Why I’ll Never Give Up My Rock And Roll Dreams

Picture the scene.

I’m in the standing room area on the floor of Madison Square Garden along with 20,000 new friends.

As Arcade Fire’s “Wake Up” hits its stride, the lights go out, and we send up a roar to welcome the night’s featured attraction – U2.

90 seconds later, as “City of Blinding Lights” starts up, Bono is standing two feet in front of me.  And we’re airborne.

Pure theater.  Pure joy. And made more dramatic by the well-planned flow of music – from the time we walked in, until the concert began.

Planned flow and the power of music never goes unnoticed by me – a theater professional, and at the time of the concert, Circles’ future Lead Facilitator. I was similarly struck by the learnings from a piece I heard on This American Life a few years back. It highlighted the absence of an emotional response from parents to their children’s school slideshow – all because there was no soundtrack.

Music sets a mood, infuses energy, and lights a fire.

As a theater director, I give as much thought to the “load-in” music as I do the sound design during the play.  Same for my years handling the studio audience load-in in my previous life in television.  Am I bringing the energy up, or dampening it?  What mood am I creating, intentionally or unintentionally?

We’re emotional beings, fueled by a sense of connectivity and togetherness.  Music can act like dry tinder, adding a suggested emotional connotation to what it means to come together.

I love how our technology makes it super easy to grab your favorite YouTube track and play its audio in the CircleSpace.  Too often, facilitators I train think they need to be the one getting it all done through words.  Great facilitators embody energy, timing, and flow, and nothing jumpstarts intentional energy at the start like the right opening song.  It’s like a great leading question, directing the energy and flow of the session down a pre-planned path.  It’s also an opportunity to embody inclusivity and diversity.  I pay attention to the composition of my group, and work to reflect it in my session’s “soundtrack”.

Music is also a “spark”, our term for content that catalyzes conversation.  As an experience designer, I also find ways to build a thematic experience beginning to end, including during reflection time after a prompt is offered.  Running a session on Being Present?  I like Mason Jennings’ “Be Here Now.”  Gathering CEOs to discuss generating impact on world events?  Matisyahu’s “One Day” gets them talking. Our participants frequently mention the power of a session’s music, sharing everything from “great choice of music–opened the flow of conversation” to “the use of music and poetry to cultivate powerful themes left a strong impression on me.”

Music can be leveraged to brand the experience as well.  It’s a cognitive connotation if participants hear the same track each time they enter the space.  “Oh, I remember what this is.”   It’s like a great walk-on moment from your favorite baseball relief pitcher.  It announces the experience to come. 

Because, though I may not sell out the Garden, I can still rock the house.

Beyond the Ropes Course: Create Community in Your Organization

I recall fondly my reaction when invited to my first ‘team-building’ day. The invite promised a day in the woods, navigating a precipitously-high ropes course, to build trust and teamwork. My response: “A day out of the office!”

I’m sure everyone meant well.

My bosses likely wanted to create a sense of belonging, loyalty, and collaboration–complete with matching t-shirts and bug spray–but the camaraderie faded faster than the bug bites. What remained, though, was the feeling that I’d been exposed, perhaps more than I’d anticipated. Not only was I in shorts in front of my colleagues, but they were asking me to perform a physical feat.

More than belonging and safety, I felt vulnerable, and not in the best way.

Responding to our customers’ eagerness to create community within their organizations, at Circl.es we’ve transposed the idea of a team on a ropes course to our CircleSpace. One customer put it like this: “As we wondered how we could connect people and make sure everyone was heard, Circl.es ended up being the platform we didn’t know we could have.” The space more safely replicates the vulnerability felt on a ropes course, allowing peers to draw out the best in each other while exploring the core challenges that impair success.

In over 19,000 participant debriefs, we’ve discovered that the #1 job we do is powerfully connect participants beyond their titles, departments, or pay grades. Connection alone isn’t enough, but we find it helps set the stage for growth. Why is that? Because healthy growth–however defined–happens when unsaid feelings have space to be shared, when unconscious patterns come to light.  When raw edges are exposed and support is given and received. 

“Connection doesn’t exist without giving and receiving.”–Brene Brown, Sociologist

We talk a lot about the call to openness.  Does that mean forcing everyone to share? What about inclusion: respecting each person’s journey, allowing them to process and share on their own terms? It’s hard to know how much time each person needs before they’re ready for a trust fall. Whether someone opens up quickly, slowly, or not at all, we’ve found the common theme is candor and authenticity, not necessarily disclosure. Vulnerability is a hard, deeply authentic place, and it’s in those moments that connection and growth are born.

Though we have 19,000 reasons to hang our hat on connecting people, it’s not enough to stop there. Those that love and care for me the most don’t stop at merely feeling connected; they also provide accountability, the cornerstone of growth.  They act as a mirror, reflecting back how I tend to show up, and my impact on them and others. Peers hold each other to the flame, acting with a fierce love that sees what’s possible, and challenging one another to rise to the moment, whether that’s stepping up to a professional opportunity or tackling a personal crisis. This is how we grow.

True growth happens when we’re watered and fed by those tending to us. Openness plus accountability creates bonds among colleagues, and collective leadership from peers.

And, unlike the ropes course, the view from the top is a lot less scary.