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  • Paul Rutherford

FROM CAPTAIN TO PASSENGER


Coaching ideas can come from the most unexpected places.

Client D has been busy in business for more that four decades. Like a financial market, he's experienced ups and downs over that time, while the long-term trend has been very positive.

Until recently.

At 70, he's had enough. Time to hang up his hat, he thinks - or he thought. In reality, when every successful project ended, it proved very hard to say 'no' to the next one. He has a great reputation, and people from his wider world keep asking for his participation.

"My energy is fading some," says D "but I don't want to ground to a halt. Playing golf or gardening will drive me round the bend.

"I want to do something that's useful, but I don't know what it is."

I ask him to list his transferable skills. He looks at me like I've just spoken Mandarin.

"I've been in this game - the same game - for over forty years," says D. "I just do what I do, without even thinking about how I do it. What's the point of self-analysis?"

I was about to change tack, then remembered a late 1980s interview I'd seen on the BBC:

PAUL SIMON: "It was a difficult time for me personally. I was working on an album that would become Hearts and Bones; I'd just done a reunion concert with Art Garfunkel. Half a million people showed up, so we decided to go out an do some concerts. Classic mistake.

"The album came out - that had been announced as a 'Simon and Garfunkel' album, but came out as a solo album - and I was exhausted. I didn't do any work to promote it, just put it out. It was a flop. Mistakes on top of mistakes...

"A personal blow, and a career set back, sent me into a tail spin."

Composer and friend PHILIP GLASS: "It was clear that Paul was coming to an end to writing songs as he had before. He said to me a number of times that he wasn't interested in writing hits.

"Here was a man at a crucial place in his career, looking for something to do." (My italics)

SIMON: "Around that time I was building a house on Long Island, and while I drove back and forth (to New York), I realized that I liked a tape that a friend had given me, and I thought 'What is this tape? It's my favourite.'"

Warner Bros. traced the band to South Africa, Without any commitments, Simon and his engineer Roy Halee decided to go to Johannesburg, meet the band, learn about the music, play along, and record 'something'.

That was all they had as a plan.

SIMON: I thought 'This is gonna be a lot of fun.' I had one big advantage - I was cold (after the album flopped), so no-one was paying any attention. No-one will be checking in, asking 'How are the tracks going? Can we come and hear it?' None of that was going to happen."

And here's the point of the story; Simon DID know his transferable skills:

SIMON: My father was a musician. I'd grown up around musicians. I'm very comfortable with musicians. I like hanging around with them. Recording studios are comfortable environments - there's no problem in a studio that can't be solved. It's not like life..."

The project wasn't straightforward. In writing a lyric, with a Western music mindset, verses 1 and 3 might work, but 2 didn't. Simon didn't realize that the African musicians subtly changed tempo, although they were playing the same melody.

SIMON: At first I thought 'I've got a problem'. Then I thought 'No; I have an adventure'. Instead of resisting what's going on, I'll go with it. I'll be carried along and I'll find out where we're going. Instead of being the captain of the ship, I'm not. I'm just a passenger.

"To my ears, certain words - certain sounds that became words - formed a phrase that sometimes it was interesting. Sometimes it was banal. And sometimes it didn't make any sense.

"Like 'I'm going to Graceland'."

And in his own way, that's where Client D is now headed.

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