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Clever execution

by | Feb 19, 2022 | Clever, execute, Sly and The Family Stone

executing Cleverly is fun…

The code name for the series of PC’s that were the centerpiece of our Space Station Demonstration Lab was appropriately:  “Circus”. All the Clever code names were things having to do with “circus” – like the network was “Ringmaster”, which is what I had now become. Our proposal would incorporate all of the elements simulating execution of the whole computing infrastructure. We had Fiber Optic Networks, Color Displays, real-time test equipment, all coordinated with a simulation environment that leveraged IBM’s PC’s in every element. Sadly, we had just been told, our proposal was mandated to bid the Division Standard 1750 chipset – or don’t bid…

… and if you remember our divisions’ experience with the 68000 and the submarine, I felt like we were about to be executed. Not only would this be a huge step backward in computing power, it was also going to drive up our overall costs dramatically. And, the budget for computing was small to begin with, and only 20 pages to describe ALL of this in the proposal. My executive – the one that had executed too Cleverly early in his career with BART – came into the lab to deliver the news directly to me before leaving for the day. I could tell he was no happier than I was, as he peeled out of the parking garage in his 280ZX.

… if you are willing to take a risk

So how does a white guy end up being the one that executes and keeps it all together in a funk/soul/early rap band? Greg Errico was born in 1948 and raised around San Francisco. “When we started the group I was seventeen and a half, the youngest one. I started playing when I was fourteen, and I’m self-taught. So it was just all energy. I didn’t have a lot of technique to fall back on. It was all by the seat of my pants. Later I started figuring out why I was doing what I was doing, what it was called, and where it came from.”

While his drummer friends were studying method books in high school, Errico was playing along with records. “I’d come home and go downstairs in the rumpus room. I had my drums there and a 45 rpm record changer, and I’d put on everything from Xavier Cugat to Buddy Rich. I’d practice to ‘Take Five’ to some Otis Redding and James Brown, and just play. I love all kinds of music. San Francisco was a great place to grow up; it’s an international intersection so you had music from all over the world on the radio and all around you.”

Errico credits his musical bond with legendary bassist Larry Graham to “natural chemistry.” “We used to hang out, go to shows, go places together,” he remembers. “The relationship was developed by playing. We would take the spirit of something that we heard and dug, and project the spirit or the energy of it, the concept, into something. We had an understanding of how important it was for the bass drum and the bass to be together, but also how important it was for them to avoid each other in certain places, playing counterparts. We just have a natural understanding.”

and Cleverly picking how to execute

By this point, the team that our executive had built around him were all veterans of executing winning proposals across the division. One had helped us become the provider for what eventually became the B2 bomber, along with a long list of things he couldn’t tell you about. One helped win the computers on the Space Telescope, and other important projects. We had been tuning up for the proposal by writing sections of the proposal – assuming what might be in the RFP, and reviewing them in teams that were known by colors – Red, Yellow, White Teams. All of it was predicated on using the PC that I had helped spearhead. And – none of them were rebels and simply saw this as something that we just had to pivot and accept. Actually, none of them really believed it would work… And I knew that… if we were going to change this, I had to find a Clever way to get around the Division edict.

Similarly, Sly kept the band on its toes, according to Errico. “We would have an arrangement, but we always had to keep an eye on Sly – he would change things up so that arrangement would go out the window. Everybody knew how everything was supposed to be, but anything could happen. That was one thing that attracted people like Miles to the band. Sly was a great arranger. He knew his music. We only had two horns, but sometimes it would sound like a big section because of the unique way he approached voicing them. It had a sound of its own.”

Clever is often different than good… 

Recall that Sly was really not a great musician – yes he played keys, and a little guitar – but he even described himself as a DJ – someone Clever that can mix, produce, and get the music to set a mood. Here he had top musicians, all with something to prove, all inventing whole new approaches to their instruments, and now there for him to mix together and execute songs that changed music.

As you are building out your team, what is it about each member that helps them provide just what your execution will need? Are you Clever in getting them to always be ready and on their toes to see what they can do for everyone – even when you are not around? As I work with leaders at all levels, the changes that you can’t anticipate or plan for are the ones that make or break execution. Cleverness is bringing that adroitness to realize – wait, we can in fact do it differently. Tomorrow – the payoff – will we do it? For now, it was all Just Hot Fun In the Summertime.

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