Jimmy Buffett, Margaritaville, and Strategic PM

On Saturday this Labor Day Weekend, I heard the sad news that the iconic performer Jimmy Buffett died. How ironic it was for this to happen just before Labor Day weekend in the US – when so many people, like myself, could be immersed in holiday weekend fun and relaxation – and listening to tributes and a wide array of his music. I learned much more about him – and his multi-faceted career as a musician, iconic figure, and entrepreneur.

Thinking about Jimmy Buffett holds lessons for the Strategic PM!

Jimmy Buffett, Music, and the Brand

I’ve liked Jimmy Buffett and his music for a long time. But I thought more about him these past couple of days than ever before. Jimmy ‘evolved’ throughout his life – and there are many lessons from that.

He became a singer and musician – but that proved to only be the start of it. His songs were reflective, thoughtful, engaging. He explored the mind, the emotions, and the world through his music.

I was never aware of the reflective, more introspective side of him until I heard so much of his music this weekend. It was a bit different – much deeper, more meaningful, and serious – than the well-known “Wasting Away in Margaritaville” music that he is so famous for. But I found it interesting that he was that way.

It seemed that he had a product – hi music – which he was passionate about. And he was inquisitive – it showed through in many songs. And he grew from there.

In time, he found a niche with raging and hungry fans. He sang from the heart, and won the hearts of millions. He took us to a place that is carefree, fun, and happy, even with life’s imperfections and our personal flaws. Eventually this niche became a fictitious place called Margaritaville.

A Place Called Margaritaville

Jimmy continued his music career – but there was much more to the music, fans, and aura of this niche he had uncovered and shaped. Jimmy had the vision to see that it all had evolved into a ‘brand’, and there is a great description of these ideas and more in a piece about his CEO, John Cohlan.

So Jimmy kept playing music…and writing…and growing that brand. But he had entrepreneurial vision – and brought others onto the team to manage and build it while he continued to build the brand with his music and performances.

It did, in fact, result in the invention of this iconic place called Margaritaville. It’s not a foreign concept, as we have had wonderlands and perfect places in our human minds and imaginations in the past in this imperfect world. But he found a unique place.

What hit me was what Jimmy said, as host in inaugural show on Radio Margaritaville in 1998:

“I wish I could say this was all well planned, but I can’t. We’re making it up as we go.”

More about that in a moment – as that speaks to strategy and project management implications!

From my perspective, it seems that so many people would find Margaritaville attractive. It’s carefree – no responsibilities or life pressures. It’s reflective – come as you are, despite your past mistakes. And the weather is always nice – warm, palm trees flickering in the breeze. And the picture is that everyone is there for the same thing – a reprieve from the pressures and difficulties of everyday life.

Strategic Lessons from Jimmy Buffett and Margaritaville

Jimmy Buffett and Margaritaville are manifiestations of several strategic effects. I isolated 12 of them!

  1. Network Effect – Jimmy Buffett’s community is on fun-lovers! All the channels – concerts, radio, satellite, internet, restaurants, resorts, real estate – work in concert and reinforce each other, providing a protective moat to the business.
  2. Blue Ocean Strategy – The niche and brand are the keys. They are indeed unique and have a clearly defined following.
  3. Star Business – Growth and profitability have been a key, and as long as lines are extended with an eye to growth and profit, it will continue to be a Start business.
  4. Goldilocks Rule – The message of “having fun” is loud and clear – and i the words of Goldilocks, “just right”. The key is to stick with the theme of “having fun” across segments to make things a challenge but not too much of a stretch.
  5. Digital Transformation Strategy – Extending into radio and internet represented digital extensions. What can the future bring?
  6. Minimum Viable Product – When Jimmy kicked off Margaritaville Radio and said, “We are making this up as we go.”, he had a minimum viable product (MVP to start.
  7. Importance of Focus – Again, stick to the theme of “having fun”, and avoid straying outside the realm of the whole Margaritaville mystique.
  8. Experience Curve – With new ideas, get there early and learn as you go. That’s what was done first with music, then with radio, then with real estate.
  9. First Mover Advantage – Moving into radio into 1998 was pretty early. It has been an advantage building that from early days of the internet.
  10. Strategic Agility – “We are making this up as we go” is pure strategic agility. It did start with the core idea of “having fun” – Jimmy said in the first Margaritaville Radio episode that he hoped everyone listening would have a lot of fun.
  11. Customer Experience – There is a unique idea of customer experience here, and they need to stick to it, feed it, and watch it closely.
  12. Job to be Done Theory – What is the “Job to be Done” by customers? To have fun!

This is a more focused group of strategic frameworks, which tend to be brand-focussed. Frameworks aside, Jimmy Buffett was very entrepreneurial.

Project Management Implications

It seems that i a growth business like Margaritaville, a key driver is projects. Here are the key aspects that I think are necessary in such an environment:

  • Projects will tend to be more agile – In an environment where you are “making it up as you go” – strategic agility – everyone will need to be flexible and have an agile mindset. This is an unmistakable blend of strategy and project management.
  • There are clear waterfall projects, too – Giving a concert has to be a waterfall project! Most details are well-known and can be carefully planned. The logistics is most well-known, and there can be some flexibility built in at the point of delivery.
  • “Discovery” projects are needed – You may have a general direction and a clear theme, but don’t necessarily know how to get there. The ability to take action is needed, but it needs to be directed. What do we need to learn? How can we put together a project that will help answer our questions? Learning is a key objective of these projects.
  • Culture and focus are key – No matter what the project is, there is a cultural thread that flows through everything. It would be interesting to see how that thread of “having fun” flows through projects. Projects can be serious, mundane, and highly engineered – but I still think that thread is needed.
  • There are projects in operational, non-core areas – As stated in the prior bullet, there will still be projects that are typical for every organization. These include accounting systems, other software systems, construction, and the like.

Careful attention and awareness are needed to be agile where it is needed, and to do waterfall planning where needed. For example, Margaritaville has a growing real estate development business, developing villages that carry the Margaritaville theme. The idea stage needs to be pretty flexible and agile, and at a clear inflection point waterfall planning and execution take over.

Conclusion and Further Resources

This post explored lessons learned about strategy and project management from the inconci signer and entrepreneur, Jimmy Buffett, who died this past Labor Day weekend in the US.  It talked about the ‘place’ and brand he created – Margaritaville – and its impllcations for strategy and project management.

Anything to share about Jimmy Buffett – and strategy and PM?

Let’s end with this astounding video of a yojng Jimmy Buffett – “Jimmy Buffett Explains Meaning of Margaritaville”:

Leave a Comment