I've been getting into the creative process lately. What is creativity? How does it happen? Where does inspiration come from? How might you capture it?

One of my favorite listens on this topic is Rick Rubin's podcast Broken Record. Rick is a pioneer in the music industry as a producer and has produced albums across many genres, from the Beastie Boys to Johnny Cash to Slayer to Red Hot Chili Peppers. It's quite an eclectic resume.

I'm pretty sure Rick wouldn't call himself an executive coach...except that is what he is – an executive coach for artists and musicians. Someone honest and transparent, who holds his clients accountable, giving them the best place to be and express themselves.

In one episode, he talks with Andre3000, one part of the duo Outkast, and delves into the emotional and intellectual part of fame and why he hasn't made music in a while.

He could have been talking to any CEO or business owner who has been burned out, made it, and is looking for meaning and challenge again, unable to recreate the original special sauce. And knowing he's still that person who got him to where he is today…but more mature.

The questions Rick asks Andre come from deep experience in the creative process and understanding how hard it is to make music the artist loves and fans do too.

So why the book report on a podcast?

We can all learn something from people who must be immensely creative to work. Although we don't have to write songs or melodies, we need the ability to be creative and inspired to move our businesses forward, AND the storyline matters.

Here's what I've noticed about the most eclectic execution coach.

1. Inspiration and creativity come from having the space and time to think without any goal as the outcome.

Doesn't that seem crazy? What would it look like if you put 2-4 hours on your calendar once a week without any agenda? Take a walk and just let your mind float around. Perhaps you solve a problem, remember someone to reconnect with – or perhaps you are just clearing out the trash and returning with your battery charged and ready to hit the ground running again. Neil Young wrote an entire album over ten days by walking in the woods and recording the melodies he whistled on his phone. That's some productive days of "unproductive" walks in the woods.

2. It's beautiful when I learn

The Red Hot Chili Peppers (RHCP) have been a band for almost 40 years. That's right. When you think of bands you grew up with staying together and making music for the long haul, they were on your list, right? How did they stay engaged writing album after album? By always learning something new - taking voice lessons, learning a new instrument, going outside their industry, starting a business, or launching a charitable music school. Learning something new keeps all the nodes firing in your brain, challenges your thinking, and creates inspiration outside what you already know. Go learn something new! Pro tip: Don't make it about work. Get outside yourself and your industry.

3. Make a lot of songs. Keep the best.

Again, the RHCP created over 50 songs for their latest album and then whittled it down to the best 17. If you are a visionary CEO or Business Owner, having ideas isn't the challenge. It's executing the best ideas. What's your process to collect, discern, decide, and plan for when and how to implement ideas? Too many CEOs have whiplash and whatever is in front of their face becomes important. New ideas are great but can crater your team, who only has so much time and energy to implement those ideas. Be intentional about executing the best ideas and strong enough to leave the good ideas alone.

4. Engage in conflict

When you care, you'll fight for what's best. A team of people, sometimes called a band, must trust that everyone has the best interest at heart. The end product is much better when they are dedicated to what's best for the band. Openly engaging in conflict allows for wonderfully hard conversations that benefit the creative process and, ultimately, the final album. What's your relationship with conflict? Is your executive team on the company's team, or are they fighting for their own silo? The first team is the executive team.

5. Do the work

"So all I have to do is act like a band, and my business will be better?" Nope. In every interview, the artist talks about the work it takes to create something incredible. Practicing songs over and over and over. Long weeks of writing, practicing, staying healthy, touring, and putting on the best show night after night, as it's the only show each fan will see.

What's your concert? The meeting! The work we put in is then seen in the meetings we run. Don't abdicate the show because you stayed up too late on the tour bus or forgot the best line in the song. Make your meetings awesome.

6. The storyline matters

Rick treats artists like people. You know, as you should. When we see fame on stage or listen on our phone, we put the artist in a different category, yet they are just people. So, Rick cares about who they are, what's going on in their life, and how it's informing their work. Guess what? You too!

The storyline is the most important part of your life. What story are you writing?

What is the story?

Your storyline is the circle that is your life. Suppose you cut that circle like a pie generating 8-10 slices. Work is one of those slices; the rest you get to fill in. You may put your spouse, family, health, fitness, fun, friends, spiritual journey, soul score, and the list goes on and on. What's in your pie?

For me, I have a waterfall that helps me pour the right amount into each of the slices. It starts with my faith and then pours into my relationship with my spouse, which pours into my kids and family, which then pours into my work, which pours into my community. When the storm hits in my life (and it always does), this waterfall helps keep my foundation strong.

What is your storyline? How will your foundation hold up when the storm hits?

Enrich Your Storyline

Big list, isn't it? So, here's your challenge (like any good executive coach would give you). Choose one topic on this list this month and lean into it intentionally.

Book a no-agenda strategy session for yourself right now on your calendar.

What would you like to learn if you gave yourself permission to do something other than work?

What do you do with all those ideas you have? Who on your team is a part of the process?

Lean into some (good) conflict.

The meetings are the show! Level up your meetings.

The storyline is the most important line in your life. What's the point of gaining the whole world and losing your soul? Enrich your storyline!

Need a community to help you with everything above? Let Acumen help you grow your top line, optimize your bottom line, and enrich your storyline.

Dan Cooper
Post by Dan Cooper
November 10, 2022
Dan Cooper co-founded ej4, a video-based online training company, in 2003, and was its CEO until selling in 2012. During his time with ej4, he grew the company from a startup to a nationally-recognized firm, serving clients including Pepsi-Cola, Dr. Pepper Snapple, Honeywell, Monsanto and Syngenta. Channel partners included SAP and Oracle. As of the 2012, ej4 was serving 1,000+ customers, delivering millions of program views, was highly profitable and debt-free. Today, he is the CEO of Acumen, a mastermind community platform built for CEOs and Owners of strong and growing companies. He and his wife, Ali, have three children and attend Cure of Ars church in Leawood, KS. Dan enjoys running, all things soccer — coaching, playing and watching —and burning all types of meat on the backyard barbecue grill.