Advice / Succeeding at Work / Getting Ahead

How M&Ms Can Make You Better at Your Job

A logo with "the muse" in white text.

Every famous music artist has his or her own ridiculous demands: 50 Cent required 50 Cuban cigars at each venue, Mary J. Blige wanted a new toilet seat installed in every dressing room she used, and Jennifer Lopez once required the inside of her tour bus to be white (literally everything from walls to furniture). But did you know that one band’s particular request was a lot more than self-indulgent?

When they rose to prominence and began booking shows, Van Halen had a strange (and obnoxious) request for concert venues: There must M&Ms backstage—but no brown ones—or the entire concert would be cancelled at the expense of the promoter. You read that right: In a split second, an entire performance that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars could be cancelled because of one particular candy’s color.

Seems a bit harsh, right? However, as music industry expert Steve Jones recently explained in Entrepreneur, they weren’t just trying to be jerks: “Van Halen created a seemingly silly clause to make sure that every little detail was taken care of. It was important, both for the experience of the fans and the safety of the band, to make sure that no little problems created bigger issues.” If a promoter didn’t read the contract deliberately enough to understand this tiny demand, what other larger problems could there be with the venue?

The Van Halen anecdote serves as a cautionary tale for every careerist: The miniscule (even seemingly dumb) details matter, and if you’re not meeting every single one, you could be creating a domino effect of issues for your company—and your career. Your supervisor likes reports printed in a very specific font and format? There’s probably a reason for that. Your company’s CEO has weird morning rituals for all employees? There’s (hopefully) a method to his or her madness. By paying heed to the smallest details and demands, you’ll demonstrate to the higher-ups that they can trust you to take care of even bigger things, too.

Overall, Van Halen gave a lot more to the world than just great music. They gave a great example of how work isn’t always about the larger picture; it’s about the brown M&Ms.

Photo of photo description courtesy of Jaafar Alnasser.