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 Fastest Companies

Greetings. As a strategy and innovation consultant, I always look forward to Fast Company’s annual issue on “The World’s 50 Most Innovative Companies.” It is a quick read and a great chance to be inspired by some of the most creative and disruptive businesses and organizations on the planet. And I would think that it should be required reading for all of us as we try to keep up in our super-fast changing economy.

Fast Company 2016

This year’s issue shows just how diverse and remarkable the practice of innovation has become as new technology companies like Buzzfeed, Airbnb, Uber, Spotify, Robinhood and others continue to re-imagine existing industries while more traditional companies like CVS Health, Universal Studios, GE, and even Taco Bell reinvent themselves in ways that bring greater value to their customers. In the case of 53-year-old CVS, a company that gained a lot of very positive publicity when it decided to stop selling cigarettes and other tobacco products, it is not-so-quietly morphing from a huge ($153 billion in annual revenues) drugstore chain into a one-stop retail healthcare business with its Minute Clinics, optical and hearing exams, a new focus on wellness offerings, and a new “predictive medicine” partnership with IBM.

Buzzfeed, this year’s top innovator is continuing to transform the media landscape of video, news and information, and advertising through its culture of constant learning and embracing change, a sharp focus on data-driven metrics, and a deep understanding of what made companies like Paramount Pictures and CNN connect with audiences in the past.

I often talk about the power of learning from strangers and getting outside our offices and our comfort zones to discover new insights and new business models. And while the physical and psychological act of getting up and out is a powerful part of what it takes to stretch our thinking, a quick or slow read of this issue is bound to inspire anyone with a commitment to being faster in a world that demands that we pick up the pace.

We win in business and in life when we pay attention to brilliance all around us, and when we recognize the need for speed.


Re-Imagining College

Greetings. After a week of college visits with our middle daughter Carly, I am quite a bit more optimistic about young people, education, the value of college, and even the future.

I just have to figure out a way to pay for it.

But a couple of ideas strike me that might make the entire experience of going to college even more compelling for all of our kids and the world we share…

First, wouldn’t it be a great idea if every high school graduate were required to work for at least a year before starting college? A year or more in which they could get a better sense of what the world of work is like, imagine and even explore future career options, take a “break” after thirteen straight years of school, and even make a bit of money that they can use to contribute to their education. All of which would make going to college a lot more meaningful (and possibly more focused) when they arrived. I sense that this is not a particularly popular idea among most students, their parents, and colleges who worry that kids will somehow get “off-track” by interrupting their studies…even though it would benefit all of them.

Second, wouldn’t it be a great idea if every college student was required to spend at least one semester studying, learning, and living in another country and culture? A semester or more in which they could get a much deeper understanding of just how similar and different people are in other places, become more open-minded about other people and the world they live in, and stretch their abilities to adapt and grow in new and unfamiliar places. All essential skills in their lives as global citizens. I sense that this is a slightly more popular idea but that not enough students ever take advantage of the opportunity for any number of reasons.

College should be a time of remarkable learning and personal discovery. A gift to be welcomed and appreciated. And I sense that Carly and most of her friends will make even more of the opportunity if they see its even greater connection to their lives, careers, the broader world, and their own unique potential.


We win in business and in life when we view learning more broadly than simply going to college and getting a degree. And when we imagine our own amazing potential to learn and grow.


Discovering Our Inner Strangers

Greetings. I’m delighted to share the first ever guest post on this blog…

A couple of weeks ago I had the pleasure of being on The Engaging Brand podcast with Anna Farmery. It was a great opportunity to exchange ideas about my new book with a very thoughtful stranger who is also one of the world’s leading business bloggers and podcasters and a passionate fan of English football. Here is her intriguing new post on connecting with our “inner” stranger…

Inner Stranger Bobograph

As humans we are built to evolve, yet as we evolve we can lose touch with aspects of our own personality that can help us later in life. In Alan’s fabulous new book, I was struck by a quote –- not from a successful entrepreneur but his daughter –- which said: “ But if I don’t talk to strangers, how will I ever make new friends?”

The fresh outlook of the child tends to hit you straight between the eyes and it made me think about how as we mature we can lose track of our own “inner” strangers.

Let me explain…

1.  We rush through our early years wanting to be more grown up and yet those childlike qualities of being inquisitive, of not being afraid, of constantly asking why…they can be our very own best friends for our personal development. When was the last time you spoke to your inner child and let it play?

2.  We spend our adolescence cramming for exams and consuming so much new information, we are constant learners…then we get a job and can find ourselves too busy to learn. When was the last time you got in touch with your learning gene and helped the ‘mature you’ understand more about the world, technology, your customers?

3.  We fall in love and start to understand how relationships work, the joy of having that special person in our lives. When was the last time you allowed yourself to fall in love with something – an interest, life, knowledge?

4.  When our careers start to take off we look up to our bosses and feel we could do a better job…because they don’t understand the real issues, what makes the team tick, what the real opportunity of not always doing what we have always done truly is. When was the last time you put down your career hat and listened, really listened to the new upstarts! What time do you create to be your own competitor, your own upstart who challenges you to look in the mirror?

5.  Often through our lives we can talk ourselves away from what we are truly passionate about because we are told that dreams don’t pay the mortgage. When was the last time you sat down and committed to fulfilling your dream?

6.  Time is the one resource that is limited and that is why when you take time to be 100% with someone, truly listening to their concerns and not just hearing the words, it can be the highest return on investment that you can make. We loved it as children, we love it as adults. When was the last time you gave yourself a few minutes to think, to dream, to understand yourself? Don’t you deserve that too…

I agree wholeheartedly with the premise of Alan’s book and the challenge we all face to make the most of this fantastic world that we live in. We have more opportunities to connect both to ideas and people. But let us also be aware that our 6 inner strangers need our attention, because without feeding them our present self may be losing out on their greatest friends of all by not recognizing their inner strangers.

You can connect with Anna and follow her blog and podcast at:


Just know that she will be hard to reach when the Liverpool Football Club is playing. 

And you can listen to the podcast and discussion on “The Necessity of Strangers” here:

The Power of the Unexpected

Greetings. We often think about libraries as very quiet places for contemplation, exploration, discovering new ideas and new possibilities, and sparking our true imaginations. But what if we also think of them as places where loud and dramatic learning comes alive as it literally jumps out of the pages of a new or classic book?

Such was the case at the Parkway Central Library in Philadelphia this past Saturday when the DancePhiladelphia Argentine Tango group led a series of “pop-up” performances throughout the library tied to the publication of Carolyn Merritt’s book Tango Nuevo. And in the process a building filled with people of all ages and backgrounds received a wonderful lesson in the magic and passion of the tango (a dance that had its origins in mid-19th century working-class neighborhoods in Buenos Aires)…and a wonderful reminder of the joy of learning and the power of the unexpected.

All of which suggests two very simple questions:

1. “How well do we make learning come alive in our companies and organizations?”


2. “How do we make our most important written documents (i.e., our visions, strategies, and even websites and blogs) as passionate and engaging as a tango?”

Because if we can’t figure out how to bring learning and purpose to life for our employees and customers, we will never get them to lift their heads, really take notice, and achieve the level of commitment and collaboration needed to do remarkable things.


We win in business and in life when we make learning come alive. And when we realize that we all have the potential to dance with great energy and purpose.