Can you remember the first time you discovered something profoundly beautiful? I can, and I’m happy to say, that I’ve discovered new layers to it on more than one occasion.
We have a small, but respectable, vinyl collection in our home. Tucked away in my late grandmother’s credenza is an assortment of jazz, (good old) country, and some 60’s rock-n-roll. But our favorite item in the mix is the first vinyl album we bought — a duet between Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong recorded live in an L.A. studio with the Oscar Peterson Quartet in 1956, and aptly named — you guessed it — Ella and Louis.
There’s something about the way they once recorded music that fascinates and delights me. It’s not strung together on a mixing board or some computer program like today. Back then a band of musicians played together in a live studio, grinding out version after version of song after song late into the night for days on end, working and iterating together to make what they’ll offer to the world better and better. And then they took a deep breath and sent their work out into the world.
Sixty-two years later, their best collective effort fills my house and stirs my family’s soul.
We’ve enjoyed our records for years. And yet for some reason I recently found myself wanting more from this little turntable, more from these vinyl records that had always been more than sufficient until just a few weeks ago. And so I bought a charming little speaker that houses a subwoofer, plugged it in, and let Mr. Armstrong and Ms. Fitzgerald do their thing.
This sound that we had always found to be so beautiful and elegant took on new meaning, a deeper and more robust version of itself. There, hidden in the grooves of this vinyl was this absolute gift. It’s compelling and soothing. There’s a rich foundation from an upright bass. Herb Ellis’s rhythm guitar. Buddy Rich’s brushes on the snare and ride cymbal. And then there are the more subtle moments, like how Louis beats Ella to the “t” on the word “tender,” how the two are not quite coming in together on the same note multiple places throughout the songs, and Ella taking a long deep breath before delivering the softest and breathiest high note in Stars Fell on Alabama.
What the tiny turntable speakers could not communicate, could not get across, could not fill into the room - was the full measure of this graceful work. Something more thoughtful and essential was there, hidden in the grooves, latent beneath the dust and the tiny scratches and aching to be heard - a collaborative brilliance adding to the full richness and profound labor worked into the final product. And this got me to thinking…
Genius is subtly omnipresent.
It’s just not always pronounced, but it’s there, just like this sound had always been there yet still absent. It’s not trying to hide — it might be buried beneath scars and dirt and is, in fact, hiding. It may be missing the means to amplify. Or it may be missing the right collaborative environment where it can be challenged, where it can be loud, where it can harmonize, where it can support and be supported, where it can refine and remake itself over the course of years, and grind and explore for days and weeks on end before offering itself for the world.
It’s there. It just needs help and perspective to develop and present itself as the accomplishment that it is.
And this is what I want for my life. For my work. My time. Part of why I’m here is to help people and organizations rethink and refine their abilities, their people, and their offerings. My job is to help others amplify their greatness, to help my clients and my students deliver their talent and product, so they may gift the world with something deep, essential, and truly remarkable.
You and I are not here to just refine and offer the best that is in ourselves — we are also here to bring out the best in one another. We are surrounded and enveloped every day in the quiet prodigy of others. Our job, yours and mine, is to find a way for others to amplify their inspired genius.
In my home, we are, at last, hearing the full gift this small band of musicians sent our way sixty-two years ago. The genius that surrounds you — who’s that for, really? What are you building today that you are sending out into the world for realization sixty-two years from now?
You really should give a listen to Ella & Louis if you’ve not already. Our (almost) nine-year old son, who loves Power Rangers, Transformers, and Hamilton, requests this all the time, and each time he hears it he looks as though he’s discovering something profound and beautiful. Which he is. Every time.
And, here’s that speaker I mentioned. Thanks, Marshall!
Chris Huizenga has dedicated his career to helping organizations connect their vision and value more meaningfully with their audiences. His ability to turn insights into strategies has helped clients and their stakeholders in higher education, the nonprofit sector, and cultural institutions to co-create new programs and tools that refine and deepen their value. Chris has designed and delivered curriculum for nonprofit professional development, created a global curriculum and toolkit for a start-up accelerator, and led teams of administrators and physicians in the co-development of strategies that drive improvements in community health. Chris delights in developing future change-makers in his courses, having taught at higher education institutions Columbia College Chicago, University of Colorado at Boulder, and the University of Economics in Prague. He is currently faculty for the Daniels College of Business at the University of Denver.