Recognizing the Gift of Leadership

•April 13, 2009 • Leave a Comment

As mentioned in an earlier post, I’m enrolled in a leadership training and mentorship program. Recently I learned that my father has cancer. While I remain very positive, and hopeful for his recovery, it’s natural to think about his life and his many accomplishments in the context of a very full life lived.

Douglas Dillon is a great leader and businessman. He took the reins of the family wholesale floral business at a young age when his father passed. Facing many challenges along the way, he grew the business into one of the most successful rose growing operations in the eastern United States. In his maturity as a leader he chose to give back to his industry and community by serving as president of two national trade associations. He also served on and rose to the position of chairman of the boards of the local bank and a national florists insurance company. Now he faces a new challenge with the grace and dignity of a true leader.

I woke up the other day with a deeply felt insight into my own leadership ability in the context of my relationship with my father. Having worked for him in the family business for 15 years in a couple of stretches, our relationship has had ups and downs. Communication has been difficult at times. The relationship has indeed improved over the last decade, and as I reconcile with him through prayer and forgiveness (forgiving myself for my part in the relationship), I find that I am awakening his best qualities in me. Not so much that I have “learned” those qualities from him, but that they are already lying dormant in me ready to awaken. The cool thing is that I recognize that I have everything I need within me… all I need to do is access it. I’m now beginning to feel my father’s strength rising within me as I step into a more powerful leadership role in my own life. I’m blessed with a new sense of gratitude and appreciation for my father and all his accomplishments.


Guitar Making and the Creative Process

•April 7, 2009 • 1 Comment

[Note: Before my present life as producer of the nationally syndicated Art of the Song Creativity Radio, I had a career as a luthier (guitar maker). I’d built over 80 instruments including guitars for Steve Earle, Trisha Yearwood, The Mavericks, and Tish Hinojosa.]

I had never really thought of making guitars as a truly creative act. After all, it was a very linear process of cutting out pieces of wood, shaping them, and gluing them together––a craft. If one knew the sequence and followed instructions (there are many books that describe the process), then one could build a guitar, right?

Last week I had a meeting with my mentor, Jim, who is working with me in a leadership training course. He asked me how the process of building guitars was like being a good leader. This sort of stumped me at first. Then he asked me to describe the process. I started by describing the conversation with the client for whom I was building the instrument, and that the interesting part was designing the “perfect guitar” for that person. It was about finding out what the client wanted in terms of sound, feel and look. Sometimes the client could articulate exactly what he or she was looking for in the ideal guitar, and sometimes it was more a process of me asking a lot of questions and using my experience and intuition to design the instrument. I began to realize as I was describing this process to my mentor that this “design phase” was indeed a very creative, intuitive (right-brain) process. Once the guitar was designed, it was more a matter of following the steps in a logical (left-brain) sequence. Jim responded, “You mean it’s the soul and the brain working together?” “Exactly,” I said.

scalloping2What this has to do with leadership I’m still not exactly sure, but I did have an aha! moment. For the first time, I truly understood that the creative process is a “whole brain” process… a mixture of right and left brain thinking. You can’t have the one without the other. Building a beautiful and great sounding guitar (not a cookie-cutter factory instrument) requires both the design phase and the assembly. I almost forgot to mention the very intuitive processes of shaving the braces and tapping the top until it sounds just right, and the shaping of the neck until it feels just right.

This understanding of creativity is borne out through the many Art of the Song interviews we’ve had with songwriters who say that songwriting involves both the inspiration (receiving the idea) and the crafting of the song (editing). In the past I’ve thought of the inspiration as the creative part and the crafting as not creative.

The creative process is literally an integration of both left and right brain thinking, a holistic combination of the analytical and the spiritual. I guess I knew this on some level, but relating it to my guitar making really drove the concept home for me.

How does this sit with you? Do you think creativity is a “whole brain” process? I’d love to hear your thoughts…

Creativity through Recording Technology

•April 6, 2009 • 2 Comments

Recently I’ve discovered a new outlet for my creativity… or should I say a combination of skills (passions) that are resulting in new-found creative expression. Vivian and I have been “working” on a CD recording project for the last several years. It’s about half finished. We’d been working with a producer (an old friend) who lives in Golden, Colorado––a six hour drive from where we live. It has been very difficult to find the time, let alone the money to finish the project.

A few weeks ago at the request of a friend and neighbor, Viv and I decided to record a version of one of her songs called “Seeking Mercy.” We did, and it came out beautifully. It suddenly occurred to me (duhhh!) that the Pro Tools editing skills that I’d been honing through producing our weekly radio show Art of the Song, could be transferred to recording a John & Viv CD. I had been laboring under the misconception that we needed an outside producer to get a good quality recording. With the advancements in technology and new plug-ins, Pro Tools updated version 8 gives me an incredible recording studio in our home. Drum sounds, B3 organ, synth, and guitar amp modeling are but a few of the new tools available to the Pro Tools 8 user. And, I’m learning to be a pretty good producer myself!

This technology and my editing skills combined with with my guitar playing and singing have opened an incredible opportunity for creative expression. I see our collection of guitars (half of which I made) and the Pro Tools sounds as a virtual palette of colors and brushes with which to sonically paint on my digital canvass. Now fully committed to a new John & Viv CD, I find myself working in my digital lab for hours while Vivian goes to her acting classes. Starting at 10:30 in the morning, I often look up and it’s mid afternoon and I hadn’t even taken a lunch break. Time seems to stand still while I am immersed in the recording process. This must be the “flow” spoken of when one is truly engaged in a creative act.

I’m incredibly grateful to have discovered this new passion and expression for music, and will keep you updated as to the progress of the recording project.

Overcoming Shyness

•April 4, 2009 • 12 Comments

As far back as I can remember I was a shy child. In elementary school I was smaller than my classmates, partly because I started kindergarten at four and a half, and partly because I was just naturally of a slight build. At any rate I felt out of place and had much difficulty expressing myself verbally to others. I remember, I think it was in third grade, I was reprimanded by Mrs. Stickler (yes, that was really her name!) for looking out the window “daydreaming.” Another formative experience, might have been in fourth grade, was in the preparation for giving a choral performance at the local college (of which my elementary school was a laboratory). I remember I was standing next to Wayne Richenderfer in a rehearsal and the student teacher told him just to mouth the words because he wasn’t singing in tune. I was so sensitive and shy, that I took that comment to heart as if it were directed to me! I can’t sing, so I’ll just pretend.

Many of us have had some kind of experience like this that causes us to clam up, to stop expressing, to think we are not creative. On the other hand, many are nurtured in their creativity from an early age and never lose it. Which camp are you in?

The result of these experiences in my life was that as a young adult I began a life-long quest to find my “voice,” quite literally as well as figuratively. I began singing with and married a woman who was a trained singer (her parents were opera singers), which was somewhat intimidating. Later, I took voice lessons as was told that I would never have a “great” voice. For some reason––rather than completely shut me down––these experiences motivated me even further to find my voice. I’m a human being goddammit; I was given a voice like any one else; why can’t I learn to sing?

I discovered that there are two parallel paths: learning to sing, and discovering one’s true self, or life purpose. It’s sort of a chicken and egg thing. As I worked on my voice––either with vocal coaches or through forcing myself to sing in public––I would feel more whole as a human being. As I read, meditated, and grew in self discovery, my voice would get stronger and more resonant. It has been an interesting journey. I am by no means a great singer (yet!), but there has been steady improvement, particularly evident when I look at how far I’ve come over the decades.

The other part of this life story that is interesting (in hindsight) is the very fact that I ended up becoming a public figure––singer/songwriter, radio host, public speaker––perhaps as a way of dealing with and overcoming my fear of people. I won’t say that I was motivated by fear so much as the desire to overcome my fears, and I think there is a difference. But there is indeed a thread running through my life of a strong desire to find and express my creative voice


•April 2, 2009 • 2 Comments

I’m starting a blog about finding your creativity because I think it’s vitally important for each and every one of us to find a creative outlet, and use it regularly. 

Buckminster Fuller said that if each person contributed his or her unique gift, the world would be in perfect harmony. I think a key to finding and expressing our unique gifts can be found through creativity. Quoting songwriter Jonatha Brooke from her Art of the Song interview: “I think everyone is creative… creativity is just a matter of what you’re passionate about. It could be business, it could be law, it could be a doctor. Creativity is I think about passion.”  Many people think that you have to be an artist or musician to be creative, and that it’s an “airy-fairy” thing. I think creativity is a holistic way of thinking, a blending of the analytical with the inspired.

This blog will be a mixture of my own creative journey (musician, guitar maker, photographer, entrepreneur) combined with some of the wisdom I’ve gained through interviewing hundreds of creative people through the work with my beloved Vivian at Art of the Song Creativity Radio. I hope you’ll follow along and contribute any insights you might have on this wide-ranging and very important topic. It is my sincere hope that you will deepen your own creativity if you have found it; find it if you are still searching; or begin exploring if you didn’t think it was important before.