Welcome to My Blog

After spending many years playing bass in the Boston Pops Orchestra, and even playing in the Boston Symphony here and there, there was this nagging question that would not go away: Why were a few rare conductors so much better at leading the orchestra than so many others? In particular, what was it that made Arthur Fiedler the most successful conductor ever, for 50 straight years? This last question was particularly vexing, given that Arthur was below average in almost every way, and possessed none of the attributes most people think a great conductor should have.

This cognitive dissonance led to reading up on Toyota Lean and Peter Drucker, trying to find answers.  While there are many conductors on the lecture circuit offering management and leadership advice, I offer books, articles, and live presentations with a very at different take on management, i.e., from a bass player’s perspective.

About me:  I grew up on a farm in Ohio, and my main claims to fame (along with playing bass in the Boston Pops for 18 years, and still working on the TV shows thereof), are my books:

Real Men Don’t Rehearse” — a humorous collection of gig disaster stories) and

Principles of Applied Stupidity.” This latter is an explanation of how the top conductors do what they do.

About the title of “Principles”:  simply stated, we grow up in school, learning the broad cultural dogma that “smart” is universally good, and “stupid” is universally bad. I challenge this concept. Many things that we label as “stupid” behavior in academic settings are actually extremely effective management tools, and are in fact what the top conductors all did.

A little podcast excerpt (thank you Chris Smit):

Then there are the “kid shows”– Peter VS. the Wolf and The Phantom of the Orchestra. These programs are performed by orchestras all over the world. Publishing them all these years has led to a lot of thought on the topic of “Arts education.”

And finally– my “speaking thing.”  I am always eager for any opportunity to stand up and tell my fun stories and share these unorthodox theories of management. So if you if you are casting about for guest speakers for your next management training session, and especially if you are looking for something different and unusual, here I am. (And of course, the stories from “Real Men Don’t Rehearse” are universally appealing– see below.) I am also happy to appear as a guest on podcasts.

So do feel free to call me at 781 330 8143 or email me at justin locke1@gmail.com!

Thanks for reading! – JL

PS

Some of my more popular blog posts:

The True Purpose of Arts Education

The Three Elements of Creativity

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It’s Time to Buy a Bidet

Many years ago I visited the city of Paris.  Besides the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre, one of the most interesting things I found there was the bidet in my hotel room.  Here was a thing that essentially removed any need for toilet paper . . . and it did a WAY better job at doing that task.

So here I sit in the middle of the great Covid 19 Toilet Paper Rush, watching people posting on social media asking where they can buy some toilet paper.  And I just shake my head.

Two years ago, after years of wishing I owned a house with a bidet, I discovered there were all sorts of portable bidets.  I bought one for $13 on Amazon and, pardon the phraseology, I have not looked back.  My annual outlay for toilet paper dropped by 90%.  

We Americans walk around with a lot of shame regarding elimination of bodily waste, but it’s time to grow up and face facts.  Along with doing a 2nd rate job, toilet paper requires the DAILY cutting down of 27,000 trees.  And once flushed, all that paper pulp gets thrown in with the regular fecal matter in massive piles of compost.  That says nothing of the fuel and the 37 gallons of water needed to make a single roll, and the attendant carbon dioxide that is generated as well.  You should also figure in all the wrappers and the inside cardboard tubes, that’s what, 250,000 of those put into landfills every day.

Look online, they have nifty little squeeze bottle bidets for $14.  And for about $45 you can get one mounted on your toilet seat, altho one with hot water (you really want that) runs a little more.   Even so, it pays for itself in a year or less.

Then you can sit back with me and observe the odd phenomena of people crazily buying and hoarding something they don’t need.

-jl

 

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Covid-19 and Unintended Side Effects

Like everyone else I am coping with the shock and uncertainty brought about by the governmental response to the Covid-19 Pandemic.  I of course applaud efforts to slow and contain the virus, but I am starting to wonder if we have thought things through.

While I understand the need to save lives by fighting the virus, if our goal is to save lives generally, then perhaps we should consider the possible side effects of what is happening.

There is a relatively new phrase in the lexicon, which is “deaths of despair”  (sometimes called diseases of despair).   With that in mind, I am starting to wonder about the cost/benefit of the current Covid 19 responses.

Shutting down so many businesses is bound to have the net result of someone somewhere losing their job, and, if they have any savings, going through them.  Economic impotence is a major cause of deaths of despair.  How many people will experience a personal financial meltdown in the coming months?  And how many will decide that the solution is to end it all?  I realize 1.6 million deaths from Covid 19 is a lot, but we are already seeing 150,000 deaths of despair every year.  As Gerald Weinberg is fond of saying, “There’s always a trade-off.”

The other downside of all this sheltering in place will, I hope, be obvious– people can die of loneliness-based despair.  I have a friend whose dementia- ridden father is living in a facility and, she is not allowed to visit him– and there is “social distancing” going on, which means he is living without any significant human touch contact with his fellow residents.

In the post-crash-of-2008 economic apocalypse, I was one of many over-50 white males who saw all expectations of success and/or hope for the future melt into nothing.  While I like to doubt I ever would have done it, my response to  my situation often included thoughts of suicide as one of my alternatives for how to proceed if things got worse than “x.”.

Looming economic disaster and social/physical/emotional isolation . . .  how many deaths will this cause?  I have to ask, will this cure be worse than the disease?

-jl

 

 

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Latest Podcast Guest Appearance

Hello all,

So I got invited onto a podcast done my a drummer turned financial advisor, a guy named Thomas DeSchutter, out of Vancouver . . .   I have to say the guy did a great job.  He really has the whole podcast idea down.  Anyway, throughout the show I got to pontificate and expound at length about many of my favorite speaking topics, including what made great conductors great, the Principles of Applied Stupidity, and since he is a finance guy, we got into my Rich Kid Poor Kid book as well.   Anyway, here it is, click on the pic or the link, I start talking at about 8-10 min or so.  A perfect cure for insomnia!   – JL

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

https://www.bloomstrategies.com/podcast/episode/477c7d85/justin-locke-getting-in-touch-with-your-inner-rich-kid-s03-ep09?fbclid=IwAR3i-O-dMg26Or0U_gO2F_mFy91-tXjqVlnkqDMrbWpvNPAziI0L2Huq4aM

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Patty Duke Water Pump Moments

Okay, for those of you who have never seen the movie “The Miracle Worker,” it is a classic, with Patty Duke portraying a young Helen Keller. Helen Keller was blind and deaf from age 2 and her family had learned to live with this person who had no means of communicating with them.

Enter Anne Bancroft (yes, who also played Mrs. Robinson) who plays a teacher of deaf and blind children. Throughout the whole movie she does her darnedest to teach little Helen how to communicate using sign language, by making individual letters with finger positions than one can feel in the hand. It’s 90 minutes of struggle until near the end, when Helen Keller “gets it.” She runs to a water pump and Anne Bancroft spells “water” with her hand in Helen’s hand. Suddenly, Patty Duke/ Helen Keller grasps this amazing new level of possibility of something that well, not that it seemed impossible, it was just not something she had ever thought of, period.

SO now I refer to such earth shaking life changing shifts of consciousness in my own life as “Patty Duke water pump moments.”

Now bear in mind, PDWPM’s don’t occur in a vacuum. They usually occur in an environment where limitation is accepted as the norm. There are people who have accepted the dogma– e.g., that little Helen will never be able to communicate and that’s just the way it is . . . and then there are people like Anne Bancroft saying, no, there is a better way, but it’s tough to grasp and it conflicts with current dogma which some people are actually happy with maintaining.

I will illustrate with a personal example,

When I was a teenager I had taken up the string bass, and it became my path to something better. I was able to get out of the farmhouse in Ohio and get to see a little bit of the larger world because I was willing to play the bass.

Unfortunately, I was okay for a high school kid, but I wasn’t all that good. I am a very competitive person, and whenever I bumped up against any real bass playing competition, I always came in at 5th place. This bothered me to no end. But I did not know what to do about it.

I actually practiced a LOT, but I was practicing the way that everyone in the music school dogma soup taught me to practice, i.e., just play a piece through from beginning to end and then go back do it all again. This made minor temporary levels of improvement here and there, but for the most part, it did not work. I was stuck in being a third rate bass player. This endless failure suited the teachers who profited by my taking their lessons, and it profited the music schools who collected tuition, but I was going nowhere.

Enter Joe Scheer, a very skilled violinist who was my age, and I asked him what I could do to improve myself, as following the standard procedures had not worked. He looked at me like I was an idiot and said “Go home and practice your scales and arpeggios.”

This, folks, was my first real Patty Duke water pump moment. Joe had gone on to say that “All the (tonal) music we play is just bits and pieces of scales and arpeggios, so if you can play all the scales and arpeggios, you can sight read anything, and do it perfectly.”

So I went back to that little farm in Ohio and instead of “practicing for a lesson” I just started to play nothing but scales and arpeggios. The fundamentals of music. Over and over and over again. 8 hours a day, seven days a week. I did that for 3 months, and then 2 months after that, I had leapt over all my competition and become one of the top pro bass players in Boston.

That PDWPM forever changed how I approach, well, just about everything.  In my humble opinion, no matter what it is that you are trying to accomplish, I am totally convinced that while you are surrounded by people who are hacking their way through with no mastery, often guessing and hoping and faking, there is always some basic underlying principle that, if you can just master THAT, everything else becomes simple and easy and you achieve total command of the situation, instead of hoping your fingers will magically land on the notes you want to play.

Bear in mind, there were a fair number of people who were not happy with my transformation. Once I achieved technical mastery of the locations of notes on the double bass, I quit taking lessons, so my teacher was not happy about my lack of need for his services. The music school I was attending was not happy to lose my tuition money either– their business model was based on my endlessly seeking to improve but never actually doing so. And of course the other bass players who used to be better than me weren’t all that thrilled either.

So when I see things like vague advice on leadership that has long lists of what successful people do every day at breakfast, or studies of “emotional intelligence” that have a vast amorphous plan of attack, I have to roll my eyes and ask, “What are the fundamentals needing to be mastered here?”

Real teachers that can take you through to a Patty Duke water pump moment are actually kind of rare, partly because they just are, and partly because there isn’t very much money in teaching in this way, as your students don’t hang around for very long. Very often people who have achieved mastery do not share their secrets, in part because, as I have learned, most people do not seek to achieve it. They like just poking along, fitting in with the other amateurs, and not making any major changes.

So now, whenever I write or speak about management or self improvement, it always comes from that experience of understanding and mastering fundamentals. It’s what actually works.

 

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The Grapes of Shame

In the aftermath of World War II, several eminent psychologists of the day, including Erich Fromm and Alice Miller, wrote books that all asked the question, “Why?”  They wanted to find the core psychological forces that had taken Germany, the most civilized nation on earth, to being one of the most brutal and murderous.

I would like to offer something a little similar in the here and now.

There are many comedy TV shows that make money by making fun of the ignorance that abounds in America today.   It is tempting to take some superior-feeling pleasure, when folks from Comedy Central go to a Trump Rally and ask the attendees questions like “Can you define communism?” and just generally expose their many layers of fuzzy logic.

I think we indulge in this at our peril.  Just because many of these people lack language skills, does not mean that we should not try to understand the deeper meaning of their admittedly often hurtful language and symbolism.

When I was in grade school, I was given three “F” grades. Even though I was generally a “top” student with a better than 4.0 grade average, those rare memories, of being given an “F,” still cut deep. They were insults to my spirit; a person who had the power and authority of the “state” was judging me as being somehow inferior.

If just 3 “F” grades left that much of a resentment mark on me, a star student, what must it be like for the average C student kid, who is told every day that they are defective, flawed, in error, and judged to be a failure and stupid?

The point I wish to make here is, in all of our lofty disdain for all those who dwell in the basket of deplorables, perhaps we should lay some blame at the feet of the learned and educated.  It is college graduates, i.e., grade school teachers, who subject people to a state mandated system that repeatedly rends their spirit.  And they do this, perhaps with the best of intentions, but without any regard for the long term consequences.

Definition of grapes of wrath:
an unjust or oppressive situation, action, or policy that may inflame desire for vengeance : an explosive condition

So now, look at the oh so common disdain for science, or the disdain for the “elite.”    Instead of condemning those who manifest these attitudes, perhaps we should think  about HOW their minds were systemically brought to this state, where years of accumulated shame energy is eclipsing their ability to think rationally.

If you just leap to the convenient, appealing, and simplistic conclusion that the reason they behave this way is because you and I are just genetically superior to them, we are one step away from the Nuremberg Laws.  Oopsie.

Whenever you see a seemingly ignorant Trump supporter, take a moment to remind yourself that each and every one of them represents an expenditure of about $100,000 in local tax dollars for their K-12 education (not to mention over 15,000 hours of classroom time). If they are ignorant, is it really entirely their fault? Can it be that the cultural imperialism of the educational industrial complex is creating this ready-made seething mob, by putting masses of people through shaming / belittling / exclusionary experiences in their formative years? How many times can you give someone an F before they turn on you, and give you an F as well?

It’s always easy to blame someone else for our problems, but it looks like, as Walt Kelly so famously said,

“We have met the enemy– and he is us.”

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Blame Stasis

I am always intrigued by predictable patterns of human behavior that are not catalogued elsewhere, and I have a new one to share: I call it “Blame Stasis.”

Simply stated, when a problem comes up, one of the ways we seek to deal with it on a purely emotional level is to find someone to blame for the problem. Once that person or entity is identified, and blame is assigned to them, we can stop thinking. We can go back to a calm state of emotional equilibrium, i.e., “blame stasis.”

To “show my work,” here is something odd I noticed a few weeks ago: Someone was writing an article about a recent school shooting.  The author implied that the reason a 13 year old boy had shot up a school was because some young lady had rebuffed his advances.  In other words, an attempt had been made to blame the female for the problems, as she was the temptress.

Then someone else shot back with another article saying no no no, the girl had every right to reject him, and the little boy was to blame for killing a bunch of his schoolmates.

So, whatever your gender bias, each article gives you someone to blame for the horrific tragedy. And once blame is assigned somewhere, this has a tendency to somehow resolve the problem, and we can sleep soundly.

You can see this same pattern happening on massive scale every day. Large numbers of people blame the democratic political party for any number of problems, and any number of people blame the republican party for any number of problems. And once that blame is assigned, we can go to emotional equilibrium, as though the assignation of blame by itself constitutes a solution.

Getting back to our young school shooter du jour, if we apply simple Toyota Lean 5 why’s analysis, we start to ask, why did he shoot up a school? Because he was emotionally upset. Why was he upset? Because his basic emotional issues were not being addressed. Why were they not being addressed? Because the school and community didn’t address them. And now we start to see that all of us are partly to blame for passively tolerating a system that consistently cultivates this kind of behavior.

Uh oh. Quick, how do we blame someone other than ourselves for this?

There is a bit of a management conundrum here, because we are so terribly eager to assign blame to someone other than ourselves and call it done, but at the same time, the only way to acquire any power is to take the blame on ourselves. If we assign the blame to someone else we are assigning the power to fix the problem to someone else.

I am always amused that no one ever suggests that we unite into one political party in the United States. Apparently, we must always be in two pieces, so whatever group we belong to, there is another group (that we have nothing to do with), that we can conveniently blame for all our troubles, and thus feel terribly righteous while not having to do anything to fix them.

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Music, Inc.

Today’s top 40 music worries me.  It’s not that I just don’t like it.  It’s not about taste.  I am too artistically educated I guess, because I can plainly see the cheapness of it.  I think it has the same kind of dangers to our well being as industrialization techniques did to our food supply.

To illustrate,  well,  . . . most of you know the difference between homemade-from-scratch chocolate chip cookies, and a bag of cheap grocery store industrially made cookies that look like cookies but taste like notebook paper.

As you know, there’s a big difference between cookies made with Icelandic butter, and those made with hydrogenated vegetable oil, not to mention the other artificial flavors used in industrially made baked goods. Even so, a fair number of people still consume the latter.  And we see what it does to them.

Alas, I hate to be the one to say it, but the popular top 40 music we hear today is somewhat analogous to industrially made cookies.  There is not much in it.  The ingredients are the cheapest available.

This is not a discussion of taste, nor is it me being nostalgic for music of my youth.  It is not my imagination.  It is about actual demonstrable numbers.

The major record labels are run by corporations that are very much focused on the bottom line.  Musical ideas, like nutritious food, take time and effort to make.  But sadly, much of the music that is being presented to us these days is being produced on the cheap.  In case you think this is just a matter of opinion, here is how to tell the difference between industrial music and real music:

It’s actually very simple: the way to tell an industrially produced song is by looking at the amount of repetition it contains.  It’s a dead giveaway every time.  Granted, the performers are young and sexy, but that does not make the song itself any better.

Real songs contain melodies. Melodies are the musical version of sentences. They have an arc of a musical idea.  Standard “song/sonata” form includes at least two separate freestanding melodies, typically labeled A and B, and played in the form AABA.

Conversely, an industrially made song typically doesn’t have even one actual melody. In fact, technically speaking, industrial songs aren’t even songs. They are “chants.” Chants contain just fragments of musical ideas, and those fragments are repeated over and over.

Industrial cookies are all about making you think you are buying a cookie, rather than letting you judge for yourself.  Industrial Top 40 song/ chants are all about constant visual distractions from their lack of musical ingredients.

For example, after a sexy young singer repeats a single 2-4 note simplistic sonic idea for half the song, another singer, usually not even a singer but a rapper (who is mentioned in the title as “featuring xyz rapper”), will come in where you would normally have the “B” section.  But it’s not a real B section.  It’s just a guy speaking in sixteenth notes.  Once you become conscious of this technique, it becomes strikingly cliched.  Fully half of all Top Forty Pop songs use this structure to create really just an illusion of a song.

The lyrics, too, are often little just short phrases repeated over and over.

The role of an artist is to tempt us into broadening our perceptions beyond the norm. But listening to this bare minimum music can actually have the opposite effect, of numbing our emotions and lowering our expectations in terms of the spectrum of human feeling. For many people, industrial pop music songs are fabulous, because they are cheap, quick,  easy, and familiar.  They never challenge one with a political idea, or explore any new avenue of the human experience.  It’s vague issues of narcissistic teenage romance.

We often speak of “food deserts,” where is there is no nutritious food to be had, and “hostile food environments,” meaning, much of the food in grocery stores induces diabetes and nutritional imbalance by removing the nutrients.  I think this cheap industrial music is doing something similar.   But instead of corroding our bodies, it is doing something very similar to our souls.

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Emotional Cattle Prods

We are in a most interesting historical moment here in the United States. We have departed from sanity really. And so, like psychologists in 1946, I find myself asking the question: how could this have happened?

I have developed the answer which seems to satisfy my curiosity on this point. I call it the emotional cattle prod.

I have borne personal witness to seeing people that I’ve known for many years becoming totally irrational before my eyes. Bear in mind, these are people who, in many cases, possess exceptional intellect. They have ability to problem solve. They study human experience and history. They can do advanced math and extremely technical tasks. In other words, there’s nothing wrong with the conscious problem-solving frontal lobes of their brains. But even so, they have still been seduced into totally hysterical and nonsensical ways of thinking, and voting against their own personal self-interest. And it’s happening on a massive scale. How can this be?

My conclusion is this: there are certain areas of the mind that, if stimulated, become the dominant force in the mind, completely overwhelming any calm objective logical streams of thought. Machiavelli talks about this technique in his discourses. He explained that if a given ruler of the city was having difficulty with dissident factions rising against him, all he had to do was somehow create the illusion of an impending attack from neighboring city, and all the people who were against him within the city would suddenly come to his aid, because no matter how awful a ruler he was, they would prefer him to the threat of an enemy attack.

So we now hearken back to Lee Atwater and his Willie Horton ads, and before that we can hearken back to that famous ad with the little girl pulling petals off a flower, turning into a nuclear holocaust. Now we have extreme claims of all kinds, to energize a given right or left by creating fear of attack. This includes vague concepts of non threats, like the War on Christmas. These images overwhelm most people’s logical thought. They are emotional cattle prods. You just go down the chute without thinking.

We can become so taken up with fear or racial hatred that we never stop to think that maybe we are being played and given hyperbole and stereotypes that prey upon our deepest fears, and have virtually no relationship to objective facts.

This is a weakness in the human mind that has nothing to do with intellect or education. Hitler understood this weakness, and was able to exploit it to its extreme conclusion. This was done in what was, at the time, the most culturally and technologically advanced nation on earth. If it could happen there, it can happen to us. And it is.

Prior to the Lee Atwater era, we had social codes and taboos that were in place for the purpose of recognizing that we need to limit certain kinds of inflammatory speech, because it crosses a line and actually removes our civil behavior. This is why we had to create the Geneva convention– even when we are trying to kill thousands of people, we collectively agree to limits. This is not the case in our emotional news cycle lives. Anything goes.

We used to understand that our collective discourse should not include certain kinds of rough language or imagery. Instead, we have taken this carefully designed social structure for granted and are failing to understand the need to maintain it. When we take away those restraints and allow anybody to cross these lines and exploit these deep dark weaknesses of the heart, it’s like not recognizing that nuclear weapons are dangerous and might explode. We are are failing to understand the larger danger that faces us if we don’t keep these dark animal survivalist emotions in a glass jar, with signs saying do not touch.

Fringe elements and Russia are using this technique, because otherwise their arguments would be exposed as fallacious and would be rejected by the majority. They have removed our sense of decency. And it is historically inevitable that without it, we will eventually be driven to destroy ourselves.

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Economic Sadism

At the time of this writing we are watching the Republicans in Congress trying to pass a tax law that, to this writer anyway, seems like one more chapter in the story of the rich getting richer.

We tend to think of such plays for greater power as simply an exercise in greed, but I think there is something more sinister afoot.

It is not greed. It is sadism.

A psychologist friend of mine once told me, when a human being becomes socially disconnected, they seek solace in seeking a state of relative superiority to others.

For example, if no one loves you and you aren’t invited to any parties, you might seek solace in telling yourself that you are either intellectually or morally superior to these people.  You are not connected, but at least you are superior.

The trouble with having a lot of money is that, it creates a kind of social isolation, as you no longer share in the common experience of most of humanity. Sure, having all that money is fabulous (I assume), but beyond a certain point, it loses its meaning. Once you have enough money to eat in the best restaurant and drive the best car and fly around in a private jet, what’s left? If you have these material goods but you are starved for the most precious and valuable things in life, i.e., a sense of purpose and a feeling of connection to other human beings, what do you do?

If you lack connection and thus, like my psychologist friend says, you are forced to seek the second best option, which is a feeling of superiority to others, how can that consolation prize best be achieved?

Well . . . since having more becomes meaningless after a point, the next obvious step is to see to it that others have less.

It is rationalized as a logical action of increasing wealth, but it’s really just a wounded soul falling down the rabbit hole of sadism, i.e., achieving a sense of connection by being the cause of pain in another person who otherwise does not respond to your presence. The pain you cause them forces them to acknowledge your existence. It is a state of connection, albeit one based on pain. Better than nothing.

I don’t want to point too many fingers here, because this is something that any one of us is susceptible to. Having a lot of money is like being a prison guard in a Stanford prison experiment.  Possession of power is delicious, and what’s the point of having it if you can’t exercise it over another human being now and again, and maybe take out some of your general anger by dumping some of it onto someone who has to take it?

One of the great failings of the progressive movement is a general lack of understanding of the nature of the opposition. It is naive to think we are dealing with mere greed. Greed actually has a grain of rationality to it. It’s not about getting more, there is no systemic economic logic to it.  It’s about miserable people who want to make themselves feel less miserable in a purely relatively way, by making other people even more miserable than themselves.

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