Although I have made my living for over thirty years as a songwriter and musician, I have to admit that I have a somewhat conflicted relationship with creativity. There are several reasons for this and also several reasons why creativity will – in spite of everything – always have an important place in my career and life. I thought that by confessing that creativity is complicated even for this full-time creative, I might shed some light on why as adults we’re often resistant to creativity and why we should strive to incorporate it into our lives regardless.

Creativity messes things up

Let me start by saying I truly love order. I can be described – only somewhat tongue in cheek – as the kind of person who wakes up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom and makes the bed. For me, creating order is not only soothing but also my way of establishing focus in my work and life. One of the problems I’ve found with creativity is that it’s messy. The act of creation involves trial and error (lots of error), tension, vulnerability and no small amount of discomfort. And for a guy – true story – whose kindergarten teacher told my mother that I didn’t want to finger-paint because I didn’t want to get my hands dirty, this is a serious challenge. And yet I’m still drawn to creativity. The way that I reconcile this is by looking at creativity as messing things up so I can then put them back together again but better.

Creativity is scary

Even though I’ve been writing songs for over three decades, I still feel a slight tremor of fear every single time I sit down to write. So I can only imagine what it must feel like for someone who doesn’t explore their own creativity with any regularity. However, leaving your comfort zone is supposed to be scary. What I mean by this is that the fear that you feel when confronting creativity is exactly what you need to break out of your old, familiar routine. Also, I’ve found not only with myself but even with business teams that when I take them through my songwriting workshops, the fear is temporary. Once you’re absorbed in the creative process, everything else falls by the wayside in service of your creative effort.

Creativity takes effort

And, speaking of effort, it’s not an easy thing to begin a creative project of any kind. Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in his book “Finding Flow” refers to the effort it takes to begin any creative endeavor as “activation energy.” The difference between flopping down in front of the television and actively engaging in a creative exercise is significant and ofter enough to discourage even the most intrepid creatives. However, like getting past your fear, once you’ve exerted the effort, the rewards far outweigh what it took to get started.

So, let’s talk about those rewards…

Creativity adds meaning to life

A life built on maintaining the status quo and avoiding challenges may seem appealing at first glance but, in reality, will be almost unspeakably dull and unsatisfying. I’m not suggesting that everyone needs to become a painter or dancer in order to have a meaningful life but the act of having a hobby, telling a story or raising a child (one of nature’s original creative endeavors) adds meaning and texture to our lives. We need creativity to become the fullest expression of ourselves.

Creativity fuels productivity

Productivity – that coveted skill that all businesses require – is based on having something to “produce.” So without the creative act there’s really nothing to be productive about. In my experience, I’m always much more motivated to be productive when I’ve created something I’m proud of that I want to share with the world whether it’s a new song, workshop or book. In the end, productivity is in service of creativity.  It can be helpful to remember that productivity for its own sake is an empty exercise.

Creativity leaves a legacy

I’ve written about this before but it’s important to repeat that creativity isn’t the domain of a select few “anointed” ones but, rather, something that we are all born with. All of us are responsible for adding our unique creativity to the collective whole. Our reward for this is that we leave a little bit of ourselves behind. This means that a part of us will continue even after we’re gone. Whether it’s a made up story for your child or a song people sing, your creativity will outlast you and that is a powerful reason to brave the discomfort and fear that are only temporary.


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

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve come across bright, motivated executives who – when asked – say they’re not creative. Similarly, I don’t know how many times in my talks, workshops and writing I have said that we are ALL creative. I believe this to be true without exception. I believe that part of the problem when it comes to people downplaying or outright dismissing their own creative ability is the standard for what counts as “creative.”

Just as it feels like common sense to say that we are all endowed with a certain amount of creative ability, it also makes sense not to compare ourselves to the icons of creativity in various fields. In other words, it is reasonable to say that anyone can tell a story but not everyone is Stephen King. More importantly, we don’t have to be Stephen King to benefit from incorporating storytelling into our communication.

The reason I bring this up is twofold. 

First, by comparing ourselves to the exceptions (the genius, full time creative types), we’re setting ourselves up for disappointment and – perhaps worse – discouragement. This is an unnecessary comparison and one that doesn’t do anyone any good. On top of that, just because you’re not Steve Jobs doesn’t mean that you can’t contribute to the creativity of your team. Teams need creativity – and creative awareness – at all levels in order to function at their best.

Secondly, in a business context, even if someone on your team IS brilliantly creative, that feels like a risky way to incorporate creativity across a department or entire company. For example, that brilliant creative might have a creative slump or even leave your company all together. Might it not be better if everyone were to explore their own creativity so that at the very least they can understand – and contribute to – the creative conversation? I’m not saying that everyone has to contribute equally but I am saying that putting all of the creative weight on just a few shoulders could cause problems down the road.

I’ve spent my entire working career in the arts and while there are countless ways of finding and harnessing inspiration, there are also creativity-damaging behaviors to avoid. First on that list is comparing your creativity to the creativity of those around you. Better to explore your own creativity, celebrate the creativity of your peers and idols and know that there is room for all creativity.


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

The longer I spend guiding business teams through the process of learning to write songs, the more I’ve come to understand the surprising and powerful benefits. In a previous article, I enumerated some of these benefits which include learning to think differently, leaving one’s comfort zone and improving the ability to communicate concisely. This article will pick up where my last piece left off and go even deeper into the exceptional business advantages that learning to write songs provides.

1. Learning to write songs demonstrates that we are all creative

It is my firm belief that we are – all of us – creative. That being said, as we progress through life there is an emphasis placed on productivity that, unfortunately, comes at the expense of exercising our innate creativity. So much so that by the time we’re established in our careers (unless your career is in the arts), our creativity has often been left to atrophy. By breaking down songwriting into its component parts and giving clear direction to a group of obviously intelligent – if a little uncertain – business executives, my songwriting workshop simply provides a road map to access the creativity that is already there in each one of us. It’s hard to describe the joy, motivation and increased energy that comes from a business team when they emerge from a songwriting session having proven to themselves that they are, in fact, creative.

2. Songwriting teaches us how to methodically access our creativity

It’s one thing to believe we are creative and another altogether to know how to access that creativity. What songwriting provides is a clear and predictable structure to explore ideas and communicate them to others. Above and beyond the final product, songwriting is a means of tapping into our creative selves consistently and repeatedly. And, like any craft, the more that it’s practiced, the greater the results and the benefits. The ability to access creativity will pay dividends far into the future as business challenges will always require a degree of creativity.

3. Writing a song helps teams get over a generalized fear of failure

Any time a team comes together to work on a project, there is a chance that the project won’t succeed in the way they would like. This is especially true when the project – writing a song – is something the team has likely never done. That is exactly the point. By demonstrating to a team that a daunting task like writing a song is something they can do together, my workshop reinforces the idea that facing your fears can – and most likely will – have a successful outcome. This increased confidence carries over into any and all projects the team will face going forward.

4. Songwriting is a shortcut to the emotional crux of any issue

Often in the workplace, there is a reluctance to face the genuinely human and emotional aspects of the work we do. The fear is that we will appear weak or ineffective when, in fact, the opposite is true. Having the strength to include what makes us all connected as human beings (i.e., our emotions) gives a team a deeper and more robust connection. By exploring any idea through the lens of songwriting, a team adds emotion and humanity to what otherwise might feel like yet another clichéd business challenge. One of my favorite examples of this was the group of airline executives I worked with who instead of simply putting together a PowerPoint Deck about coordinating their disparate teams, wrote a song using the metaphor of geese flying south for the winter. This way, the idea of true teamwork and survival became a tangible part of the vision they were trying to achieve.

5. Learning to write songs takes seasoned executives back to a beginner’s mindset

By presenting a business team with a challenge in an area where they lack experience, learning to write songs will encourage seasoned executives to go back to a beginner’s mindset. Looking at new and genuinely creative ways to approach and solve problems is a skill that will endure long after the songwriting exercise is done. It’s a reminder of the unexpected and lasting benefits of examining challenges with a clean slate instead of the standard – and unfortunately overused – problem-solving approaches.


There you have it. Another five reasons why learning to write songs is a great decision for business teams. And perhaps I shouldn’t assume everyone knows this but above and beyond the clear and compelling business value, learning to write songs is also a tremendous amount of fun. 


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

As a professional songwriter for the past thirty years, I know exactly why I write songs. I can’t help it. It’s my way of making sense of the world around me and, very fortunately, also the way I make my living. However, for the past eight years I’ve been helping business teams enhance their creativity and solve problems by teaching them to write songs. Understandably, there is no small amount of reluctance by executives to do something so utterly foreign to them. To that end, I’ve put together a few compelling reasons why all business teams should learn to write songs.

1. Learning to write songs makes you think differently

I’ll begin by saying I’m a big fan of the Abraham Maslow quote, “if the only tool you have is a hammer, then every problem looks like a nail.” Consider exploring your ideas and objectives through the lens of songwriting as a new “tool” in your problem-solving toolkit. By examining ideas through metaphor and the emotion-rich language of lyrics, you’re opening up a new way of approaching old or persistent work challenges which will lead to novel and innovative solutions.

2. Learning to write songs takes you out of your comfort zone

As human beings we naturally lean towards preserving the status quo. It’s comfortable and gives us the illusion of control. The reality, however, is that the “safety” of the status quo is anything but safe. We may not want to change but the world will change around us no matter what we want. Leaving your comfort zone in pursuit of a new way to solve problems and examine ideas is a good reminder that the real rewards and solutions exist in leaving the tried and true behind. On top of that, songwriting as a high challenge, high skill and clear objective practice helps business teams achieve a flow state which is, in and of itself, highly satisfying and profoundly motivating.

3. Writing a song shows you that you can do something “impossible”

For most people, the idea of writing a song can seem more like a magic trick or an impossible dream. But my favorite part of what I do with business teams is that I take smart people who don’t consider themselves to be creative and I give them the tools to explore and enhance their creativity. By breaking down the process of songwriting into its component parts, I show the team that songwriting is a craft that can be learned. When a team “does the impossible” and writes a song, there’s a tangible boost of confidence that carries forward and helps the team tackle other seemingly “impossible” issues.

4. Learning to write songs improves your ability to communicate

The beauty of the lyric writing is how it requires us to communicate only the most critical parts of our ideas and say them in a way that is both clear and memorable. While the verses of songs improve our ability to use image-rich language in the service of telling a story, it’s the chorus that teaches us the skill of distilling a message so that it not only makes a clear point but also does it in a way that people will want to hear. If communication is a muscle, then writing song lyrics is a serious workout.

5. Writing songs brings teams together around a common cause

There’s nothing quite like a challenge with a clear goal to bring a team together. Above and beyond exploring ideas and objectives, learning to write songs bonds teams around learning a new way to express themselves. The finished song (and every team I’ve ever worked with finishes their song) serves as tangible – and singable – proof that the team has rallied and done something they weren’t sure that they could do. It’s like a shot of jet fuel for team bonding.


It is highly likely that becoming a songwriter isn’t the reason you joined your current company. Regardless, I can promise you that using songwriting as a new way to explore ideas and improve your team’s creativity and communication will make you and your team better equipped to handle the challenges you face on a daily basis. Take it from a veteran of almost a decade of work teaching business teams to write songs. It works and it works well.


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

First of all, a note of sincere thanks for receiving – and reading – my blog posts up to this point.

To say that I love my songwriting work with business teams and entrepreneurs would be an understatement.

If you’d like to know more about how I can help you and your team enhance your creativity and solve problems, either email me or give me a call at 615-320-7233.

I’ll look forward to hearing from you.


When faced with the thought of doing something outside of our comfort zones, most of us – myself included – tend to resist at first. I completely understand. So I’m never surprised when I’m met with some version of skepticism or even fear when I tell my assembled executives that they’re going to write – and then sing – a song. This response means two things. One, I’m doing my job properly and, two, the outcome of the exercise will have the powerful effect of opening the eyes of my teams to a new way of problem-solving and exploring their creativity. Below are three good reasons to write a song in spite of your initial fear.

1. Genuine growth requires leaving your comfort zone
One of my favorite expressions has always been, “if you want something you’ve never had, you must do something you’ve never done.” In order to grow and improve, we need to take risks and push beyond our usual boundaries. This kind of risk-taking doesn’t come naturally to any of us but it’s critical not only for growth but also for any kind of innovation. Learning to write a song in spite of its unfamiliarity and potential for embarrassment is a safe and easy way to build up your tolerance for risk and demonstrate to yourself that you’re capable of achieving a hitherto impossible-seeming goal.

2. Songwriting develops critical innovation skills
Breaking down ideas and examining them through the lens of songwriting is a truly unique way to enhance your approach to problem-solving. The use of metaphor in songwriting improves your ability to think differently about any issue. The storytelling inherent in verse-writing invariably helps my workshop participants rediscover their creativity. And, finally, the writing of choruses in songs sheds new light on how to generate incisive and distilled communication in any context. All of these skills (and even a few more) are explored and developed via learning to write songs.

3. If you can innovate, you’ll stay forever relevant
Just like there is resistance to writing a song if you’ve never done it, there is often resistance to innovation as it requires exploring new approaches when the current approach might still be viable. The danger, however, is that what is working today – e.g., what you’re comfortable with – is not necessarily what is going to work in the future. Songwriting develops the critical skills of innovation necessary to keep you and your business relevant well into the future where maintaining the status quo could prove fatal.

Bonus tip – Doing something you thought was impossible is indescribably motivating
I’ve observed time and again in my workshops with executives that the conquering of the seemingly impossible task of writing a song leaves people deeply motivated and inspired. This not only makes the songs themselves memorable but the after effects also carry over into a sense of confidence stemming from the rediscovery of an often long dormant creativity.

As someone who, himself, was truly terrified of singing when I started out in music, I completely understand the fear that being told to write and sing a song evokes. However, thirty years into a career that has brought me endless joy and satisfaction, I can safely say that leaving your comfort zone in pursuit of something greater has profound and lasting benefits.


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

Entrepreneurs and business teams will often strive to create a “Minimum Viable Product” (or MVP) in order to assess whether their idea is worthy of continued effort and refinement. The problems arise when a project appears complicated and multi-faceted in a way that prevents the timely creation of the MVP.

What I particularly enjoy about leading business teams through my songwriting workshops is that, in a similar way, these executives and/or entrepreneurs are faced with the complicated and multi-faceted problem of writing a song with little or no songwriting experience. I’ve found that there are a few critical elements in my workshops that make the achievement of the MVP – in our case, writing the verse and chorus of a song – efficient and timely. I thought I’d take a moment to show how writing a song is analogous to – and great training for – creating an MVP.

Break Down the Problem
One of the best ways to work efficiently is to break down big problems into their component parts. Instead of simply telling a roomful of stunned executives that they’re going to write a song and leaving them to it, I take a few minutes at the beginning to explain that songs – like any complicated problem – are made up of metaphors, verses and choruses. Then, after I demonstrate to the teams how each of those elements work with both descriptions and musical examples, they are much better able to dig in and write their own songs even though mere minutes before they’d never done it.

Use Expert Guidance
While it would be great if everyone in the world were good at everything, that’s simply not realistic. Instead of putting pressure on ourselves to know every part of the issues we’re confronting, it’s often better to allow an expert to guide the process so that we can bring our intelligence to bear effort in more efficient ways. By acting as a metaphorical guardrail for my songwriting business teams, I’m there to provide timely information and to make sure they’re making progress without going too far afield.

Enforce A Time Limit
As obvious as it sounds, sometimes arriving at a solution more quickly simply requires working more quickly. Given that my workshops are between sixty to ninety minutes, my teams don’t have the luxury of taking their work home or thinking about things for several days or even hours. The time limit requires everyone to think and act quickly which has the unexpected benefit of preventing overthinking. It’s been my experience that with bright, motivated people, their first instincts are often more on target than they think. And, of course, remembering that we’re going for a “minimum viable product” and not a GRAMMY-winning song – although you never know – helps, too.

All of this to say, I’m convinced that taking teams through the process of writing a song during one of my workshops is a metaphor – and great training – for getting to an MVP in a timely and efficient way. Taking moderately overwhelmed non-musicians who have never written a song from zero to finished song in ninety minutes is not only great fun but should also serve as a reminder that we’re all capable of great work even in new and unfamiliar territory.


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.

As I’ve mentioned previously, the act of co-writing a song is a perfect analog for the kind of collaboration critical for innovation. What I thought I’d do in this post is break down one of my more unusual – and fruitful – co-writes. This way, I can lift the curtain a bit and show you what a real-life songwriting collaboration looks like and connect it to the kind of collaboration used in the innovative process.

Shortly after I moved from New York City to Sonoma, California, I was brought in to help Grateful Dead drummer/percussionist, Mickey Hart, complete songs for his album, Mysterium Tremendum. Mickey and I were introduced via our mutual connection with his producer on the project.

I could tell this particular co-write was going to be a bit different from my typical fare since I was given a very specific set of rules before I even showed up at Mickey’s recording studio in Sebastopol, California.

First of all, the musical bed – basically ALL the instruments and percussion – was essentially complete and already recorded. All that remained was to incorporate a lyric and melody that would sit “on top of” the accompaniment. In other words, there would be no gathering around a piano or guitar and singing lyrical and melodic ideas to see what worked.

Then, I was provided with literally reams of poetry written by poet and longtime Grateful Dead lyricist, Robert Hunter. I was told in no uncertain terms that I could not add a single word. Instead, I would be allowed remove words, repeat sections and even move things around to come up with a coherent lyrical story that also had a repeating chorus.

And, finally, once Mickey (who was present for the entire process) approved the completed lyric, I was tasked with writing a melody that fit with the new lyric and sat comfortably on top of the existing musical accompaniment.

I have to say, working in the presence of a musical icon whose career spanned six decades was a total thrill. Not only was he an engaged and enthusiastic collaborator but he was also a genuine pleasure to work with. We spent a thoroughly enjoyable afternoon putting the finishing touches on our song “Cut The Deck.”

The beauty of this co-write was that each person involved was invited to play to their strengths and, consequently, help the others complete a project that was better than any of us could have hoped to do on our own. That is the magic and the intrinsic value of collaboration in any field. Leveraging the individual strengths of your team members will undoubtedly result in the kind of innovations in which everyone can take pride.


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

To accurately summarize what it means to pursue a career in songwriting, my favorite expression is undoubtedly, “writing songs for the money is like getting married for the sex.” What this expression rather indelicately—but succinctly—communicates is that unless you’re writing songs because you’re genuinely moved to do it, you’ll be disappointed.

To be clear, even the most financially successful songwriters write hundreds and hundreds of songs that never earn a single cent. The reason the most committed songwriters get out of bed in the morning and spend their days writing songs has very little to do with the paycheck and almost everything to do with the fact that they truly can’t imagine doing anything else. If and when the “money” does arrive, that’s great, too, but it ultimately represents more of a confirmation that they’re on the right track as opposed to the specific attainment of a financial goal.

No matter whether you’re a songwriter or not, your work is simply more fulfilling if you’re committed to your cause. Of course, salary and bonuses are a motivation in the working world but when it comes to putting in the long hours and materially contributing to the success of a specific innovation or an entire business, it’s the involvement with—and success of—the cause itself that will sustain your effort.

My Collaboration with Spencer Day

In this example, it’s not so much a particular song that I want to use to illustrate my point but, rather, the story of the writing of a song and my subsequent relationship with my co-writer, Spencer Day.

Spencer and I were set up to write by a record executive friend of mine after he’d signed Spencer to a development deal with Universal Records. By way of explanation, a development deal means that the record label likes the potential of an artist but isn’t ready to commit the necessary finances for a full album deal and, instead, will provide enough funding for some demos of songs and a showcase performance in order to convince the record company decision makers.

On November 5th, 2008, Spencer showed up at my recording studio on West 37th street in midtown Manhattan. We chatted for about twenty minutes as we got to know each other a bit and then, over the next few hours, we proceeded to write a song called “Till You Come To Me.” The song tells the story of a lovelorn protagonist and is set in a film noir version of a New York City summer. We were both happy with what we’d written and it became clear to me right away that not only was Spencer a gifted artist but also that he and I had great songwriting chemistry.

Spencer demoed the song and included it in his showcase for Universal Records just a few weeks later. At that point, it seemed like we were off to the races. Then a couple of days after his showcase, Spencer called and, just as quickly, what had appeared to be an auspicious beginning came to a grinding halt. He explained that the execs at Universal Records decided to end his development deal and drop him from the label entirely. He then said that since he no longer had a record deal, he would understand if I didn’t want to write with him anymore. I could only imagine how crushingly disappointed he was and I had no intention of adding to that disappointment.

I explained to him that I believed in our songwriting partnership and, as far as I was concerned, we would continue to write songs whether or not he had a record deal. To Spencer’s infinite credit, he picked himself up and opted to finance his own recording project and release his album independently. And this is where things got good. While Spencer was recording his album, there was a record executive from Concord Jazz named Nick Phillips in the next studio over who, unbeknownst to Spencer, had been listening to the songs coming from Spencer’s studio. Not only did Nick like what he heard but he ultimately signed Spencer to a record deal with Concord Jazz. On top of that, that very first song Spencer and I wrote twenty minutes after meeting each other was the song that the new label chose to release as the album’s first single. “Till You Come To Me” climbed the jazz charts for fifty weeks and ended up at number one.

While I wouldn’t exactly describe this approach as a business plan, it certainly serves as a strong reminder to me that if my head and heart are in the right place, the rest will end up taking care of itself. And it certainly has.


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