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The Day the Music Died

On Saturday morning I was thinking about “The day the music died,” Don McLean’s line from “American Pie.” Although I knew the meaning and remember the song well going back to the moment it was released in 1971 (at a shocking length of eight-plus minutes, no less!), I just had to look it up on the Google machine. There are, after all, so many references in the song — some we are still reflecting on a half-century later. Was it really Bob Dylan who was “the jester who sang for the king and queen in a coat he borrowed from James Dean”?

February 3rd, 1959, the day Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and “The Big Bopper,” J. P. Richardson, died in a small plane crash. Coincidentally or miraculously, later Saturday evening, when I turned on the television for the first time in a week, there it was — La Bamba, the Ritchie Valens story, a movie I hadn’t watched since its release in 1987. I teared up again at the end and this time wondered, how much richer would our lives be with 60 more years of their music? Certainly, Ritchie had more to tell us than the near gospel “Donna” and Buddy seemed to envisage the future with “Rave On.”

The chances of a plane crash in the United States are about one in 11 million, yet our lives and the direction of our nation have been inexorably changed by those that occurred and those that did not. September 11, 2001, changed everything. As World War I changed our global politics for more than a century (triggered, in part, by an errant chauffeur driving Archduke Franz Ferdinand), we have been litigating 9/11 in one form or another – from the heart to the court room, from battlegrounds to ballot boxes – for two decades. Our sense of national and personal vulnerability did not originate that day, but it passes through it. The accrescent power of planes landing safely and those that don’t resonate with us daily.

In the fall of 1963, Beatlemania was raging in Britain and increasingly throughout Europe, but not the United States. Ed Sullivan, on an unrelated talent scouting tour of Europe, is rushing to his plane at Heathrow and totally by chance, witnesses the absolute pandemonium – John, Paul, George and Ringo returning from a hugely successful tour of Sweden. By accident, the “British Invasion” is born. Just a few months later, on February 7, 1964, Pan Am Yankee Clipper flight 101 from London Heathrow lands at New York’s Kennedy Airport with, as Sullivan shouted a few nights later, “The Beatles!” Ten thousand hours and months in Hamburg all made it possible, but good fortune made it happen.

I’ll never forget the conversation I had in law school with a veteran of the Carter White House who was relaying the pervasive sense of mourning on April 24, 1980, when news came that three of eight helicopters had failed in the desert, and one retreating helicopter had collided into the C-130 transport plane. It killed eight service members and with it, the Iran hostage rescue mission and the Carter presidency.

Months later, less than a year into the new Reagan Administration, a confident President fired the 11,000 Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization (PATCO) workers illegally striking and replaced them with arguably less qualified air traffic controllers. A single domestic plane crash during that period, regardless of the reason, and there is no “Reagan Revolution.”

Flash forward 20 years and there are the entirely avoidable mistakes a charter pilot and co-pilot made approaching landing, killing Minnesota Senator Paul Wellstone, his wife and daughter and five others just before a close election that would turn over control of the U.S. Senate to Republicans in 2002. If not for the crash, Trent Lott may not become majority leader and American politics, for the last generation, are drastically different.

History is fickle. Life and the course of nations take unexpected leaps from moments that expand like an ink blot on a pale carpet.

The best and worst things that have ever happened in my life seem to have largely been dependent upon the serendipity of who I am sitting next to. The significant career opportunity, the major new client, the relationship that went sour, the bad hire or the great one. I don’t mean that hard work and perseverance aren’t incredibly important parts of life, only that luck, both good and bad, plays an outsized role.

What happens if we had a chance to do those meetings and moments all over again? Or, lacking a time machine, we had the ability to get them right going forward?

Over the past week, we have had three podcasts with authors (two releasing new books) and change agents who speak about how we take control of some of these moments; how active listening helps turn challenging moments into winning ones; how we build common sense and empowered decision-making into our organizations; how we can sharpen our empathy by truly communicating and confronting with kindness and understanding; and how we can lean more deeply into relationships across races and sexes from their perspective, not just our own.

How much of our litigation, business battles, HR struggles, tribalism and unrest would be different if these moments were altered before the ink was spilled? It is these small, human moments that lead to all the other things in our lives.

The Ministry of Common Sense

Best selling author Martin Lindstrom discusses his new book, The Ministry of Common Sense: How to Eliminate Bureaucratic Red Tape, Bad Excuses and Corporate BS. Martin Lindstrom is a well-known international management consultant who has worked with many of the world’s leading brands, helping them pinpoint and eliminate bothersome hurdles that harm efficiency, customer and employee relations.

Listen here

The Soft Business Skills Are the Hardest

David Bradford Ph.D. and Carole Robin Ph.D. discuss their new book, Connect: Building Exceptional Relationships with Family, Friends, and Colleagues. It turns out that the soft skills of business are the hardest. How do we get better at them, especially in an environment when fear and judgement are the dominant emotions? Curious is the antidote to judgement.

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The Unique Challenges of Black Women

Christelyn Karazin, author, YouTube personality, social influencer and host of The Pink Pill, speaks with co-hosts Richard Levick and Dr. George T. French, Jr., President of Clark Atlanta University, about the unique business and personal issues that Black women face.

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“Drove my Chevy to the levee but the levee was dry.”

Happy listening and enjoy the moment. They won’t come again.

Richard Levick

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