At the end of last year we introduced the concept of building transformational teams. The last aspect is for leaders to transform themselves. As I have already outlined the 7 Personal Transformers, in a previous blog, I thought I would bring this element to life in a different way today.
Last week in a review of 2018, I ‘surprisingly’ nominated Springsteen On Broadway my number one film of the last year. After multiple viewings it is not only his ‘magic trick’ that separates him from other performers it is his understanding of the difference between disruption and transformation that makes him resonate with such a loyal following as he approaches his 70th year. In today’s newsletter I am going to explore the ‘transformation’ and the ‘magic’.
In a previous blog transformation is about how we respond I used the tragedy of 9/11 to outline this pertinent difference. Disruption is what happens to us. Transformation is how we respond.
In the days following 9/11, Bruce Springsteen was in Rumson, New Jersey when an unidentified driver yelled at him.
“Bruce, we need you now.”
The Boss responded with “The Rising” in 2002, an album that articulated the country’s (and world’s) hopes, fears, anger, sorrow and confusion. Remarkably he sung the titletrack and the seminal My City Of Ruins immediately in the aftermath.
The imagery of “rising” has multiple interpretations.
There’s rising to a higher plane of existence and then there’s the firefighters, walking up the stairwells of the World Trade Centre to their fate on 9/11.
“One of the most powerful images of the 11th, that I’d read in the paper, some of the people coming down were talking about the emergency workers who were ascending,” said Springsteen on “Nightline” at the time of the album’s release in June of 2002. “The idea of those guys going up the stairs, up the stairs, ascending, ascending. I mean you could be ascending a smoky staircase, you could be in life overcoming an insurmountable obstacle, you could be in the afterlife, moving on.”
The central theme is about transformation. “If you’ve ever been knocked down and you’ve got to build yourself up again, this song is for you,” said Springsteen. It is his ability to transform himself and us that is his ultimate ‘magic trick’.
As my fellow tragic, Iain Muir proclaims: “Bruce is more than just a musician, he is a magician who casts spells over his audience with not just music, but his words and stories alike. One weave of the wand and the audience is spellbound effortlessly.” From the Magic Rat to “magic in the night” to Magic Street, Springsteen is no stranger to the conjuring arts. For decades, his concerts have been described as feats nothing short of miraculous, and he has discussed his own songwriting in terms of a magical act: creating, from out of the air, something where there was nothing before. “Then, if you want to take it all the way out to the end of the night,” he continues, “you will need a furious fire in your belly that just don’t quit burning.”
In “Springsteen on Broadway,” song, story and storyteller merge to reveal his genius for tapping into the transformative power of narratives that are somehow both his and ours—simultaneously specific and universal. At the outset, the singer lets the audience in on the “magic trick” at the heart of his life’s work. 1+1=3 is a “trick” as profound and as old as Scripture. Bruce speaks eloquently about his late bandmate Clarence Clemons and the rest of the E Street Band and how together somehow the whole added up to more than the sum of its parts. He confides “it is a magic trick in which 1+1 doesn’t equal 2, 1+1 = 3.” It is a ‘magic trick’ that is just as relevant for a band hailing from New Jersey as it is for any business culture aspiring for greatness.
If you have been in a great culture, logic doesn’t always apply when it comes to extraordinary phenomena like these. What Springsteen on Broadway demonstrates, as his performances have for decades, is that the equation actually makes sense — that in this kind of setting, something extra can happen so that there is a third thing, a bigger thing. You plus me equals us. The mathematical proof for that may be beyond us, but it was brilliantly demonstrated nightly on 48th Street.
One of the questions Bruce has been asked over and over again by fans on the street is “How do you do it?” In the following I will try to shed a little light on how and, more important, why. The simple philosophy can apply in our personal and business life. In the show he espoused:
With just guitar, piano, harmonica, and a very talented magician’s assistant billed as Patti Scialfa Springsteen, Bruce makes good on this implied opening promise. Chekhov would probably agree: if you talk in the first act about having a magic trick, you’d better demonstrate it by the end. And Springsteen doesn’t let us down. It’s hard to say exactly when it happens — it’s a gradual effect, a gathering of forces, a calling-up of spirits — but by the end of this at-times mesmerizing performance we’ve found that proof of life.
My version of 1+1=3 is Process + Engagement = Transformation. It is the ‘how’ meshed with the ‘why’ that inspires me to help companies transform. In Bruce’s world every other rocker knows the ‘how’ but he is unparalleled in his ability to bring engagement to his audience. If you need any proof please view You Never Can Tell as he cajoles the E-Street Band to play a song they haven’t played before. In an era where setlists don’t alter over the course of a year; it is Springsteen’s ability to reinvent himself every concert as to why he will always be the ‘Boss’.
Unlike his heroes Elvis Presley or Bob Dylan, Springsteen has never been a musical innovator in the traditional sense. His is a different gift. Dylan, a wordsmith without peer, plays “Like a Rolling Stone” and we are reminded that a great artist is trotting out his masterpiece. But it is a one-way exchange of artist to audience with no evident desire to connect beyond that. It is a different experience entirely to hear Springsteen weave a narrative through his songs. If, as he has said, “Elvis freed your body, and Dylan freed your mind,” Springsteen has explored what the choices and consequences of those freedoms look like in the messiness of ordinary lives. Much has been written about Springsteen’s fans’ devotion. While there are undoubtedly countless reasons for it – a large part comes down to his ability to connect to the struggles and tiny triumphs of life. I’ve wept big indulgent tears and nodded ruefully along with his tunes. Somehow he has elevated these shabby times in our lives into something with greater meaning, something that bonds us all. He may be a gazillionaire but hey, we’re all in this together. As he told the New Yorker in 2012, he wants his audience to leave “with your hands hurting, your feet hurting, your back hurting, your voice sore and your sexual organs stimulated!”
In the end, abstractions pale in comparison to the thing itself, the actual magic—the essential and transformational effect on us—that the communal ritual of story and music can provide. It is a liturgy of sorts that transcends time and reminds us, in ways we would never have imagined, who we are and how we are connected.
So how can you imbue the spirit of the Boss in your workplace? What is your ‘magic trick’? What can you do bring enhanced engagement to your staff. So it is not a one-way exchange? What passion can you bring to ignite connection? It is what is going to lead my writing as we embark on 2019.
As Bruce sings in what could be his greatest song “Thunder Road” – “Show a little faith, there’s magic in the night”
For a deeper look at Personal Transformation, please refer to the following blogs:
Intro) 7 Personal Transformers