The Power of Freshness

Greetings. If you would like to be totally inspired about the real power of music, and the real potential of life, work, and learning, then commit to spending fifty minutes listening to the BBC’s recent interview with Chinese pianist Lang Lang. But you will have to hurry because it is only up on their website for the next 26 days.

By way of background, Lang Lang was a child prodigy and is now one of the world’s foremost and most dynamic classical pianists. But he is also, at the age of 33, a renowned teacher, United Nations cultural ambassador, and remarkable voice for the power of learning across cultures, generations, and genres. And his thoughts about how we continue to stretch, grow, and stay fresh, focused on music but with much broader implications, are worth our time and attention.

In listening to the interview I was struck by his passion for a wide range of musical traditions, his sense of why so many young people never get past the early stages of learning (an instrument like piano), his thoughts on why being perfect is overrated, why it is important to “look for the notes between the notes,” and his belief that the greatest composers throughout history would probably delight in the knowledge that future generations were passionate about their music but also willing to try to reinterpret it. And the more I listened to his words and his playing, the more I felt the value of his insights and their broader application to life, business, and innovation.

Lang Lang, Piano / 18.02.2010 / Koelner Philharmonie

All of us and all of our organizations need to dare to try new things, figure out how to not become discouraged when the going gets tough, find joy in the work we do, and build on the ideas and brilliance of others.

Here is a fascinating excerpt on the power and necessity of keeping music (and whatever we work on) fresh and new…

“In music we need to always remind ourself why you play the piece over and over and over it again. You forget about the freshness. You really forget why we are loving music so much. You know. Because you repeated the same thing so much.

What I think we need to do is always play the music but try to imagine in a different eyes everyday. Different angle. And then when you play this piece you feel more like ‘Oh, it is quite fresh.’ I know the piece, but I don’t really know the piece. Today is my first time playing it. You always need to have that and if you start repeating the same thing you become, what you call, ‘autopilot.’ And that’s the worst part because then it’s not art anymore. It became kind of like ‘whatever.’ ‘Whatever’ in music is the danger. It’s the biggest danger.”

Think about how this might apply to your company and how you can avoid the danger of your work becoming ‘whatever.’

And if you would like to see and hear one way to avoid ‘whatever,’ check out Lang Lang’s collaboration with Metallica at the 56th Grammy Awards.

We win in business and in life when we approach the things that matter with different eyes and from different angles. And when we are open to learning from others and from different walks of life.


The Gift of Pete Seeger

Greetings. Pete Seeger was an American original. Truly American and truly original. A man whose music and life struck at the heart of what has made our country remarkable and struck at the gaps that keep us from reaching our full potential. His passing leaves a void, not just in the world of folk music in which he was one of its most popular and hopeful voices, but in a society striving to be as caring and hopeful as possible. Many of you will remember some of the songs he wrote including “If I Had a Hammer,” “Turn, Turn, Turn,” and “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?” which have found their way across the world.

Pete Seeger believed in the power of music to bridge divides between people and places. He also believed in the dignity of every person, the importance of protecting the environment, and the necessity of conscience in standing up for the things that matter. I’d like to think that whatever our politics are, we all see these as essential (American) beliefs in our civic, social, and business lives.

In fact, I would guess that all of our companies and organizations would be much better off if more of us viewed life and the world with the gift of Pete Seeger. More people who believed in:

The value of every employee.

The need to appreciate and protect all of the resources we use.

The importance of standing up for what is right and holding ourselves to a high standard.

The necessity of finding the right song to bring people together in order to make a difference.


And I would also guess that all of our companies and organizations would be much better off if they had more people who brought new ideas and perspectives to the work we do and the challenges and opportunities we face. Ideas and perspectives that would cause us to cast a wider and much more inclusive net, stretch our thinking, and imagine more powerful and more collaborative possibilities.

We win in business and in life when we dare to sing together. And when our very nature is to stand up for the things we believe even when it isn’t always in our own best interest.


Getting to a Better Place

Greetings. We all know that starting any new business, and especially one of significant scale that proposes to change the game in its industry, is a difficult proposition. First, you have to have an important idea that fills a real market need. Then you have to have the right people, the right partners and connections, the right plan and business model, and enough funding to bring your vision to life. And you need to be very clever at using your resources wisely and timing their use so that you hit the market at close to the perfect moment.

Then you need a bit…or more than a bit…of luck.

Which brings us to the sad announcement that Better Place, the ambitious Israeli start-up with a brand new way to drive the growth of electric vehicles, was going out of business with more of a whimper than a mighty bang. Granted, electric cars and batteries don’t make a lot of noise, but this company had raised and spent a lot of money from major backers including Nissan and to not cause much of a ripple is somewhat remarkable.

Maybe it’s because its unique approach…of building a vast network of rapid battery switching stations as an alternative to the time consuming recharging of car batteries…was such a new and different solution to the evolving world of electric cars. After all, few viewed the challenge as one of infrastructure rather than advanced technology. Or maybe its because the company could never figure out a cost-effective way to bring its idea to scale. In any event, the demise of Better Place is instructive for the rest of us at a time when technology is changing very quickly and hopes for a greener and more sustainable energy future are leading a growing number of entrepreneurs, established corporations, and researchers to rethink the world of transportation and personal mobility. It is safe to say that in the future the vehicles we drive will be very different. They will use different forms of energy, be significantly safer, and even drive themselves. But the details are still be worked out and the cost of timing of the shift are not entirely certain.

And they will no doubt build on the successes, learning, and even failures of others…many of whom will be strangers.


We win in business and in life when we dare to dream new and bold dreams. And when we are lucky enough to have all of the stars align, or to learn from others toiling in our galaxy.


Learning From Einstein

Greetings.  We should all take heart in the recent suggestion that Einstein might have been wrong.  Not about everything, but about his assertion that nothing in the universe travels faster than light.  It's an assertion that has been at the core of our understanding of physics and the world since 1905 when he came up with his theory of relativity.  And it's withstood 106 years of the most intense probing and questioning.  After all, a lot of people are skeptical of anyone who comes from another country and has a thick accent, very funny hair and an exceedingly large brain.  Especially someone who is often regarded as one of the smartest people of all time.  And, if he could be wrong, maybe it's okay for the rest of us to make an honest mistake now and then.

Not that he is wrong… 

But now, a team of physicists in Switzerland using a slightly humongous particle generator contend that "neutrinos"–those adorable, electrically neutral subatomic particles of a very slight mass–are even faster than the speed of light.  And just in case you forgot your high school physics facts, light moves at a mere 186,282 miles per second.  Their research suggests that neutrinos are actually 60 billionths of a second faster.  Which has prompted a wide range of reactions that include:

  • "Amazing!"
  • "Impossible!"
  • "Shocking!"
  • "How dare they?!"
  • "Get a life!"
  • "I know really!"
  • "Who gives a flying Walenda?"


  • "They probably made a mistake…but since my super-collider is in the shop I'm not able to check their work." 

In any event, the mere suggestion that Albert Einstein could be wrong provides powerful insight for all of us and our companies and organizations.  Because the truth of the matter (note the physics "pun" here) is that all of us could be wrong at any time.  And it's also possible for anyone to call our work into question at the drop of a hat–posting their thoughts, beliefs, rants and perspectives in a host of widely-viewed channels.  So it is essential for us to continuously ask if we have the right strategy, or the right offerings, or the right business model, or the right relationships with our customers, partners and employees, or the right values, or the right technologies to make the most meaningful difference for those we serve.  

And to answer those questions with a clear sense of commitment to doing the right thing.

Einstein's Hair

We win in science, in business and in life when we always question the fundamental ideas on which we operate.  And when we seek to confirm their value or figure out a better way.


Jellyfish, Linnaeus and Business Success

Greetings.  Summer on the west coast of Sweden can be a magical time.  Long and mild days filled with bright sun, gentle breezes and beautiful skies adorned with the most amazing clouds.  A rugged and dramatic coastline dotted with several thousand rocky islands cleverly formed by the Ice Age.  Endless miles of sea that is perfect for boating, kayaking, swimming and fishing–and that is amazingly warm considering a latitude of more than 58 degrees north.  And scores of picturesque and often vibrant towns and villages to check out for a meal or an evening of music.  So aside from a bit of rain and the limited value of the dollar this is an almost perfect place to spend a few weeks in the summer.  Except for one thing that often casts its less than ideal spell over the coast.

Jellyfish.  Orange jellyfish.  Or "bränn maneter" as they are known in Swedish. Remarkable stinging creatures with powerful and long threads.  A distant cousin of the friendly and touchable clear blue jellyfish that also inhabit these shores. And some summers they literally invade the coastline making it nearly impossible to get in the water.  Or forcing the best of swimmers to rely on the breaststroke as the only way to swim and keep an eye out for the not-so-little buggers.  But this summer, at least up until now, they are nowhere to be seen.  Presumably way out at sea.  Making the 70 degree water of this corner of the North Sea–also known as the Skagerrak–simply delightful.  Though I worry that writing this post is likely to prompt their return.  But who has time to be superstitious?


To give a bit of historical context, none other than Carl Linnaeus (aka, Carl von Linné) was the first person to write about these remarkable creatures.  Linnaeus, the brilliant and renowned Swedish botanist, zoologist, physician, ecologist, scientist and ballroom dancer, earned his greatest fame by classifying a world of plants, animals and minerals with remarkable detail and insight in the middle of the 1700's–detail and insight that is the foundation of much of modern botany. And in his travels along the west coast of Sweden he noted that this would be the most perfect of places if not for the presence of bränn maneter.

They are the one thing people like least about this place.  

Which begs the question:  "What is the one thing people like least about doing business with you and your company or organization?"  The one thing that makes their life most difficult.  The one thing that is most irritating or hardest for them to navigate.  The one thing that if you could eliminate it or send it out to sea would make you the very best at what you do.  And that's your challenge. To use your genius and skill at innovation to take your business to the next level.


We win in business and in life when we understand the one thing that really bother our customers.  So they can enjoy the brilliance all around them.