Outside voices and views for advisers

David Lee Roth on how to get a jump on building your business

The former lead singer of Van Halen and the quintessential decadent rock 'n roller, knows a thing or two about the subject

Feb 20, 2014 @ 9:42 am

By Steve Sanduski

David Lee Roth, the former lead singer of Van Halen and the quintessential decadent rock 'n roller, knows a thing or two about business.

As told by Chip and Dan Heath in their recent book, Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work, Mr. Roth turned the iconic M&M candy into a management tool.


It turns out Mr. Roth had a rider inserted deep into Van Halen's 1982 concert contract that required each venue to have a bowl of M&Ms backstage.

That alone is no big deal since rock stars are some of the biggest divas around, but the contract further specified that all brown M&Ms had to be removed from the bowl. And, if Mr. Roth found a brown M&M, the contract said the show would be forfeited with full compensation to the band.

Why would Mr. Roth do this?

Van Halen's 1982 concert setup was so massive and intricate that every step of the process had to be completed in meticulous order to ensure the band's safety and the fans' enjoyment.

Mr. Roth's genius (OK, I'm stretching it a bit) was by inserting the “diva” clause, he could quickly determine if the setup crew had read the contract and were following the detailed rules of stage setup. All it took was a simple walk backstage to look at the bowl of M&Ms.

If the M&M bowl contained a brown one, Mr. Roth knew the stagehands had not read the contract and he would “demand a line check of the entire production,” according to the book.


The Heath brothers call the M&M clause an example of a “tripwire.” It's a simple signal or shortcut that immediately tells you it's time to make a decision, review something or take an action.

Tripwires are a great time-saving device as well as a key management tool that can improve your business.

To develop your own business tripwires, think about things that need to be improved, solved, monitored or reduced. As an adviser, here are examples of tripwires you could set.

1. To get more referrals

Set a tripwire so that every time your firm goes two weeks without receiving a referral, it triggers you to ask five more clients/acquaintances/centers of influence for referrals.

2. To spark creativity

Set a tripwire so that every time you are in an airport, you buy and read a magazine that you've never read before.

3. To stop a losing investment from becoming a disaster

Set a tripwire so that whenever a position declines 8% from its recent high, it triggers a review of that position.

4. To stay focused

Set a tripwire so that your phone alarm vibrates every morning at 9:15 as a reminder for you to ask yourself, am I working on the most important thing right now?

5. To avoid overcommitting

Set a tripwire so that every time you add a new commitment to your schedule (e.g., sit on a board, launch a seminar series, add a standing tee time) you make a point to drop an existing commitment of equal or greater time.

6. To make sure your business keeps growing

Set a tripwire so that each time you lose a client, you work doggedly until you add two more of equal or greater value (this is in addition to your normal business activities).

7. To avoid becoming complacent

Set a tripwire so that on the first day of each quarter, you schedule an activity for that quarter that takes you out of your comfort zone (e.g., cold call five local CEOs, skydive, take a selfie).

Tripwires can also be used for personal development. For example, to keep you focused on your exercise goals, set a tripwire that each time you miss a scheduled workout, you leave an extra $20 tip at the next restaurant you go to (and that includes Starbucks or a fast food joint).

Tripwires act like “prodders” to make sure you engage in behavior that improves your business or keeps you on a path of personal development.


As you develop your business tripwires, make the triggering event either a negative or neutral trigger and the resulting activity one that you find either difficult or neutral.

For example, you wouldn't set a tripwire that every time your firm receives a referral it triggers you to ask for five more. Why? Because you might subconsciously avoid asking for referrals so you don't have to take the uncomfortable step of asking for five more.

A tripwire is a simple and flexible tool to keep you on track both personally and professionally. And there's no better time than now to set your first tripwire.

Use the comment section to share your first tripwire or tweet it @SteveSanduski

Here is Steve's: To spark creativity, each time I am in an airport, I'll buy and read a magazine that I've never read before.

Steve Sanduski is a New York Times bestselling author and president of Belay Advisor. His firm designs, builds and delivers comprehensive business solutions for companies that want to make a profound impact in people's lives. Follow him on Twitter @SteveSanduski.


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