HERSHEY, Pa. — Jeff Baxter, famed guitarist from the Doobie Brothers and Steely Dan, converted his love and understanding of music to help the highest levels of the Defense Department to new ways of the keeping the country safe.
Baxter, who currently serves as chairman of the Civilian Advisory Board for Ballistic Missile Defense, explained to attendees of the Pennsylvania Credit Union Association CONNECT Conference on Friday how he made the leap and, using asymmetrical thinking, credit unions can find success, too.
He joked that credibility was hard among his friends in the music business, much less among defense specialists.
He described his first encounter at Lockheed Martin, which included a highly dumbed-down explanation of the project they were considering him for. Baxter listened patiently while sitting back in his Grateful Dead T-shirt until the presentation was completed.
He then proceeded to ask several highly technical questions the Lockheed Martin executives apparently weren’t prepared to hear from a rock star. Finally they got down to business.
Baxter’s first piece of advice: In a negotiation, always put yourself in a situation where you’re underestimated.
Baxter noted that people, even some of the most conservative members of Congress, really appreciate his outsider’s point of view.
Baxter advised that people trust their gut feeling more. He recently retired after 15 years with the Los Angeles Police Department, and the officers use an acronym there, JDLR meaning something “just doesn’t look right.”
He said he believes the environment and the media among other things keep people from trusting themselves as much as they should.
That’s what improvisation and creativity in crisis is all about, whether on the battlefield or in business. But it’s within a framework.
Baxter used the example of an orchestra in which the conductor can impose his personal impression on the music but he’s still playing from a written piece of music. He noted that nearly every physicist he’d ever met was a musician.
Jazz improvisation is similar and it’s not as hard as it looks. “It’s very simple,” he said. “It just doesn’t look simple. Jazz is based on strong set of rules. The concept of jazz is based on a theme, a melody. Each musician then steps out from the band and begins to improvise.”
The trumpet player plays his rendition of the same music, and then the saxophone and so on. Finally, they conclude with the original theme.
“Each musician was doing an analysis of the product,” Baxter said, drawing the parallel. Not everyone is a musician, but we’ve all improvised in other areas, he pointed out.
By breaking down anything to its most basic elements, you can tweak different pieces and improvise a masterpiece, according to Baxter. That’s how he came to understand the connection between music and science. For example, the A string on his guitar vibrates 440 time per second, he said. However, when you multiply that frequency by a certain equation, the eyes pick up the vibrations as green.
It all starts with the preparation framework.
Be 110% prepared, Baxter recommended, and if you are, the other side will lose the intellectual argument. The other side often devolves into personal attacks and everyone will recognize that.
Baxter strongly recommended reading the book, Boyd, The Fighter Pilot Who Changed the Art of War, which is about John Boyd who drastically changed the way pilots fly and do battle in the air.
Essentially, Baxter said, “Take what we know and make it into something different.” Take what credit unions have known about banking over the past several decades, break it down to its elements and apply the current economic and financial conditions, including globalization.
Making another analogy to science, Baxter remarked, “War and diplomacy are basically the same thing; they’re just different states like ice, water and steam.”
He added, “We are always in conflict with our fellow man,” whether it’s negotiating a business deal or war or diplomacy.”
The Art of War, he said, is “something you definitely need to read.”