.  Did you notice that in the dance that not everyone was doing the exact same thing at the exact same time?  Everyone had their part, sometimes being different from others.  For example, did you notice in the dance that not everyone turns around to the back of the crowd at the same time?  So it isn’t about everyone doing the same things at the same time, but about people doing what they should do at the right time.

As employees perform, interacting with others in the organization, as well as outside of the organization, and as they follow the plan, doing their part, then great things begin to happen.  As these great things begin to happen they get excited, and pretty soon performance can take on its own energy levels, fueling higher and higher levels of performance in the organization, which leads to even greater excitement about what is happening in the organization.

It is this feeling of excitement surrounding Purpose and the accomplishment of the Goals surrounding that Purpose that creates engagement in employees.  And while this feeling might happen spontaneously, the things that led up to it really did have to be carefully planned and executed.  It takes time to create this kind of excitement.  Often times others will not see the time and preparation that goes into creating something fantastic, like the performance in Chicago’s Miracle Mile.  All most see are the results and the excitement surrounding those results.  They think it is magic born out of spontaneity, when, in fact, there was a lot of hard work and planning that went into making that fantastic performance look spontaneous and effortless.

To borrow from and paraphrase some from the song, I’ve got a feeling that today is going to be a good day, but it takes my conscious effort and some well laid plans to make sure that it is going to be a Great Day.  Don’t leave your Great Day for you and your organization up to chance, but rather take the time to plan and share those plans with others.

Make a Great Day!