Change has a way of eluding most people because they believe that in order to change you have to eat the whole enchilada rather than have just one bite. Take dieting, for example. Some of the most grandiose plans go into the most short-lived dieting strategies which fail because the incremental steps are dismissed in favor of all or nothing goals. But, just one small change, the right one, can bring major life-changing results.
51-seconds seems like an infinitesimal bit of time. Yet, for the American R&B, soul and funk band Bloodstone, it changed their musical path and launched them into the charts. “Natural High” was the first single and title track from their London Records album of the song name released in 1972. When I edited “Natural High” from 4:53 to 4:02 in 1973 to garner airplay on time-restricted AM radio stations, the song skyrocketed to the Billboard Hot 100, peaking at #10 and to #4 on the Billboard R&B singles chart. The 51-seconds change turned out to be monumental in Bloodstone’s success.
That storm-strewn endogenous maelstrom we call our emotions can be calmed with “Just One Look,” as the lyrics of Doris Clark’s 1963 hit single exclaimed: “Just one look, that’s all it took” and “I fell so hard in love with you.”
As big as the world is, tiny things have changed the course of history. The failure of the tiny O-ring on the space shuttle Challenger led to a re-examination of the country’s space program and dashed people’s hopes and dreams. The Arab discovery of the zero (“0”) made modern mathematics possible. The invention of the printing press made mass education a reality. Security officer Frank Wills’ discovery of a piece of masking tape keeping a hotel room door unlocked led to the arrest of five men inside the Democratic National Committee’s office in the Washington D.C. Watergate building leading to an FBI investigation and the resignation of a president.
A tiny change can have massive creative and life-changing implications. Identify that one, small change you can make and do it. Focus all of your effort on it. Ignore the musical score and take laser focus on the one note of your life or career that moves you in a new direction.
In addition to the iconic rendition by actor Richard Harris, Jimmy Webb’s “MacArthur Park” has been recorded by some of the industry’s most celebrated artists, including Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Diana Ross, The Four Tops and, most recently, Carrie Underwood. As any good story goes, it challenges us to want to know more. Whether it’s a lament over his lost relationship with a woman who later got married in that Los Angeles park on a rainy day or his bet with Richard Harris that he could write him a #1 song the prize of which would be a Rolls-Royce, the real impact is the emotion that wells up in us from listening to MacArthur Park and how it connects with our own feelings. Some of the greatest hit records can stand on their own as stories that move us: The Temptations’ “Papa Was A Rollin’ Stone,” The Beatles’ “A Day in the Life,” Simon & Garfunkel’s “The Boxer,” The Kinks Ray Davies’ “Come Dancing” and so many more.
Stories have the power to inspire, to motivate, to touch deeply, to challenge and to lift us to an entirely different level of being. Stories make us come alive. We need to find and tell our own personal story in order to reach out to others and connect in authentic ways. Think about a song that has had a powerful emotional impact on you. The feelings that it brought about in you were genuine. They tapped into the authentic YOU where all personal greatness begins.
To reinvent our careers and to find out what we truly want to do in life, we need to find our inner story and share it with others. In business, we need stories to position ideas in order to make the greatest impact on our audience. Our personal stories, our lyrics, our brush strokes, our PowerPoint slides need to convey our story so that others are moved from where they are now to where we want to take them.
The Beach Boys’ 1966 release of “Pet Sounds,” produced, arranged and almost entirely written by Brian Wilson, forever changed the landscape of pop music and is considered one of the most influential albums in the history of popular music. Inspired by the immaculately constructed and filler-free Beatles album, “Rubber Soul,” Brian’s masterpiece incorporates unconventional instruments such as bicycle bells, buzzing organs, harpsichords, flutes, Electro-Theremin, dog whistles, trains, Hawaiian-sounding string instruments, Coca-Cola cans, and even barking dogs.
Record producers, musicians and arrangers are continuously on the lookout for unique ways to incorporate novel sounds into their productions. The 13th Floor Elevators are remembered fondly for Tommy Hall’s work on the electric jug in “You’re Gonna Miss Me.” That’s an ocarina solo happening halfway into The Troggs “Wild Thing” and Nirvana on “Drain You” made musical use of a rubber duck, some chains, and aerosol cans. On “Harvest Moon” that down-home sound is created by an old corn broom being swept across a sheet of sandpaper and Brian Eno fastens down a contorted guitar solo with a deft typewriter beat on “China My China.”
Being able to see alternative uses of anything is a key to jump-starting the creative process. A slice of white bread with the crust removed will eliminate greasy fingerprints from painted walls and bicarbonate of soda sprinkled into offending shoes will eliminate the odors. Crayola crayons serve as excellent fillers for small gouges or holes in resilient flooring especially since the color options are immense. And, don’t throw away those scratched CDs. Screw them onto stakes along your driveway and they make great nighttime reflectors.
My point: looking at objects and problems from different perspectives is key to coming up with novel solutions to any challenge. Right now, wherever you are sitting, pick up any object within reach and think of all the alternative uses you can imagine for it. And, when you think you’ve exhausted the possibilities, think again. The best ones are waiting for you. Now, apply alternatives to life and career. The possibilities are endless!
Producing and engineering for London Records during the height of the British wave of music was a rush that has never left me. I’ve applied to business, leadership and team building the lessons I learned in the studio to bring out the best performance in any setting.
One dynamic in particular that occurred naturally when working with bands and groups was this: as rehearsed as I made sure band members were before they entered the studio (this was the pre-digital analog era and hourly studio costs prohibited wasting any time) I always allowed for natural, spontaneous creativity to emerge. While working through a part like a guitar solo or background harmonies, band members would give immediate feedback to one another as to how they heard or saw a particular part and the suggestion would be tried. No pre-thought was given to the exchange of feedback. It just happened. As invested in a musical part any band member was, they were open and creatively quick to listen to the suggestions of their mates and to try them.
To amp up our own creative juices we should condition ourselves to step back from the challenge at hand to “see” it and “hear” it as we would imagine others might; especially our targeted audience. What would they say or recommend at this stage of the process that might direct us in a more productive or unique way. When I’m working on a creative project of my own I sometimes get up from my desk chair and imaginatively “invite” someone else, often a specific person, to give feedback. I literally stand behind my chair, like I used to do in the recording studio during playbacks when I put my “commercial audience ears” on and assessed whether a song was a hit or not, and try to imagine others’ responses and suggestions. You can be involved in a solo endeavor like writing and still engage the recommendations of others. Think of it as conjuring the creative spirits of those you respect the most! You might surprised at the outcomes!
Anything American author Jane E. Brody writes never fails to capture my interest. For her to cover my favorite topic, reinvention, is a double treat. For her to reference Dorie Clark (who I’ve had the pleasure to interview on my radio program) as an “expert at self-reinvention and helping others make changes in their lives,” hits it out of the park for me.
In her New York Times article, Reinventing Yourself, Jane , a master of information and storytelling, provides inspiring examples of people who have “reinvented themselves, sometimes against considerable odds, other times in surprising ways.” I encourage everyone who is somewhere on the road from “not me” to being the “real me,” to read this article and give it an email folder so you can access it anytime and anywhere for a much needed dose of inspiration.
"You've had such a varied and impressive career. It's awesome to read about your adventures and reinventions and how you're now helping others do the same," branding expert Dorie Clark, author of Reinventing You and Stand Out