Articulation Tuesday: Words that Resonate

Take a look at this (if you’re not one of the 3 million people who’ve already watched it). The audio is not great, but the point is to listen to the sound the audience makes.


Justin Timberlake is onstage in Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena. He starts singing the Garth Brooks song, Friends in Low Places. A crowd of 20,000 joins in. Beginning of the second verse, Justin waves Garth Brooks onto the stage. Crowd goes wild. Garth and Justin alternate singing. At various times Garth holds his microphone to the crowd and eggs them on to take over.

This is an intention that’s getting realized at the upper end of what’s possible. So, where did it all start?

One day in 1989, a coterie of Nashville songwriters goes out to lunch. One of them, Earl Bud Lee, realizes he didn’t bring his wallet. When asked how he is going to pay, he says: “Don’t worry. I have friends in low places. I know the cook.” Lee and his songwriting partner, Dewayne Blackwell, instantly recognize a phrase that could become a song.

They write the lyrics in a single sitting (at another restaurant, penning the words on table napkins). Now they need a demo. Garth Brooks, at this time, is a shoe salesman. Earl Bud and Dewayne have been sending vocal work his way when they need a voice for a demo. So they call him up and learn that he’s been signed to a contract with Capitol Records. Friends in Low Places is the last demo he ever records, and it becomes the first single on his second album. The rest is history, for the song, and for Garth.

I clicked on this link for the first time this past Saturday morning, after a week in which two different clients were asking for the same thing: Collaboration among The Few; ownership of high-level intentions shifting to The Many; leaders bringing out the best in each other; barriers coming down all around, from silo to silo and between those who decide what to do and those who determine how much actually gets done. It seemed to me that you could look at the story of the Brooks/Timberlake performance and the history of the song they were singing, and come away with some pointers for leadership in the matrix organization:

Listen for words that resonate. Collaborate to build structure around those words. Tap into your network to build an experience around the structure. Let the experience spread through social connections. And when it’s time to perform, share the stage; and share the moment – with everyone who knows the words, no matter how well they can carry a tune.