Category Archives: Quest Stories

“If you can breathe you can play harmonica”

Lou and I combined have led over a hundred Play the Blues harmonica team building activities for corporate groups. In 2017 and 2018 we tried something different. We’ve been teaching open classes at our local libraries. It’s been great – a win/win. We give something back both to our communities we live in and the libraries we both love so much. And being with really young kids, their Moms and Dads, seniors and everyone in-between really fills the heart. It puts a spotlight on how hard it is in the corporate world for everyone involved. In contrast general anxiety, overwhelm, suspicion, and entitlement is magically erased with kids and adults together. Shared, genuine appreciation feeds a deep spring inside. Scott Calzolaio from the Milford Daily News stopped by and wrote a story about it. Here it is below (or you can read it at their site here): Blues, country, rock ‘n’ roll, and others, the harmonica is found most everywhere in the music spectrum. With a few breaths of air, musician Lou Manzi pushed some twangy blues out of his harmonica at the Medway Library on Wednesday afternoon. He was showing off techniques like bending notes, and using his hand to make what he called a “wah-wah” sound, during their bi-weekly lesson. Manzi led this lesson, filling in for regular teacher Rob Fletcher. Manzi recapped the basics before getting into the blues and rock ‘n’ roll techniques that create a great harmonica player. He has been a musician since the 1970s, playing in bands, teaching guitar, and doing other projects. Now retired, he plays with a swing and blues band called The Howling Hound Dogs, and teaches lessons. He said the best way to improve while learning the harmonica, like anything else, is practice. “It’s kind of a wacky instrument because in some ways it’s very easy just to make a sound. If you can breathe, you can play the harmonica,” he laughed. “But can you really play the harmonica really good? Probably not.” The challenge, he said, is getting to know the instrument more intimately by practicing each note one at a time, and mastering it. He said it isn’t as easy as it looks, but he can make a good harmonica player out of anyone. After about 40 years of playing, Manzi said he’s still not the harmonica master he wants to be, but there’s always room for improvement with any instrument, and he’s still learning. “I like Little Walter the most,” he said. “I like the early players the most, like Sonny Boy Williamson.” A group of budding blues players of all ages on Wednesday learned songs such as Billy Joel’s Piano Man to Beethoven’s Ode To Joy. “We’re very interested in music, and I just love exploring new options,” said Holliston resident Nicole McWilliams, explaining why she joined the class. Her son Andrew McWilliams, 11, took the lesson with her. Andrew brought along his own harmonica collection to flaunt during hour–long session. “We’re just a musical family, I’ve been into music for awhile,” he said, explaining that he plays guitar and trumpet. “I already play harmonica, but I wanted to get more involved.” Some had more personal reasons for wanting to learn. Medway resident Pat Mailman said she’s following the legacy of her father. “In fact, my dad was pretty good at it,” she said. “I lost him about a year ago, so I figured I’d give it a shot.” When it comes to the instrument, Manzi said there is a lot that sets it apart from others. Being able to manipulate one sound in a variety of ways is what makes the harmonica so versatile among music genres. “There’s a lot unique about harmonica. For one, you can put it in your shirt pocket,” he said. “It’s very expressive in the fact that you can imitate a singer or a human voice with it.”

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Why large group team building?

Clients ask me why I lead large group team building activities. Here’s my story. After performing at Woodstock ’94 I was at a crossroads. A hand injury stopped my professional guitar-playing career cold. I had traveled the world, studied psychology, music, business finance. I wrote music instructional books like Blues Harmonica For Beginners. I loved the passion, play and mutual fun of bringing people together and lifting them up. I wanted to create meaning in people’s lives. I wanted to go deep, not just to make a living, I wanted to make a difference. But I didn’t know how to combine play and purpose. Then team building found me. I began guiding large groups of underserved kids from NYC, building teams where it’s needed so badly. Then classes of New England’s top universities, setting a collaborative tone. By the end of the nineties, I was on stage in Las Vegas, leading a group of 500 corporate salespeople, building Pipelines, guiding them to collaborate as one team through the shear raw power of fun. That was it for me! I knew I had found a calling. Fast-forward 25 years. My company Quixote Consulting, named after the famous knight Don Quixote, continues the quest to change lives with play and purpose. We use large group team building activities to jumpstart the journey to ‘one team and one goal’. We believe every team is a hero team, and every team of heroes needs a guide. A large group team building game is a powerful story, one that everyone remembers. We hook the story with the company message, sinking it deeper into long-term memory, cutting through the complexities and frustrations of daily work. Leading large group team building activities takes a special talent. The logistics are seemingly endless. There’s an intense amount of pressure for a two-hour activity to not just succeed but to be both fun and profound, a game-changer for hundreds of people. It’s a crazy thing to love doing, but we do. We’re not for everyone, but if our story resonates with you, we might be the right fit. Tell us about your quest and we’ll help you make it come alive. (Check out www.largegroupteambuilding.com to learn more.)

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Quest Story: A Passion for Radio – Phil D and WIZZ

In an era of radio stations owned and tightly controlled by a few large corporations, Phil D and his WIZZ radio station provide something rare and wonderful. This independently owned radio station decides what to play by listener request and Phil’s unerring feel for what his listeners love.  It’s radio the way you remember it was. And if you wish it were still happening, there’s good news – it is! WIZZ radio is a dynamic AM radio station that features “The Greatest Music Memories” of all time with music from the 40′s, 50′s, 60′s through today. WIZZ serves four states and also reaches avid listeners worldwide online from Greenfield, Massachusetts at 1520 on the AM dial. Every weekday at sunrise, Phil D is at the controls of WIZZ, waking the towns and telling the people what they want to hear…News, Weather, Sports, Lottery Results, Phil D has it all…even his own special humor and a touch of “friendly sarcasm”. His daily all-request show plays the great songs and artists of the past seven decades. Phil has been involved with radio all his life, starting in high school and continuing on up to today. He’s had lots of adventures along the way, and in our interview with him told us about introducing the Beach Boys at a show, hanging out with Roy Orbison, and even conducting Lawrence Welk’s orchestra. Phil’s passion for radio, music and his listeners shines through and it’s heartening to have his station be the soundtrack of our day here in the Quixote Consulting office. There’s nothing quite like it. As Phil said during our interview with him, “We’re performing a service that fills a void in some people’s lives, especially for older folks that don’t have much going for them. The music brings back great memories.” Click here to enjoy WIZZ right now!

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A Direct Connection With Purpose: John Sorenson Takes the Next Step (Quest Story)

John Sorenson talked about his experience with micro loans in a past blog post. Click here to read that quest story. After you’ve retired, what do you do next? John Sorenson chose to connect more deeply with purpose, uniting his vocation and service. His story continues here. “The exploration is exciting. My wife and I are continuing to do stuff in Southeast Asia. We’re going to monitor how the families we’re helping with our microloans are doing. We’re taking over as presidents of the local “green club.” And the third element is helping a few companies start up by acting as technical advisors. One of them has to do with thermal and solar energy electricity generation. It’s not only a way of generating electricity from sunlight in a way that’s more efficient than what’s out there but it promises to be low cost. This could be is a real boon to third world countries, especially those that are near the equator. They have a lot of sunlight to work with. I’m also helping with the Hero’s Journey Foundation. Click here to listen to listen to my interview with John Sorenson. I am trying to apply the skills that I’ve developed in my career and my resources to make the world a better place. So I think of this as my vocation and my service. Where this goes I don’t know. I know that I’m excited about what I’m doing, I know that there’s mystery involved, but that’s okay. I know what I’m doing is enjoyable. When I ponder, “What is it that I’m to do?”, I also ask myself: Is it something that I connect with or the people involved? Do I believe in the cause? Is this something I feel I can make a contribution to? Will I enjoy doing this?

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A New Way to Assemble Mr. Potato Head

“The arm goes on the second hole up on the left side! No, one hole lower. Turn the arm around!” And so it goes in the ‘Assemble Mr. Potato Head’ team building activity. One person is blindfolded, the other team members look at a picture and tell the blindfolded person what piece to pick up and where to put it to replicate what’s on the picture. It’s a fun activity, and great for honing team communication. The attempts and results in many team building activities are often fairly predictable for me. But part of what I love about this work is the innovation that shows up unexpectedly. I worked with Kaiser Permanente recently and they did it differently. In all the years I’ve seen groups assemble the venerable plastic spud, they always verbally tell the blindfolded person where a certain piece is and then where it goes. This time, they let the blindfolded person pick any piece at random, then told them where it went. Every piece was ‘the right one to pick up’. The person without sight is given a 100 on the test. The most vulnerable person is in charge, is ‘right’. This is a simple tweak of genius. If we want to influence someone to do what you want them to do, if we want to change the world, we start where the other person is, not where they should be. We visit them in their “home”, their most comfortable way of doing things. We tolerate discomfort in the service of change. Brain science tells us this is true for the brain as well. If we want to help an emotionally hijacked person out of it, the first step is to meet them, without fear, in the hell they have entered. Then we can show them the way out.

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Finding the Words (A Quest Story by Lou Manzi)

I love being able to divide my time among performing as a guitarist/singer, teaching music to people of all ages, and facilitating Quixote Consulting’s musical programs. I’ve always known that music can enrich our lives and touch us deeply. I was reminded of this at a recent performance. I often drop into a rehabilitation facility/nursing home in my home town of Stonington, Connecticut. While there, I stroll around with my guitar and pop into different rooms to sing to the residents. It’s an informal sing-a-long as I visit one person after another. And the chatting we do about our families and interests is as important as the music. During a recent visit, I sang some Johnny Cash songs in the dining room as the residents were eating. As usual, most of the residents were sitting with other residents or aides. One woman was sitting with her daughter and I noticed that they both were enjoying the music. The daughter was singing along with some of the songs and although the mother was looking at me, and looked interested, she was silent. After a few more country tunes, I decided to move into some 70s rock and roll, beginning with Jim Croce’s Bad, Bad Leroy Brown. I noticed that the daughter was singing along and, suddenly, the mother started singing also. The daughter actually started crying. I was quite curious since I’ve never had anyone cry when I played Bad, Bad Leroy Brown. I know it doesn’t turn out good for Leroy at the end of the song, but it’s never brought anyone to tears. After the song, I spoke to the daughter and found out that her tears were tears of happiness. Like many who suffer with Alzheimer’s or some form of dementia, her mom had stopped speaking quite awhile ago. Yet the joy of sharing the music with all of the others in the dining room gave her the power to not just speak a few words, but to sing along with a song she remembered from her past. For me, it was a truly special moment and again showed me the power of music in our lives Lou Manzi heads up Quixote Consulting’s music teambuilding programs as well as many of our other high-energy offerings. Since 1984, he has led dynamic and successful programs for corporations such as IBM, Exxon-Mobil, and Jones New York. While a consultant for the Boys and Girls Club of America, Lou was a keynote speaker at their national convention in Las Vegas and designed extensive parts of their music curriculum. Lou especially enjoys leading Quixote Consulting’s Play the Blues harmonica music team building and Sing the Blues music team building events and any program where people are ready to have some fun.

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Willa Nehlsen – “How do we live in comfort but not extravagance?”

I  had the pleasure of leading a StrengthsFinder workshop with the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service. Willa Nehlsen was one of the participants. When Quixote Consulting leads a strengths workshop, we focus on finding the passion each of us has in our work and connecting with a sense of purpose – of doing our good work for the benefit of something larger than ourselves. Willa and I spoke after the program about how she was retiring soon and how to engage both of these paths to happiness in a very direct way. Then I wrote a series of blog posts about the oil spill and she wrote to me, “The human race has clearly won the fight to live in comfort with only a few threats from nature; how do we learn not to overshoot and destroy nature and ourselves? How do we live in comfort but not extravagance?”   Willa’s Three Favorite Books: Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Daniel H. Pink Finding Flow: The Psychology of Engagement with Everyday Life by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi Transitions: Making Sense of Life’s Changes by William Bridges

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The Young Man and the Pipes – Jerry Roback Feels the Music in Vietnam

The Young Man and the Pipes – Jerry Roback Feels the Music in Vietnam By Jerry Roback Jerry Roback served in Vietnam in the Peace Corps during the Vietnam War. Jerry has a huge heart and many stories from his time there. He continues to travel back to Vietnam to help the local people whom he fell in love with so many years ago. Brave and playful, Jerry is an inspiration to me – and one heck of a kazoo player to boot. Here’s a musical encounter he had with a boy who plays the khaen, an instrument in the harmonica family. I don’t know where this kid came from. One minute there were a hundred kids jumping around me celebrating the hair on my arms and the look on my face, the next instant there he was, big as life standing right next to me playing his pipes. He must have been about 14 or 15 years old.  I realized that I had seen him before, hovering around the edge of the kids’ tribe watching me.  He didn’t have his pipes then. Back then, most of the adults were about 10 feet further back watching, friendly, but keeping their distance and he, like most teenagers, was in between. I couldn’t tell what he thought of anything or anybody. I just knew he was really interested in me. It was my first day in an Ethnic Minority, Mountain People village in 41 years and yet I was quickly feeling like I was coming home. There is a straightforward quality to these people, not much subterfuge. They’re right there staring at your bald spot or your camera or watching when you slip in the mud crossing the river and laughing and pointing at you. Laughter is both a great equalizer and a great re-assurer. I remembered this truth quickly because it has always been the experience that I have used to encourage myself to stay a little bit longer and go a little bit deeper into the strange new worlds I like dropping into from time to time. A little laughter goes a long way in those situations. I know that if my paranoia kicks in, I’m in trouble. I won’t have the slightest idea what is going on.  I’ll think that the people are hostile or arrogant or out to get me or something like that, but with these people since I’ve been there before with them, I was giving myself more of a chance to clear my fear barrier. Don’t get me wrong. I always try to look like I’m doing fine but the truth is that I’m not. I’m just hanging in there. The most credit that I can give myself is that I’ve learned to try to keep a part of myself out there looking for a good sign or a friendly wind to ride my way out of the scary place. This time the wind was going to be this boy. It’s just that I didn’t know it yet. Most times it’s like that with us people. If we give each other half a chance somebody is going to help us, give us a wind to ride our way right out of whatever it is we are afraid of. If you don’t believe me or if you don’t play your part in this beautiful dance of reassurance much anymore, you need to get out into the world where the nice and friendly people live and let them remind you of how to do it and how to be it before it’s too late for all of us. I don’t mean to be an alarmist but let’s face facts – these are times when the most courageous, valuable folks around are those with a smile on their faces and a twinkle in their eyes. The people causing all of the problems are the ones of us who don’t believe in the wind or carry the twinkle in our eyes anymore. And, believe me, I’m talking to myself on this one! On this day, it was just about when I was beginning to wonder if I ever was going to catch a wind or even if such a wind existed when I felt this hard nudge in my side and heard this sweet sound coming into my ears. I looked down and there he was playing those beautiful pipes. I knew right away that I was going to find the wind that I was looking for.  In fact, I already knew that it had found me. I could feel it in my bones. The peace and the love of life, and the reassurance I was looking for was blowing right out of this young man’s mouth and right up into my ears through those sweet sounding pipes.  All I had to do was listen. I was just starting to wonder where he was going to put the cigarette he was holding so that he didn’t burn himself when I noticed myself leaning in closer to him so that I could hear the music better.  I knew he wasn’t going to burn me or himself with the cigarette because it was already a part of his hand, 14 years old and it was just a part of his hand. About then I realized that the story on me was that I was simply trying to find one more thing to worry about to keep from letting go. Thank god I got over that! By now we were really leaning into each other like two lost brothers coming home. You know how music can get you like that. Everyone around us was listening. I realized that this boy was an honored musician in the village. How young he was didn’t matter. He had earned his spot by playing the hell out of those pipes. I was moving to the music. We were leaning into one another, shoulder to shoulder. I noticed he was looking at me, looking deep into my eyes while he played. I stayed right with him, leaning in, looking deep into his eyes right back. This went on for quite a while and then he looked a question into my eyes. I believe that he answered his own question then because he looked inward, gave himself a little nod, stopped playing and walked [...]

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Six Leadership Lessons from Dunkirk director Christopher Nolan

Dunkirk director/writer/producer Christopher Nolan (Batman Trilogy, Interstellar, Inception) didn’t say these lessons out loud. Always pay more attention to what a leader does than says. I gathered this advice for leaders from watching the expansive special features on the Dunkirk DVD set. 1.     Keeping doing the parts of the job you love Nolan and cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema are everywhere in the scenes of the filming taking place. It looks like the $100 million movie that two boys filmed. Leaders often move up through the ranks in a company. They’ve had a lot of jobs. But when they get to the top, they’ve only got one job. Don’t forget the part of the work you love to do. And spend time doing it. Don’t let go of something that grounds you to the work and your passion. 2.     Put your imprint on it Nolan likes using real film, not digital. He wanted natural lighting. He wanted IMAX. He wrote the story. And he was completely hands-on in every aspect. One of the actors tells how Nolan looked him over on the first day of shooting and told him the boots of his laces were tied incorrectly. British soldiers in WWII tied them differently. 3.     Make it real Minimal CGI, no green screen. No patina of colors . The film wasn’t even scanned digitally to add stuff in later. He used real ships, real planes from WWII where possible. And he used real kids (18-21 years old) as lead actors. There were no 40-year old infantrymen running around. When the bombs went off on the beach, those kids didn’t need to act, they were scared. And the actors that portrayed pilots were actually up in the air while they were in the cockpit. A real pilot was in the section behind them on the plane actually flying it. 4.     Go first Don’t make any of your people do something you wouldn’t be willing to do yourself. Nolan was first in line to go up in those antique planes, first in the water, first to jump off of something, all of it. Go first and you’ve captured hearts and minds. 5.     Decide what you want to do…then figure out if it’s impossible or not Nolan wanted to film in IMAX format and he wanted the action handheld. AND he wanted to film on the wings of the planes in the air. The IMAX format cameras are over 50 pounds, not exactly handheld-worthy. And they’d never been brought up in the air the way they used them. Like Roger Bannister and the 4-minute mile we now know these things can be done. 6.     Listen to and lead with the passion you were born with Nolan grew up with this mythology – the most inspiring retreat in modern warfare. He’s lived with this story since he was a boy. And in the special features he’s everywhere – up in the air in an old Spitfire plane, in the water, jumping off a ‘sinking’ ship, everywhere. His passion came to life. Nolan and cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema reminded me of two excited boys running around in charge of a movie that cost $100 million to make. Christopher Nolan won his first Oscar for Best Director for Dunkirk. He earned it by leading with passion. How will you lead the change you want to make today?

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“We’re Too Busy to…” (Quest story)

Jayne told me the story of a team she once facilitated to help communicate more effectively. The leader of the team told her and his team a laundry list of things this team was too busy to do: •    We’re too busy to have meetings with agendas •    We’re too busy to touch base with people how projects are going •    We’re too busy to think about communication preferences This leader was also swamped: “I get 200 emails a day from the team telling me status updates.” What about his team? Here’s what they had to say: •    He sends emails barking orders that repeatedly say ‘get it done, get it done, get it done’. •    We’re successful but we hate each other. This was a team with swagger. All millenials (including the leader), they said to Jayne at the beginning, “You better have extra things for us to do because we’re going to be better and faster than any team you’ve ever worked with.” And they meant it. The first team building activity they tried they leaped into action…or more specifically the leader leaped into action. “Here’s what we’re going to do and how we’re going to do it.” And off they went, implementing his plan…at least at the start. The result? Jayne said it was amazing to see a team get something so wrong, so early in the game and stick with it. The plan pretty quickly got thrown out the window – not consciously, it just kind of happened that way – and they rushed headlong down a dead end, getting more and more frustrated. Then they looked at Jayne as if she had betrayed them somehow by giving them a challenge that they were terrible at. This story is sad and it’s funny in a schadenfreude kind of way. “Hey, at least we’re not that team!” And it may hit a little too close to home. Does this sound like a leader you know? Are you this leader? Are you on this team? We all share some of these characteristics when we’re under stress. Bad teams and bad leaders don’t lack energy or personal investment. What they lack is a way to work smarter, not harder. They get the job done operating in a pretty constant emotional state of “We’re successful but we hate one another.” You’re busy, too busy really. I know, I am too. But if you’re reading this – busy as you are – you’re at least open to answering three questions: 1.    What kind of team will you be on today? 2.    How will you lead? 3.    What will you do today…that you’re too busy to do?

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