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Diverse execution

by | Feb 5, 2022 | Benny Goodman, DEI, execute

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Prepare for execution, Diverse or not…

So, no problem. I had to get the facility that thought they were the center of ALL radiation knowledge in our division to work with the other facility that manufactured ALL the equipment we could build. And both thought they were the pre-eminent facility in our Division… And did I mention by this point, I had executed repeated railings about how behind the times both organizations were? And not in small ways – in a couple of cases taking on older and wiser leaders with both memos and in-person indictments of the lackluster execution from both…

… it was lucky that my executive was a wiser and older version of me. Having joined the division just as the space program was cresting in importance, he led the development of the computers on the Gemini spacecraft, to the point that he made the list of top executives under 30 in the early 60s. He had the IBM private airplane (before everyone had one) at his beck and call to travel with equipment to any location needed to keep the program on track. By all accounts, it was a model execution and he was primed for the next promotion…

The Diverse impact of execution

During the 1930s, hundreds, maybe thousands of touring swing bands packed the ballrooms of big cities and small bergs across America. Fueling a hundred-million-dollar industry, dance orchestras played in vast pavilions packed with hundreds, even thousands of couples. At its peak, as many as 40,000 musicians were employed, backed by a support staff of another 8,000 managing, booking, promoting and transporting them. The best bands, like Goodman and his crew, went onto the radio and into the recording studios cutting records that rescued a badly suffering entertainment industry. In 1933 at the depth of the Great Depression six million records were sold in the United States. In 1939, fifty million discs were sold of which thirty million were popular dance music.

At its best, Swing was more than just very good dance music set to exciting rhythms. It was jazz with enhanced harmonic complexity and greater visceral kinetic impact than had been previously experienced in Popular music. It’s often overlooked that written arrangements were vital to managing and focusing ensembles of ten or more instruments. The coterie of talented arrangers who emerged confronted the novel and complex task of organizing these musical forces and Benny hired the best such as Fletcher Henderson.

A Diversely different execution…

Benny Goodman was a complex but simple man. Or perhaps single-minded is a better description. Hardworking to a fault, he was a perfectionist obsessively absorbed in his music, relentlessly holding himself and others to executing impossibly high standards. Most former employees say he was very difficult to work for. Yet, to succeed and triumph in the tough business of American popular entertainment during the Depression, he may well have needed that tunnel vision.

By almost every account Goodman was not just unpleasant to work for, he was inscrutable, absent-minded, distant and infuriating, seemingly oblivious to the feelings of his employees. Probably the best example was his infamous stare that came to be known as “The BG Ray. ”Displeased with a musician’s performance, he would glare with unnerving disapproval: “Benny would look right above your eyebrows,” reported singer Helen Forrest, “in the middle, right on top of the brow,” declaring that her 20 months with him felt like a 20-year sentence. Nonetheless, even Benny was eventually able to chuckle about this idiosyncrasy.

My executive got that promotion – and took over the first time that IBM Federal would take on a completely commercial project. Realizing that this part of the company executed regularly with Diverse equipment and vendors, we were selected to prime the bid for a new project in San Francisco – Bay Area Rapid Transit. BART was conceived as one of the first “fully computerized” systems, and deploying our top aerospace executive to lead and manage it made complete sense. So… why was he now in charge of a very small group of 50 engineers in a facility of over 1500… In a division of over 12,000, in a company that had at the time over 200,000…

Diverse execution causes trouble

As I say often, “Pain causes Change”. Executing things that are different, Diverse in their approach or insights, is incredibly risky and difficult. Staying the course and simply doing what others are doing is much easier, and the path that most take. There is also the belief often that someone or something is doing this actually knows it will work out. I had been able to see that – or said better – what I thought I saw let me charge ahead with my approach to Change. Are you willing to take that risk – to see that executing the path your team is on may be leading to the wrong outcome? And how can you do that today when each little phrase is seen through so many Diverse lenses – agendas, egos, not-invented-here, legacies… to say nothing of the common virtue-signaling we all take for granted now? 

Certainly, Benny did  – motivated by abject poverty with limited paths available to a poor Jewish kid, he drove himself and others to greatness with execution. And – he did it with Diverse talents to power him forward. Will that continue to work? I bet you know… and you do, and don’t. Tomorrow the stories start to weave together with Diverse twist… You Turned The Tables on Me.

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