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Do you engage Right or Effective?

by | Feb 7, 2022 | Benny Goodman, engage, Right vs Effective

Right or Effective often engages time

While we didn’t realize it, we were all engaged in an over 10-year plan to keep IBM as the provider for the onboard computers and software for the Space Station. The Shuttle was designed and built in the ’70s as a “Space Truck” – you could fit a School Bus in the Payload Bay. Its mission was to build the Space Station – the next element in a chain that started with the first space experiment Explorer in the 1950s. My work would be pulling those pieces together – using the truck to put up a basic science experiment that could allow modern computers to be used. Would I be Right, or Effective, or neither??

The Shuttle would fly experiments on a ‘space available’ basis. If you could fit it into a 55-gallon drum-sized module, it would sit at the Cape, and when they had room, they would fly it into space, and return it. The crew could turn it on, and turn it off. The good news was that it had been done twice for this experiment. Thus far – the data had been inconclusive. We needed to redesign it using modern chips that would likely be affected by Cosmic Rays – small highly energetic particles that could cause them to have random failures. We could design around them – IF we knew how often and what types of failures they were.

Being Right may become less Effective

Benny was leading a large orchestra now on cross country tours that were leading the world into the music of Swing. It was a large operation, and costly, and also, he was starting to see the limits of this style of music. Highly “scripted” even with the great arrangements of Fletcher Henderson, it was constraining. Benny started to notice smaller “chamber music” type of settings to be much more creative, challenging to work with fewer players, ones that would keep you on your toes with runs and lyrical abstractions that were new every night.

Not long before the West Coast tour that would make him famous,  Goodman went to a party with John Hammond, Goodman’s friend, benefactor, and future brother-in-law. So was Teddy Wilson, a pianist whom Hammond was using as a bandleader and arranger on Billie Holiday’s records, and with whom Goodman had worked a few times before. Wilson jammed with Goodman and Bailey’s cousin deep into the summer night. The party arrangement – clarinet, piano, drums (that is, playing brushes on a suitcase) – had a real snap to it, everyone thought. “What I got out of playing with Teddy,” Goodman wrote later, “was something, in a jazz way, like what I got from playing with [a] string quartet… It was something different from playing with the band, no matter how well it might be swinging.”

Risk is always involved with being Right

If you noticed, I spent the whole week on Diversity with Benny still leading an all-white Swing band. And it is not clear if Benny actually intended to force the racial integration of music. In fact, if he could have continued to find the best musicians to be in his bands, likely he would have never changed music. But the truth is that through the ’30s, he would continue to see more and more artists that were the best at what they did, and also, were not of the “right skin tone”. Is it the Right thing to say that music should be integrated – in the ’30s in the south (and even in the movies)… and if even if that is true, how do you Effectively do that? If he wanted to play with the best – like Teddy… a black man…he would have to pull together some Effective approaches to change the world around him. And what risk was he taking on to his own success?

And only worth it if you are Effective

This risk of being Right is that others are going to think they are also Right – and that leads to conflict. This is where I saw many careers, including my own, take some serious detours through unnecessary hard roads. Standing up for what you believe – the current phrase is “your truth” – may make you feel better, but often is not Effective in changing what you see. In my case, I was skilled in “conflict” and rarely thought about charging headlong into it to “win”. And soon, that talent was used by others that were much more Effective at getting my energy to accelerate their careers. This is where I eventually learned that Effective is often observing that there were other ways of being Right…

Can you let go of Right to be Effective?

I had identified the elements of the plan that were needed. IBM could build the equipment to fly in one lab, guided by the other lab, managed by our team in Houston, and then partner with the NASA Principal Investigator who had no money to fly his experiment again. I had the Right approach and was laying this all out for my executive who had a history of also being Right from earlier in his career. He offered some advice that then became his direction, one that would in fact be Effective, but not easy for me to swallow. It was based on his own, what we now call “learnings” on being “Right”… something I would see repeated over and over… but here was my first introduction to a real truth –  How Long Has This Been Going On? (with Peggy Lee on vocals…)

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