Similarities between the Learning Pool community and the “Deadheads”…


There was a great article a couple of months back in the Sunday Times magazine.  It made comparisons between the Grateful Dead (Californian band headed up by the late Jerry Garcia, prolific creators, performers, LSD fuelled, very personal relationship with their fans – known as the Deadheads) and the Apple Corporation (personified best in their use of the “Think Different” slogan).  The basic premise of the article was that the Grateful Dead were ahead of their time in the way that they interacted with & involved their fans in the running of the band.  It was an innovative business model that was the exact opposite of what every other band did. 

This got me thinking about the way Learning Pool interacts with its own community – and yes – there’s a lot of similarities, with the exception of consumption of large amounts of LSD of course.  Here are 5 of them:

1.       The Grateful Dead allowed & even encouraged the Deadheads to tape their concerts and share the tapes with each other – as long as no money changed hands; Learning Pool encourages its community to use our authoring tool to create content and share it via the community – as long as no money changes hands.  This is fundamentally different from how other e-learning companies operate.  Even those that facilitate “sharing” make some money out of that process somewhere along the way.

2.       The Grateful Dead’s operating model flew in the face of how bands did things back in the 1970s and 80s; Learning Pool bucked the trend in e-learning by launching a learning management system in 2008 that was built on open source technology and priced to disrupt the market.  It has since been adopted right across local government making it the LMS of choice and the clear market leader by a long chalk.

3.       Barry Barnes, professor of leadership in the School of Business & Entrepreneurship in Florida describes the Grateful Dead’s energy as “dynamic synchronicity”; I like to think that this description could be equally well applied to the way that Learning Pool builds products hand in hand with its community and steering group, encouraging community members to steer our direction and shape the way we do things is second nature and allows for dynamic interaction.

4.       Continual innovation & creativity meant the Grateful Dead had a repertoire of over 150 active songs covering many musical genres and this in turn meant that none of their 2,300 or so live concerts were ever the same; the way Learning Pool builds content and accesses subject matter expertise with its members means that we have a huge catalogue of well over 200 up-to-date & constantly refreshed e-learning courses for our community to use.

5.       The Grateful Dead understood that in an information economy, the key relationship is between familiarity & value (not scarcity & value as in the old supply & demand model) and for the band this manifested itself in the incredibly close almost mystical relationship that existed between the band and the Deadheads – in business parlance they brought passion to the customer relationship; Learning Pool has built an incredibly personal relationship with its growing community (tens of thousands of local government officers, elected members and school governors use our learning products) and our customers frequently tell us we are more like partners than suppliers or that we’re part of the fabric of local government – and that makes us both proud and happy.

In true Irish fashion I’m going to leave you with a local story about the Grateful Dead, as told to me by Raphoe man & famous fiddler, Martin McGinley.  Jerry Garcia was in Co Donegal whilst recovering from his triple heart bypass operation & happened upon the Bridge Bar in Ramelton, a well known & popular music venue.  He noticed that the McPeake band from Belfast were playing that night & returned later for the gig.  He was spotted drinking tumblers of Jack Daniels at the bar by local men James McDaid & John McIvor.  The boys sidled over for a chat & established that it was indeed really Jerry Garcia and with mounting excitement they asked him if he would get up and play a few numbers.  Jerry said that he would – but the McPeake band refused to allow it – saying they didn’t permit anyone to perform with them on stage.  Hard to know what to say sometimes, isn’t it?


Image of Jerry Garcia used above attributed to Jay Blakesberg with grateful thanks



  1. OK so Ben and Jerry did their ‘Cherry Garcia’ tribute ice-cream, I think we need some flavours and a name for Ben and Jerry’s Learning Pool tribute – after all they too started off small and built up the brand. Jerry learnt how to make ice-cream from a corresepondence course – there wasn’t any e-learning round then – and Vermont is wasn’t the most obvious place to start and a global icew-cream company.


  2. Bit of an update to this blog post from Martin McGinley whom I ran into at the Bill Clinton lecture on Wednesday – apparently Jerry Garcia’s friend & his wife were also present on the occasion described above. Jerry’s wife, unlike the two boys was not drinking on the night in question. When Martin enquired of James McDaid whether that meant she was at least able to drive them back to Rathmullan House where they were staying, he was told – no – Jerry was doing all the driving. Guess that’s what they mean by Rock n Roll Lifestyle folks!


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