Almost everyone has heard the story about the bowl of M&Ms in Van Halen’s famous concert rider.

You know, the one where Eddie Van Halen says they require a giant bowl of M&Ms, but there must be absolutely no brown M&Ms in the bowl.

As my friend Shawn Veltman explained at the 2015 Evergreen Summit, what has historically been viewed as typical, incredibly ridiculous, 80’s rock-star diva behavior was actually none of those.

In fact, it was one of most cleverly designed operations lessons ever. It was a clever little trick designed to ensure the safety of the band and the crew.

This story can be found in more detail in the Heath Brothers fantastic book called Decisive (which I highly recommend).

At the peak of their fame, Val Halen found itself playing massive arenas each night packed with sometimes over 80,000 people.

They would travel by private plane and arrive at an unknown arena, where an unknown crew would have worked to set up the band’s elaborate staging, lighting, and explosive pyrotechnics for the upcoming performance.

The band had serious concerns that if instructions weren’t followed carefully, then there was a real risk of someone getting injured, or perhaps even killed.

But how could the band maintain any control on something that was so far out of their control?

It was rather simple. They used brown M&Ms.

Buried deep within the band’s multi-page contract that included perhaps hundreds of lines of safety requirements was a single line about a random bowl of M&MS. And when the band arrived at the arena, Roth only needed to glance at the bowl of M&Ms.

If he found even ONE brown M&M in the bowl, then he knew the contract hadn’t been read carefully enough, and there was no way in hell the band was stepping foot on that stage without a complete line-by-line check of everything else, first.

In the business world, this is called a tripwire.

A tripwire is our first line of defense to let us know something has happened.

They’re used to forewarn us that something we expect to be happening isn’t happening.

Or when something we don’t want to happen, is happening.

The idea behind the tripwire is to learn about problems before they turn into even bigger problems so we can proactively take action, as opposed to always responding reactively to any given situation.

My firm helps clients across all kinds of different industries, set up tripwires related to sales, marketing, and customer retention efforts.

For example, we might set a tripwire to ensure our sales team is doing what we think they’re doing, and what they’re supposed to be doing.

We might set one to have a better understanding of when customer behavior is changing, signaling to us when we might be at risk of losing one customer, or perhaps thousands of customers.

Sometimes they’re incredibly simple, and other times they’re far more complex. The real power comes from having the right metrics in place to forewarn us of something before it’s too late.

When we don’t have tripwires set up we run the risk of showing up and stepping on stage thinking everyone has done their job the way they’re supposed to.

All it takes is one little spark to hit that enormous amount of hairspray and you’re going to get lit up like a Christmas Tree.

Today’s Key Challenge: Spend a little time with your executive team and ask them to think about the bowl of brown M&Ms.

What metrics do you have in place to tell you that something you think is happening, and something that is supposed to be happening, isn’t actually happening?

What tripwires do you have in place to alert you when customer behavior is changing?

Let me know what you learn.