Sunday, August 10, 2014
On Grand Avenue in Detroit there is a house that spawned some of the greatest music of the 20th century. In 1959 the garage of that modest house was converted into a studio - the kitchen became the control room. From 1961 until 1972 there would be over 100 top 10 hits recorded in that studio. Stevie Wonder, The Temptations, Smokey Robinson, Diana Ross, The Four Tops, Marvin Gaye etc.
How did the son of a Detroit grocer start one of the greatest record labels of the 20th century? First of all Berry Gordy was a great business man. He also knew how to recognize and develop talent. Probably, most important, he was a perfectionist. He knew what he was good at - but he also knew where he needed help. He found great song writers, choreographers - even a woman who taught his talent the importance of good manners.
This fall my father starts his 40th year as a music teacher at a school less than an hour away from that house. He has led a high school department that won a Grammy award as one of the top seven high school music programs in the United States. A student who was a Presidential Scholar (there are only two per state) and scored a perfect 1600 on his SATS selected my dad as his most influential teacher. The student became an engineering student, but felt that his music teacher influenced him most.
As a child I assumed that my dad somehow lucked out finding the perfect career for himself. Whenever I saw him teaching it seemed as though he was made for it. And yet, over the years, I heard stories of him struggling along the way. How he almost failed a piano class in undergrad - how he almost had to beg for his first teaching job - how he would come home and sleep for several hours in those first few years while he was teaching elementary school classes.
Even though he had great mentors and education at the University of Michigan - it took him some time to come into his own. He had develop new skills. Most of all he had to keep moving forward even when things got tough.
Reflecting on his career and on a place like Motown made me think about how initially their dreams probably seemed unrealistic to the people around them. In fact they were unrealistic. The paths that they started out on weren't necessarily how they found their success.
Not everyone can have the same success of Motown or even what my father has done. But we certainly can learn lessons from them. Success comes from a combination of going after our dreams and understanding what the world needs from us. Motown was successful not just because they had an incredible number of talented young people signed to their label - but because they understood the kinds of songs that people wanted to hear.
The same is true of running. Success comes from having a strong dream - but then understanding the basic principles that help you to run fast. Success comes from not being afraid to fail - it comes from listening to mentors, but also finding your own way. Most importantly I think it comes from having a combination of both confidence and being humble.
Many times when we look at successful people we see their lives as intractably leading to the point that they are at. But when we look closer we see false starts - even failures. Their lives may seem inevitable now - but like anything in history they most likely didn't seem that way at the time. As I start on my next beginning I try to remember that. I try to feel confidence that I can be successful and the yet be humble enough to know that I can't do it alone.