This “Five Questions” blog post, features the CEO of the Nashville Entrepreneur Center, Jane Allen.

1. What was your biggest concern/fear prior to the songwriting workshop?

The fact that creativity is not my strong suit.

2. Can you describe how it felt to write your song?

It was a lot of fun.

3. What was it like hearing the music added to your lyrics?

It was interesting to hear how the music just flowed and aligned with the lyrics.

4. How did songwriting make you think differently about your particular topic?

That people view the topic with different perspectives and how that all came together to get the song completed.

5. What is one of the things from the workshop that you’d most like to share with someone else?

It was a great team building exercise, it allowed people to express their individual thoughts and then watch people come together to get the song done – all while having fun and without feeling uncomfortable – definitely recommend. 

Find out more about Cliff’s creativity & innovation workshops for business teams.

By definition a metaphor is simply “a thing that is representative or symbolic of something else.” That sounds simple enough but what often gets overlooked is the magic that happens when you attempt to represent your original idea or problem in with its often dry, prosaic wording with something more visual and emotionally compelling. All of a sudden, new doors open and ideas, angles and solutions tend to present themselves where there were seemingly none available before. It is the unassuming metaphor that works as a skeleton key to creativity and a reimagining of your concepts or ideas. Here’s why…

Metaphors are a reminder of our common humanity
At work, we can get so wrapped up in being efficient and productive that our focus narrows to the point of excluding alternate ideas and approaches to problems. This can be a good thing if the problems and solutions are clearly defined. When it comes to innovation or sticky, intractable problems however, this narrowness of focus can be detrimental. Metaphors and their accompanying emotional energy remind us that we’re not simply cogs in a corporate machine but, rather, humans looking for ways to make life better for others and, ultimately ourselves. Metaphors have the power to do that. In my workshops during the pandemic, we explored the idea of “working remotely” and used metaphors like being adrift in lifeboats, lost in the forest, in a long-distance relationship as well as many others which instantly brought humanity back into the discussion of remote workplaces. Metaphors are powerful stuff.

Metaphors work with your heart as much as your head
Much like the emphasis on productivity and efficiency that is prized in the workplace, clear “thinking” is often – and rightly – thought of as a positive trait. However, sometimes it takes clear “feeling” to unlock solutions that the intellect can’t uncover on its own. Metaphors with their rich, personal imagery and sensory cues, find a way to touch us and change our thinking to feeling which places us in a new, creative space to look for solutions or alternatives to the way things are currently done. For example, a group of airline executives decided to examine “coordinating disparate teams” through the metaphorical lens of a flock of geese flying south for the winter. That shift in perspective added the elements of survival and caring for each other along the way to an otherwise rather dry business problem making it more compelling and solutions more meaningful.

There are countless metaphors for every issue or idea
The beauty of exploring ideas and problems through their metaphorical equivalents is that there are an almost endless number metaphors for any given idea. As I mentioned above, you can look at the concept of “working remotely” using metaphors as divergent as a tray of ice cubes, foxholes in a battle and even the old TV gameshow “Hollywood Squares.” Each metaphor brings a new set of images and thoughts all of which provide a more well-rounded approach to exploring any and all ideas.

I’m assuming you’ve heard the expression that “if all you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.” Well, to continue that particular meta-metaphor, the metaphor itself gives you more than just a “hammer” to explore your problems so that you’re better able to come up with new and refreshing solutions.


Find out more about Cliff’s creativity & innovation workshops for business teams.

In the next of “Five Questions” blog post, please welcome VP of Communications at Forte and Quora mastermind, Dushka Zapata.

1. What was your biggest concern/fear prior to the songwriting workshop?

Before the workshop began I worried if I could even write a song. During the workshop I felt supported by both Cliff and other participants so the experience was stress free and all fun.

2. Can you describe how it felt to write your song?

Writing a song felt like thinking more about how things feel, rather than how to solve or fix them. 

3. What was it like hearing the music added to your lyrics?

Hearing music added to the lyrics of the song we wrote felt like everything came to life. Maybe what I need is for someone to add music to everything I do throughout the day.

4. How did songwriting make you think differently about your particular topic?

Thinking about how something makes me feel, versus how to fix or solve it, felt like I was giving myself more room – it felt like a gift to myself.

5. What is one of the things from the workshop that you’d most like to share with someone else?

This workshop is lighter, less of an effort, more interesting and less scary than I anticipated. I encourage everyone to give it a shot.

Find out more about Cliff’s creativity & innovation workshops for business teams.

So much of the ultimate success of any creative/innovative endeavor is about having the patience and persistence to try again when early efforts don’t deliver expected results. Nowhere is that more true than in the collaborative process. Being a great collaborator is anything but a given. As always, I’ll use myself as the case in point.

Let go of your control
When I moved to Nashville in the early 90s, I had already been songwriting and performing for about five years by myself. What that meant was that I had an established – albeit not totally polished – approach to my music and songwriting process. However, I kept hearing again and again that co-writing was the way to go and, curious about the process, I began to dabble in a few co-writes. Unfortunately for my collaborators at the time, I was much too attached to my way of doing things and that left little room for true collaboration. I like to describe my first few co-writes as “writing songs near people.” Not good.Collaboration

Play to your strengths
It wasn’t until I co-wrote with a songwriter who was strong-willed enough to convince me to listen to his ideas, that I began to understand what true collaboration was about. My melodic sensibilities are much like my singing voice…fine. My melodies were fine. In other words, they weren’t that great. However, this particular co-writer was a gifted melody writer and the more we worked together the better my songs became. It took me a while to understand that while writing lyrics came easily to me, my songs only came alive when I paired my lyrics with great melodies. Once I realized this about myself, I was able to find collaborators who were great melody writers and the overall quality of my songs increased dramatically.

Take risks
The other part of co-writing that took me a little while to get comfortable with was being willing to suggest seemingly ridiculous ideas on the road to what would ultimately be a well-written song. Learning to step away from my careful – often too careful – and methodical process of songwriting and into the world of messy, quirky, unfinished and downright weird ideas was when my songs began to shine. Being willing to appear foolish in front of my songwriting peers, while difficult at first, has become easier and yielded amazing results.

Having built my entire career on songwriting collaboration, it’s easy for me to see now how valuable collaboration can be. But it wasn’t always that way. Opening up my creative process to another person was a slow and bumpy journey but one that, ultimately, has been worth every awkward, frustrating moment. Collaboration isn’t guaranteed to be seamless but by giving yourself permission to make mistakes and let go, you’ll get to the good stuff.


Find out more about Cliff’s creativity & innovation workshops for business teams.

In the next of “Five Questions” blog posts, it’s my distinct honor to introduce you to my friend, Diana O’Brien, the Global Chief Marketing Officer of Deloitte.

1. What was your biggest concern/fear prior to the songwriting workshop?
My concern was twofold…

a. Would my entire team be embarrassed and see the activity as foolishness?

b. If my boss, our then CEO, knew we spent money on this, would he see it as non-value added?

2. Can you describe how it felt to write your song?
I felt empowered and more creative than I imagined; I think my team felt the same

3. What was it like hearing the music added to your lyrics?

4. How did songwriting make you think differently about your particular topic?
I don’t think we saw the issues we were wanting to address differently, rather we felt more emboldened to address them together.

5. What is one of the things from the workshop that you’d most like to share with someone else?
We all learn from new things, the songwriting workshop is a fun and interesting way to challenge yourself and your team to grow.  Music has universal appeal but, more importantly, the team activity is a beautiful method engaging both heart and mind which grows your organization’s capacity for innovation as a team.

Find out more about Cliff’s creativity & innovation workshops for business teams.

As a songwriter, vulnerability has been my stock-in-trade for the past thirty years. Plumbing my emotional depths to write a song that is both moving to me but and those who listen to it is critical to achieving my goal of connecting to others through my music. So you can imagine my surprise – when I began teaching business teams to write songs – to the resistance the typical corporate executive displays to making themselves vulnerable in a work setting. I thought I’d take a moment to list a few simple reasons why vulnerability – like creativity – is just as essential for business as it is for writing songs.

You get to what’s real
If your guard is constantly up while you’re at work, it will be almost impossible to get to the heart of any discussion or project. It is only though taking the risk of making your true feelings known that you’ll make any progress toward the deeper understanding that is the hallmark of truly resonant results. On top of that, vulnerability – in an environment where it’s encouraged and well-received is be both freeing and exhilarating.vulnerability

It helps you connect with each other
Teams can be sources of genuine power and productivity within an organization. That being said, a team doesn’t function well together just because they’ve been put together. It is only through the willing vulnerability of making the individual members of the team known to each other genuine bonds are built and real progress is made.

It helps your products and services connect with the wider world
The creation of products and services that are designed to fill – or anticipate – a need in the marketplace is equally dependent on vulnerability. Without the courage to express how a given product or process truly makes you feel, there is a high likelihood that they won’t make a true connection with their market. Whether consumers or businesses can articulate it or not, vulnerability (aka sincerity) can be felt on a fundamentally human level and its absence will leave your intended audience cold.

Let me be clear. There is a time and place for vulnerability. Going around with your heart constantly on your sleeve will be exhausting not only for you but also for your colleagues.
For example, my favorite expression to describe songwriters is “emotional nudists” and, as you might imagine, that isn’t always appropriate. However, thoughtful and deliberate vulnerability in the context of teams, decision-making and innovation will pay greater dividends than you could ever imagine.


Find out more about Cliff’s creativity & innovation workshops for business teams.

Welcome to the first in my “Five Questions” blog posts. In order to demonstrate the power of using songwriting to explore ideas and enhance innovation, I’ve put together a five-question interview that I’ve sent out to some of my previous workshop attendees.

First on the list is my friend and international best-selling author of The Back of the Napkin, Dan Roam.

What was your biggest concern/fear prior to the songwriting workshop?
I was worried that, having never written a song and being a terrible singer, I would embarrass myself in front of a group of people I didn’t know. As it turned out, at every moment of Cliff’s thoughtful program, I was inspired, had a wonderful time and felt increasingly confident – both as a songwriter and as an innovator.

2) Can you describe how it felt to write your first song?
As a member of our impromptu songwriting team, and under the generous guidance of Cliff’s step-by-step instruction, it felt fabulous to discover that we could actually craft a real song. I loved every minute of it.

3) What was the experience of hearing the music added to your lyrics?
In a word: magic. AND there are two parts to this magic:

First, I’d never realized how easy it is to remember a long string of words and ideas when they are set to music. I need to find a way to use this truth in structuring and remembering my own best thoughts.

Second, Cliff really is a magician; his ability to instantly add a legit Motown back to our lyrics and then sing it PERFECTLY the first time is mind-blowing.

4) How did songwriting make you think differently about your chosen topic?
Thinking through a somewhat painful topic (in this case, our endless life of remote meetings) using music made it seem not only less sad, but made me think about the topic from an optimistic side – and see rays of light ahead that I had not detected before. When we sang our song, I felt hopeful in a way I haven’t felt in a long time.

5) What is one of the things from the workshop that you’d most like to share with someone else?
Good innovation comes from creativity, and nothing exposes your hidden creativity muscle faster and more vibrantly than making music.

Find out more about Cliff’s creativity & innovation workshops for business teams.

Hi and welcome to my blog!

I thought I’d start with the preface to my book, “The Reason For The Rhymes.”

“In these days of political, personal and economic disintegration, music is not a luxury, it’s a necessity; not simply because it is therapeutic, nor because it is the universal language, but because it is the persistent focus of our intelligence, aspiration and goodwill.”

Robert Shaw

“The leader of this team has been skeptical all day, they’re pretty much afraid of him and they do whatever he says. Oh, and before this job he was a prison warden for almost twenty years.”

That was the last thing my liaison said to me before she introduced me and I walked up on stage in front of a team of senior executives at a Fortune 500 company who had no idea I was about to ask them to write a song.

As I explained to the team who I was and why I was there, I kept an eye on the faces in the crowd. Generally, when I tell a group of business people that I’m going to get them to write a song, I get a mixture of responses from nervous laughter to disbelief to confusion but the team leader—let’s call him “the warden” from now on—could have been playing high stakes poker for his lack of facial cues.

I spoke for about twenty minutes laying out the ground rules but no matter what I said, the warden remained stone-faced. I’ll admit I was getting a bit concerned that there was no way we were going to make a connection.

Then, as I broke up the group into smaller teams of six to write their songs, I noticed that—as predicted—the team the warden was on was deferring to him as they began writing their song’s lyric. I checked in several times nudging them in this direction or that to help them refine their message but still there were no outward signs from the warden of anything but a businesslike desire to get through yet another “exercise.”

In my songwriting workshops, once the teams have written the lyrics to their song’s verse and chorus, I ask them what genre they think their song should be. Country? Blues? Pop? Jazz? When the warden stated that he’d envisioned this song as a heavy metal ballad in the style of the Scorpions, I got my first indication that maybe there was something going on beneath his stoic facade. As I started playing chords and creating a melody for their song, it was like someone flipped a switch and—truly out of the blue— the warden became animated, engaged and totally immersed in what he and his team were doing.

If ninety minutes earlier, someone had told me that this taciturn business executive would be up in front of his assembled colleagues enthusiastically singing his newly written 80s-style heavy metal ballad, it would have been my turn to be skeptical.

The power of songs to challenge, transform, communicate and connect is equal parts inspiring and humbling. It’s why I write songs and why I now teach others to do the same.

But don’t take my word for it. Let’s try a short experiment. Bring yourself back in your mind to the summer after your senior year
in high school. You’re driving, the radio is playing and your favorite song comes on.

If you were to hear that song right now, my guess is you’d be back in your car and every one of your senses would be alive with the emotions and memories of that time. For me, it was Bob Seger’s “Night Moves” which I’d performed in a talent show with some friends earlier that year. The acoustic guitar riff that signals the start of that song can still—over thirty years later—put me back in Memphis in that long, sticky summer before I headed out west for college. Still don’t believe me? Go to YouTube, find your song and listen. I’ll wait . . . Now that you’ve done that, I’m almost certain I don’t have to tell you how powerful songs—and songwriting—can be.

Thanks for reading and stay tuned for more blog posts on how learning to write songs develops critical business and innovation skills.


Find out more about Cliff’s songwriting/innovation workshops for business teams.

The requirements for effective innovation can be boiled down to seven essential skills. I’ll begin with a brief description of each skill and then enumerate the way that a specific component of the songwriting process will enhance that particular skill.

Innovation Skill #1—Lateral thinking

Songwriting Component—The metaphor

When it comes to innovation, it can help to remember that in order to create something new and different, you need to think differently about your current product, market or process. Another way to describe this is to think laterally. By avoiding a standard, linear approach to problem-solving, you can avoid the same, well-worn and often suboptimal “solutions.” In his book, “Lateral Thinking,” Edward de Bono makes this point beautifully when he states “the mind is a cliché making and cliché using system. The purpose of lateral thinking is to overcome these limitations by providing a means for restructuring, for escaping from cliché patterns, for putting information together in new ways to give new ideas.”

Songwriting provides the perfect device to help you “put information together in new ways” and escape from the aforementioned “cliché patterns.” That device is the metaphor. By learning to reexamine any idea from the standpoint of its metaphorical equivalent, you will empower yourself to think in ways that don’t reveal themselves using the standard problem-solving approach.

Innovation Skill #2—Creativity

Songwriting Component—The verse

Creativity is at the heart of innovation. That being said, there is a common misconception that creativity is the domain of a specialized group of individuals with a “gift” for it. This is simply untrue. In an article for Fast Company magazine, neuroscientist and author Tara Swart summarizes the keys to creativity as “practice” and “intention.” In other words, you have the ability to be creative if you’re willing to develop it.

Writing songs—and specifically the details required in verse writing—will serve as an important reminder that you are—at your core—a creative being. As you’ll see in the coming pages, writing verses is quite simply a concentrated form of storytelling. The more you develop your verse writing/storytelling skills, the easier your access to your own creativity will become.

Innovation Skill #3—Communication

Songwriting Component—The chorus

Properly highlighting the uniqueness and value of your innovation comes down to the ability to communicate in a way that is both clear and compelling. This communication works both internally as a way to assure buy- in from your colleagues as well as externally when it comes to the marketing of your new product or service.

The chorus of a song is the deceptively simple summary and distillation of your message. Choruses are often very short and highly repetitive so if your message isn’t perfectly refined, you run the risk of missing your opportunity to connect with your audience. The better you become at writing choruses, the better your communication skills will be in any situation.

Innovation Skill #4—Empathy

Songwriting Component—Observation

Another key to effective innovation is the understanding of how your ideas will be perceived both inside your organization and externally by your customers. The more developed your empathy is as an innovator, the greater your ability to connect with those people who most need to believe in what you’ve created.

Similarly, in order to write a song, you need to first consider and observe from the standpoint of the song’s subject. Writing while continuously keeping your subject’s feelings and behavior in mind, automatically strengthens your ability to empathize.

Innovation Skill #5—Collaboration

Songwriting Component—Co-writing

Innovation requires multiple varieties of collaboration from the outreach across silos within a company to simply putting together a team that can leverage the strengths of its individual members.

Co-writing is a microcosm of the exact form of collaboration necessary for successful innovation. Each of the component parts of songwriting from developing the metaphor to storytelling in the verses to refining the core of the song’s message in the chorus requires different skills. When these skills are shared among songwriting collaborators, it can make any song better than the sum of its individual writers.

Innovation Skill #6—Risk-Taking

Songwriting Component—Vulnerability

Developing new products and processes to replace current ones—even when they’re working—requires a kind of risk-taking that is antithetical to most businesses and executives. That being said, in order to stay competitive and grow, this kind of risk-taking through innovation is essential.

Writing—and ultimately singing—songs will require you to make yourself vulnerable in a work context which will feel undoubtedly risky as you will likely fear potential ridicule. However, doing this in a structured, psychologically safe setting will allow you to build up your risk-taking tolerance in a healthy and consistent way.

Innovation Skill #7—Diffusion

Songwriting Component—Performance

Innovation doesn’t work in a vacuum. In order for an innovation to succeed, it needs to be propagated to those who can most benefit. If this doesn’t happen, an innovation is simply a good idea that never sees the light of day.

In the same way, songs are designed to be shared. Writing a song is only the first step. The true power of songs is when they connect with—and move—others. To that end, the performance of your song carries the added significance of reminding you that new ideas need to be shared.

Find out more about Cliff’s book “The Reason For The Rhymes: Mastering The Seven Essential Skills of Innovation by Learning to Write Songs.”

For as long as I’ve been playing music, I’ve been a fan of the blues. There’s something about the universality of that musical language and the predictable but still infinitely variable music that I just love.

When I was in my twenties, I became a huge fan of a then relative newcomer to the blues scene with the stage name Keb’ Mo’. The combination of his exceptional instrumental work and a voice which resonated deeply with this age-old art form was—and is— irresistible to me. So, you can imagine my delight when, almost twenty-five years later, my music publisher set us up to co-write.

The experience was everything I could have hoped it would be as Kevin Moore (Keb’ Mo’s non-stage name) was a truly gracious and welcoming collaborator. Not only did we end up writing a song together called “Cold Outside” but he released it on his album “Oklahoma” which, in a career-defining moment for me, went on to win a GRAMMY.

When we were chatting after our writing session, Kevin gave me some great insight into his early days as a performer. He told me that after one of his shows when he was just starting out, he was talking to his uncle about the performance Kevin had just given and asked his uncle what he thought. “What you need,” his uncle said, “is a hundred dollar pair of pants.”

Kevin took this seemingly unrelated observation to mean that while the performance was technically solid, the attitude and the confidence were missing. Those hundred dollar pants would both display and impart the confidence that all great performers have. It must have worked as Keb’ Mo’ now has five GRAMMYs, twelve GRAMMY nominations and is a genuine icon in the blues world.

I truly believe that the motivation you will achieve from writing and singing a song will act like your “hundred dollar pair of pants” as you make your way through your work on innovation.


Find out more about Cliff’s creativity & innovation workshops for business teams.