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wonderful Diversity

by | Feb 4, 2022 | Benny Goodman, DEI, wonder

Diversity is wonderful when…

The lack of cooperation and coordination in business shouldn’t have surprised me, but it did. Today it was very clear as I was talking with the lead investigator of an experiment that had already flown in space. Sponsored by the part of NASA that was dedicated to non-manned flight, they literally hated those of us working on Manned Space. They had, in fact, put the first United States satellite in space, but since the Astronaut crew was announced, their budgets and centrality to the NASA mission was dwarfed. It was no wonder that he was very hesitant to even talk with me…

… to make matters worse, I needed to convince him the experiment was designed wrong. They were working to have devices that were “radiation-hardened” and had flown some that so far had not shown any problems – and if you are a logic person, proving a negative is really hard. The non-obvious approach was to fly devices that WOULD upset with radiation, and then use that to correlate models that then could predict what will and won’t work. That all made sense to me, the 23-year-old know-it-all who was luckily already wondering why talking was not my best approach…

Differences and Diversity drive change

Goodman started each evening with stock arrangements, but even with the response out west, something was still not working. They had better crowds, yes, but there was not much excitement. Gene Krupa, the drummer who powered the band said, “If we’re gonna die, Benny, let’s die playing our own thing.” With that, they began the second set with arrangements by Fletcher Henderson and Spud Murphy. The crowd broke into wonderful cheers and applause.

News reports spread word of the exciting music and enthusiastic dancing. The Palomar engagement was such a marked success that it is often described as the beginning of the entire Swing era. According to Donald Clarke, “It is clear in retrospect that the Swing Era had been waiting to happen, but it was Goodman and his band that touched it off.”

One possible key to understanding the wonder of Benny’s rise was his prominently featuring female singers. He was early to employ this strategy, beginning with the very attractive and jazz-influenced Helen Ward. Her warm, direct manner was quite popular with college-age males. She was followed by singers Helen Forrest, Martha Tilton and Peggy Lee who all had huge hits with Goodman.

By 1937 the Goodman Orchestra and combos were the biggest thing in the music business, selling millions of records and playing prestigious venues. The press christened him “The King of Swing,” though he disliked the sobriquet at first. His orchestra appeared in Hollywood films. And Benny’s autobiography, The Kingdom of Swing, was published only a month before his 30th birthday.

The wonder of Graceful Diversity

As I sat there in the office, the principal investigator started to really warm up to having someone listening and drawing out his “So what”… and it was clear that he wanted to get much more notoriety about his experiment and its results. He realized that if he could tie his results to BOTH deep space and Manned Space, it would broaden his reach and the importance of the work. By the end of the meeting, we had agreed to partner together on building a new approach, complete with our full funding of IBM – something I now needed to secure.

With nearly 40 years of hindsight, I can chuckle mostly at the truth of my younger self. The single-mindedness was driving us all forward, and I will presage there is a (mostly) happy ending, but at this phase, I am thankful for the wonder of grace from those that were more in my current age bracket. I am sure, in fact I know, that many of them saw themselves in the broad sweeping assumptions about what we could do, and how we would do it… and the knowing eye-rolls that said “sure – go for it kid”. The Diversity of the youth is they see things that can be done… and with the Grace of older, wiser minds, often they can pull it off – without seeing the gentle, graceful nudges behind the scenes.

wonder what Diverse Team do you have around you?

Wherever you are on this continuum of your career, the long-lasting learning for me was that yes I could have great ideas – and without the Diversity of approaches, thoughts, and teammates, it would never happen. And I firmly believe age does, in fact, have a lot to do with it. You just have so much energy that you can burn yourself up on things. Now I know to sit back, observe, wait – look for the wonder of Diversity that is needed to actually get the RIGHT things done. It is perhaps why I enjoy working with 20 and 30 somethings so much – if I can just get a few of them to learn from my mistakes – a phrase my father used often with me. But to be candid, at this age, as Benny would soon learn, It Never Entered My Mind…

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