Born this way: 5 MBA lessons from Lady Gaga

Extracted from the book “The Music of Business

Lady Gaga is a music and business phenomenon.  Simply fabulous electro pop and dance music.  Strategy, marketing, finance, HR, operations, social media and so on, all rolled into one.  Setting aside all the controversy over her music, fashion and so on, what might an MBA graduate learn from Lady Gaga about her approach to business?  Before we start, in case you have not caught up with Lady Gaga, take a look at her ‘Edge of Glory’ video, with lyrics inspired by the death of her grandfather:

Share your thoughts on your favourite Lady Gaga song / performance by making a comment on this blog.  Since she is a controversial figure, if you cannot stand her, it would also be interesting to know why.

Here are five MBA lessons that you can learn from Lady Gaga:

1. I personally love Lady Gaga’s music but it is not completely new.  Her music springs from 80’s and 90’s electro-pop and dance music, drawing upon a range of influences, such as Bowie, Queen, Elton John, Madonna, Britney Spears and Michael Jackson.  I’d add Prince to the list as I’m sure she has been influenced by the Purple Genius.  Many people are creatures of habit in terms of their musical tastes (see my post on AC/DC for more on this) and this makes Lady Gaga’s music a very acceptable diet for consumers, young and old.

MBA lesson # 1.   Innovate within the familiar range of the customer’s expectation for maximum early impact.  Build on that for long term sustainability.

2. If Lady Gaga’s music is in the familiar range, the presentation certainly is not.  Or is it?  Sure, people are shocked to see Lady Gaga attacked during her performance and then die in a pool of fake blood.  But, remember Alice Cooper’s electric chair executions and Madonna’s on stage masturbation scenes for ‘Like a Virgin’ on her ‘Blond Ambition’ tour?  We have been here before.  The difference that Lady Gaga brings is that she has learned from all of these people and improved the packaging and presentation of the theatrical elements that accompany her music.  Top business thinkers such as Tom Peters have written about becoming a learning organisation, which, broadly speaking is an organisation that learns from its customers, staff, partners and so on. That learning can be simple, such as “How can we do what we do better?” It can also be more fundamental, such as ” How can we start over?”  Unlike some businesses, Lady Gaga has actually taken notice of Tom’s wisdom on learning organisations.

MBA lesson # 2.   Stand on the shoulders of giants if you want to innovate.  Be a genuine learning organisation if you want to stay in business for the long term.

3. Lady Gaga has succeeded in an age where society is questioning the profit imperative of corporations and celebrities.  How has she done this?  By cleverly combining the profit and purpose ambition as Daniel Pink, author of ‘A Whole New Mind’ points out.  Gaga combines exceedingly clever cross branding (music, fashion, headphones and so on) with a number of social and humanitarian causes such as the Haiti earthquake, the Japanese Tsunami and various AIDS / HIV causes.  This has enabled her to withstand a number of public relations crises when others would have crumbled.

MBA lesson # 3.   Combine your social responsibility agenda with your business plan in a seamless way.  Execute your plans with meticulous detail.

4. Lady Gaga has a shrewd approach to HR Strategy – partnering with evergreen stars such as Madonna, Elton John and Cher.   This gives her access to a much wider market for her music and legitimises her brand across generations.

MBA lesson # 4.   Use partnerships and joint ventures to enlarge your market share in ways that benefit all the stakeholders.  Choose your partners wisely and in ways that provide genuine win-win benefits.

5. Lady Gaga has captured the hearts, minds, souls and bank balances of several generations through the clever use of social media, in ways that major corporations can only dream of.   She has given her fans control of social media such as Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and so on.  They have a shared identity (little monsters) and Gaga has allowed her fanbase to operate a ‘market pull’ approach to affiliation instead of using traditional ‘push’ approaches to marketing.

MBA lesson # 5.   Understand that social media is social and the powerful imperative of the word YOU in social media.   People like social media to interact with their own lives and values.

I’m sure there are many more MBA lessons to be drawn from Lady Gaga.  Please send your thoughts in as contributions to this blog, which will be included in a sequel.  In the meanwhile, here is Lady Gaga’s fantastic piece of post-modern pop music ‘Poker Face’.

Our new book ‘The Music of Business” has an expanded article on Lady Gaga, plus much much more – acclaimed by Harvey Goldsmith.  Sample it here – available worldwide on Amazon and as a Kindle download.


About the Blogger:  Peter Cook leads The Academy of Rock – Keynote events with a difference and Human Dynamics – Business and organisation development, training and coaching.  Contact via