In 1971, the world was given a gift. Led Zeppelin, arguably the greatest rock band of all time, released Stairway to Heaven. As I was listening to the version covered by Heart at the 2012 Kennedy Center Honors, I started hearing things in Stairway that apply to different areas of life, specifically to business relationships. Stairway develops hidden layers, much in the same way as a great business relationship develops.
The song starts humbly; with a simple acoustic guitar playing a haunting melody that is immediately recognizable. Then come in recorders—those flutes every nine-year old had to play in 4th Grade—that give the tune a medieval sentiment, while still maintaining a vulnerability that invites people to lend an ear and listen to a tale from long ago.
Similarly, business relationships start apprehensively with both people hoping for the best but not quite sure where things are going to wind up. Sometimes, friendships may seem to start out more enthusiastically than the beginning of Stairway, but deep down, all relationships always have a sense of mutual liability.
As the song continues to climb, it picks up new instruments and new dimensions. The sound loses its innocence and becomes more deliberate. The drums come in giving it a rhythm and depth that weren’t present before. They help drive the melody forward. They also hasten the tempo.
Similarly, as business relationships morph into friendships as trust is found in unlikely places, things seem to flow more easily between the friends. With that trust comes opportunities for new ventures and abilities to collaborate in correspondingly beneficial ways.
The Fanfare of Unified Visions
At the climax of the piece, Jimmy Page riffs some incredible annunciations of what is to come: a fulfillment of the coming of the lady for whom “shines white light and wants to show how everything still turns to gold” and who helps us all become one. It is she who is “buying a stairway to heaven.”
Naturally, in every successful business and personal relationship, there is a time when our friendships become so good that anything is possible. And “when all are one and one is all,” we can see eye to eye because our purposes are the same. We want each other to succeed.
Of course, Wayne Campbell might make fun of me for finding so much depth in a comparing Stairway to business relationships. But, if it helps me find better ways to serve my friends, I really don’t care what Wayne thinks. Sorry, Wayne.