Managing Oneself by Charlie Christenson

I've given approximately 50 copies of this book as gifts (to my faculty, to coworkers, to students, to friends and family) over the past four years. Managing Oneself first came my way via my sister - she had been given the book by a professor at the University of Maryland as she was finishing up her graduate degree in chemistry. It's been a part of my evaluation process ever since, and I think everyone should check it out (here's the article on HBR).

Below are some of my big questions, cliffsnotes, deep thoughts, and synaptic connections:

Questions Presented by Managing Oneself by Peter F. Drucker:

  1. What are my strengths? (page 2)
    1. “concentrate on your strengths” (page 5)
    2. “work on improving your strengths”
    3. “discover where your intellectual arrogance is causing disabling ignorance and overcome it” (page 6)
    4. “It is equally essential to remedy your bad habits-the things you do or fail to do that inhibit your effectiveness and performance.” (page 7)
    5. “Energy, resources and time should go instead to making a cape tent person in a star performer.” (page 10)
  2. How do I perform? (page 10) - “too many people work in ways that are not their ways”
    1. Am I a reader or a listener? (page 11)
    2. How do I learn? (page 15)
      1. reading, talking, writing, listening…
    3. Do I work well with people, or am I a loner?  In what relationship? (page 19)
      1. “Some work best as team members.  Others work best alone.  Some are exceptionally talented as coaches and mentors; others are simply incompetent as mentors.”  (page 20)
      2. Do I produce results as a decision maker or as an adviser?
    4. Do I perform well under stress, or do I need a highly structured and predictable environment? (page 21)
    5. Do I work best in a big organization or a small one?
  3. What are my values? (page 22)
    1. Organizations, like people, have values.  To be effective in an organization, a person’s values must be comparable with the organization’s values.  They do not need to be the same, but they must be close enough to coexist. (page 29)
  4. Where do I belong? (page 30)
    1. Or rather, they should be able to decide where they do not belong. (page 31)
  5. What should I contribute? (page 33)
    1. What does the situation require?  Given my strengths, my way of performing, and my values, how can I make the greatest contribution to what needs to be done?  And finally, what results have to be achieved to make a difference? (page 35)
    2. Where and how can I achieve results that will make a difference within the next year and a half?  The answer must balance several things.  
      1. First, the results should be hard to achieve - they should require “stretching,” to use the current buzzword.  But also, they should be within reach.
      2. Second, the results should be meaningful.  They should make a difference. (page 37)
      3. Finally, results should be visible and, if at all possible, measurable.
    3. From this will come a course of action: what to do, where and how to start, and what goals and deadlines to set.

Whenever someone goes to his or her associates and says, “This is what I am good at. This is how I work. These are my values. This is the contribution I plan to concentrate on and the results I should be expected to deliver,” the response is always, “This is most helpful. But why didn’t you tell me either?” (page 43)

Do not try to change yourself - you are unlikely to succeed. But work hard to improve the way you perform. And try not to take on work you cannot perform or will only perform poorly. (page 22)

The passion that a person has for their own personal growth is the most important thing. Then we help, because no person in the world can succeed alone.
— Ernesto Sirolli (TED Talk “Want to help someone? Shut up and listen!”)

Job, Career, Calling: Key to Happiness and Meaning at Work?

Job Orientation: Individuals who fall into this category tend to view their work as a means to an end. They work to receive the pay and/or benefits to support their hobbies, family, or life outside work. They prefer jobs which do not interfere with their personal lives. They are not as likely to have a strong connection to the workplace or their job duties. The job serves as a basic necessity in life.

Career Orientation: An individual with a “career” orientation is more likely to focus on elements related to success or prestige. This individual will be interested in the ability to move upward in his or her career, to receive raises and new titles, and to achieve the social standing which comes from the career. Careers which have a clear upward “ladder’ are appealing to those with a career orientation.

Calling Orientation: Individuals with a calling orientation often describe their work as integral to their lives and their identity. They view their career as a form of self-expression and personal fulfillment. Research conducted by Wrzesniewski and colleagues find that individuals with a calling orientation are more likely to find their work meaningful and will modify their duties and develop relationships to make it more so. They are found to be more satisfied in general with their work and their lives. 

Jonathan Haidt in The Happiness Hypothesis:

Most people approach their work in one of three ways: as a job, a career, or a calling.

  1. If you see your work as a job, you do it only for the money, you look at the clock frequently while dreaming about the weekend ahead, and you probably pursue hobbies, which satisfy your effectance needs more thoroughly than does your work.
  2. If you see your work as a career, you have larger goals of advancement, promotion, and prestige.
  3. If you see your work as a calling, however, you find your work intrinsically fulfilling you are not doing it to achieve something else. You see your work as contributing to the greater good or as playing a role in some larger enterprise the worth of which seems obvious to you. You have frequent experiences of flow during the work day, and you neither look forward to “quitting time” nor feel the desire to shout, “Thank God it’s Friday!” You would continue to work, perhaps even without pay, if you suddenly became very wealthy.

Motivation (Dan Pink: The Puzzle of Motivation)

  • Autonomy - “the urge to direct our own lives”
    • Having control of your own destiny
    • Being trusted
    • Open working environment
    • Fearless Feedback
    • Getting to YES!
  • Purpose - “the yearning to do what we do in service of something larger than ourselves"
    • Making a difference
    • Being heard
    • Having clear goals
  • Mastery - “the desire to get better and better and something that maters"
    • Personal development
    • Not only depth but breadth of knowledge
    • Working at the forefront of your field

Eldridge on... Everything by Charlie Christenson

A little over three years ago, I had the opportunity, as a contributor for, to interview my friend, teacher and mentor, Peter Eldridge (founding member of the New York Voices, vocal group MOSS, and Manhattan School of Music and Berklee College of Music faculty member). I happened upon the interview a few days ago and was pleased, and honestly a bit surprised, to see how much of what was covered has withstood the test of time - particularly regarding business. It's safe to say that this conversation, and the many Peter and I have had since, has significantly shaped the trajectory of the work I do in music and education. Good vibes.

I'm happy to share some excerpts from our conversation below.

On Songwriting:

CC: When you're writing a song do you write lyrics or music first?

PE: There's no real rhyme or reason to it. Lately, I generally do music first. A lot of times it will happen at the same time. My favorite moments are in the car or on the subway and something comes out of the blue. It hits you. And that could just be a melody line or a groove. It could be a lyrical phrase that feels really good. And then a song is grown out of that. One little idea can grow into an entire tune. A lot of times I'll sit down at the piano - I try to just have, I think they call it a “beginner's mind” or something. There's a terrific book, it's called If You Want to Write by Brenda Ueland. It talks about beginner's mind, a place where you're really focused but there's no pressure there. You're just kind of, for lack of a better word, spewing. And a lot of times that's when the best stuff comes. I don't think that I'm saying anything new, but it's just when it feels like it's just happening and it's spontaneous. That's when it feels organic. 

Usually first ideas are good. A lot of times when I'm writing a tune and I get stuck, this can be anywhere from a week after I started writing it to a year, and it just sits around for a while, I'll go back to that original. I record everything. I always have some sort of a recording device nearby. And I'll go back to that original idea and it's the simplest in the best sense, and the structure of it makes the most sense. It's when you start developing it that you can loose your way and start adding too much information or force the issue. So I usually go back and go "okay, what was the original idea of this?" And then you go, "That's right. I don't need all this. This is all peripheral." 

Lately it's music first with some sort of a core lyric that feels good. I have a friend that made me a series of drum grooves. In the world we're in now you have GarageBand and all that stuff. That's really emancipating for me. When that is there and you can bounce off a groove, that's really inspiring and fun. You don't have to worry about the rhythmic component. Then the piano becomes color, and it gives you one less thing to think about. You're bouncing off what's already there.

CC: That self-editing thing is really important. You've been compared to Joni Mitchell, Paul Simon, and Steely Dan. For you, and those songwriters, what are the elements of an effective song? 

PE: From a lyrical standpoint, specifically? 

CC: Overall. I would love for you to get into the lyrics, because I think your lyrics are so interesting and unique and funny and sad. 

PE: I think they definitely come from a fairly passionate place. Whether they're sad or funny or whatever, they're coming from a life experience of some sort. The only thing I want to work on more in my own writing is not writing in first person. I always tend to write in first person and I love the songwriters, the Bob Dylan's, who tell a story almost like a character in a movie. I'd love to delve into that a little bit more. 

For me it usually just comes out. I go back to that horrible word, “spewing.” If I'm feeling really passionate about something, or something's hitting me in a certain way, I end up writing a bunch of stuff and trying not to, as I'm doing it, go "oh, that's really stupid," or "that's been said before." And I'll just write a bunch of stuff and at the end of that time, with a more critical eye, go "okay, we don't need any of that." I end up circling the all the lines that either really say something or end up being more imagery or metaphor - that are more visual, more experience. That is wonderful when that happens. It's not just "I hate my mom," or something like that. When it lets the listener interpret the lyrics the way they want to because it can mean a few different things. 

I'll have a page of notes written and I'll just circle two things, five things, maybe if I'm lucky, ten things, and then I'll use just those as a basis, or a blueprint for what the song might become later. I'm really hard on myself lyrically, because I know I've written my share of trite or preachy lyrics, and they come back to haunt you. [Laughter] 

Writing the music is really fun and usually comes easily. Writing the lyrics is truly a challenge and a discipline that I continue to work on, and can be real hit-or-miss. Some days I just get so frustrated with myself. There's this tune I wrote called "Difficult," and I pretty much sat down and wrote the song. It was one of those things, call it a gift. Then writing the lyric for it took forever, and it's two little verses basically, with a coda. And those two little verses and a coda took me weeks. It was so specific that I went out of my mind writing the lyrics for it. I like the way they came out, but there was a lot of frustration along the way, for sure. 

CC: I put in a lot of "La, la, la's" just to finish a song sometimes. [Laughter]

PE: Well, yeah. If you're singing a chorus you make sounds that feel good in that part of your voice. I've certainly done that, and later on a word matches that sound. It's a little magical sometimes. Other times that doesn't work at all. [Laughter] It's just that sound, that feeling of the sound on that high B or that high F. It evokes some sort of an emotion or some sort of a response lyrically too.

On the Music Business:

CC: I'd like to talk a bit about the music business. What's the difference between releasing an album yourself as an independent and collaborating, like you did on Mad Heaven, with a studio like Palmetto?

PE: I would say, unfortunately, there's less and less different than there used to be, because I think everyone is just scratching their heads trying to figure out how to make this work – you know, what the new bottom line is going to be. Is music going to be something you pay for? Or is it going to be free? Is it something you're going to download? Our whole way of living is changing so much, so quickly, that the business side of music is trying to catch up. 

The benefit is, you can make a really good sounding album for not a lot of money. So, it's sort of the artist's world now. Or the musician's world in a certain respect. 

I think the difference with Palmetto is that I'm getting far more press than I've ever gotten. I scrambled and got nothing for Fool No More. That was a sweet friend's label, but really just an opportunity to record songs. Almost like a production deal or something. Everyone's intentions were good, but ultimately, there was really no PR (public relations). It was just a means for me to make my own record outside of anything the New York Voices does. 

Palmetto is a respected label, it has a lot of great artists, and it’s able to reach people I would not be able to reach on my own. It's just a way of getting out there that I couldn't do by myself. Specifically for press. 

With Decorum I did pretty well, just through gigs, internet sales, and iTunes. I basically made back the money that I spent on the record, which I was thrilled about. And it allowed me to make the next one. It's not like I'm going to become a zillionaire making this album. If I don't lose money doing this album I'll feel great, and it will function as calling card. It is something new, and people like when you do something new, something new to say. That's what it about. 

Does that answer the question?

CC: Well, speaking of breaking even. In my experience doing gigs, I found myself becoming satisfied just paying my band. Is that the reality of playing live?

PE: I would be thrilled if I made as much money as I paid my band. Or if I didn't lose money. As I told a friend the other day: “I did my record release at Rockwood (Music Hall) and I used pretty much everyone that was on the album. There were nine people on stage, and it was a financial bloodbath.” I was not going to not pay people and I wanted to have a fun, splashy, record release. And it was, pound for pound, kind of ridiculous because it was a big financial burden. 

Did I know that going in? Yeah, I knew that. Was it a successful night? Yeah. Palmetto had never seen me perform live, and it got them very excited about my music. So I guess that made it worth it. 

Do I do that all the time? Absolutely not.

CC: Before the business model was to put out an album so you have stuff to sell at your gigs and the gigs are where you make the money. But now it seems like both are some sort of publicity for something else which has yet to be determined. We're making the albums and playing the gigs to get our names out there for something else. 

PE: Yeah, I don't know what that something else is. I still do kind of think you're making the album to get work, to perform live. Whether you're playing clubs, festivals, or house concerts, there’s an opportunity to make a living. You're not going to make a lot of money from a record, but if it helps you get gigs, those are financially valuable. There are some people who do very well with live gigs. It just depends on who you are and what kind of music you play. 

It seems now the game in town is licensing. There's not really radio anymore. With all the satellite radio, they're so corporate and so based on playlists that have been manufactured that now it's getting your song licensed in a movie or a tv show. That seems like the way people get out there now. Perhaps one of the few ways.

CC: So we all have to become film composers?

PE: Kind of, yeah, we all have to get a tune on Grey's Anatomy.

CC: Something on the WB. That's what I'm going for.

PE: Or a movie. You're in Hangover 3. [Laughter] 

There's an instrumental version of "Difficult" that was just licensed for a "live comedy taping" that Zach Galifianakis did. And, unfortunately, there's no mention of the title of the song or who wrote the song, which is really a bummer. But I guess it was licensed through a separate company and it just came from a catalog of non-identifiable music, and that was that. Am I thrilled that it's on that DVD? Yeah. Do I wish that it or I was mentioned? Of course. 

That's kind of how it works now.

On Jazz:

CC: You're teaching jazz singers at the Manhattan School of Music and have been for many years. Jazz started out as popular music embraced by the general public, now it's more art music appreciated by the educated and interested. Do you see it in those terms, and what do you say to students who want to be jazz musicians in the current scene?

PE: The business end of things can be a downer, and it can be strange, but I think it's a particularly interesting and satisfying time to be a musician. With the internet, specifically YouTube, you can see anything. You're exposed to so many kinds of music and you have the opportunity to see old, new, esoteric, straight ahead, accessible, and in-accessible music. I think it's building a fairly sophisticated listener. 

So, jazz being a more sophisticated art form, people are going to get burned out on "stupid pop music." And that's coming from a lover of pop music. The ear candy pop music you hear in the car is easy to get over pretty quickly. And younger people want something original and new and a little more passionate, and I think that's where jazz comes in. 

And with the "Jazz Police" not having the impact they had regarding what's jazz –"that's not jazz because that's not swinging" – jazz is a continuously evolving art form. So that whole side of things is going away too, which I think is great, because that was getting old fast. People were deciding what's jazz and what isn't. Even those people right now are going, "this is original and fresh, and this could very well be jazz. Even though it doesn't sound anything like Miles Davis or Ornette Coleman.” 

Although it's crazy right now, I think it's a pretty exciting time to be a musician. 

There's a lot of other people trying to be jazz musicians too, because there's a lot of people. At the same time, if you're really passionate about what you do, even if it's not something that Bob and Ronda who live on Long Island are going to like, passion resonates with people whether they get it or not. If you need to say it, it gets to people. They may not understand it, but they respect it.


You can find the complete interview here.

Follow Peter on twitter here.

Oh, and here's the two of us (back in 2006) performing one of my original songs at Birdland:

Alternate Bio by Charlie Christenson

One of the venues I'm playing at refused to publish the bio below on their website:

Screen Shot 2014-10-19 at 5.38.17 PM.png

It was not "in the interest of the venue." I'm not sure why everyone's so afraid of Blake Mills, and why I'm supposed to forget that he got my show cancelled. It's all very precious. Can't we call people out on their BS anymore? Isn't that what social media is all about? Free speech?

Doesn't feel very democratic. I don't care if it was Mill's fault or not, until he reaches out and apologizes, he's going to be on my list.

I'm not really all that mad - just trying to have some fun...

Brand New Xmas Music by Charlie Christenson

New Xmas Music

I'm very excited to announce that, for the first time in a few years, I will be putting out NEW XMAS MUSIC. The EP will consist of new original songs and one new recording of an older song - and I'd like your help choosing which one. 

Please visit my bandcamp page and vote in the comments below.

A lot has changed in my life in the past few years (I moved to MN, started working at a college, bought a house, adopted a dog, lost my mom), so I expect this experience to be very different from the last time I attempted a project like this. Maybe I can come to terms with a few things, or understand that world a bit better by doing this, but my main goal is to make some cool music that will hopefully be enjoyed by my friends and family this holiday.

Making music is fun and christmas is fun. Can't go wrong.

Reflecting on the "Way of Improvisation" by Charlie Christenson

Every year when I teach our advanced Vocal Improvisation Techniques class, we start by watching and reflecting on the following video by improvisor, Dave Morris.

Here are Dave's seven rules of improvisation:

  1. Play - engage in something for the joy of it.
  2. Let yourself fail - failing does not make you a failure.
  3. Listen - "Listening is the willingness to change."
  4. Say "Yes" - keep the story going.
  5. Say "And" - "yes" men don't add to the conversation.
  6. Play the Game - games have rules and goals (it's within these rules that we play)
  7. Relax and have Fun - don't get in your head (this leads to the concept of Zen, its own post)

Musicians, or any collaborative artists, reading these rules will likely recognize them. These are the requirements of the job. If you try to imagine or happen to remember a collaborator or bandmate that displayed the opposite qualities - they say no to your ideas, quit when something doesn't work, and are not willing to listen and/or change - you will undoubtably feel pretty turned-off by the partnership.

So what can we do to improve?

Though it is, general speaking, difficult to pick out the most important rule, depending on the situation, one rule might be more productive to focus on over the others. For example:

Play the Game (rule 6)

Because many of the other rules are quite abstract, I like to start with Play the Game. We have all played in (or at least seen) a sandbox before. A sandbox, being a box, has four well-defined walls, some sand and, hopefully, a few toys thrown in (otherwise it's just sand for days). If you were anything like me as a child, in addition to these "rules" there was also a time component, hence play time. These few rules: the size of the sandbox, the sand, a few potential toys like a shovel and bucket and the amount of time allotted to play defined our game. And this defining gave us (as the children in this story) the freedom to let go and play creatively.

When a child feels bored what they are often actually feeling is overwhelmed by too many (or in some cases too few) options. When you can literally do anything it can be difficult to pick the one thing to do first or next (for adults read: time management). Well chosen rules can remove this anxiety. "Go play with your new legos in your room for 45 minutes and then we're going to have some peanut butter." Bam, I know what to do and it sounds pretty wonderful.

Artists behave just like this in many respects. How many of you work better with a deadline? With a defined set of tools? With a predetermined goal? Perhaps not always, but I bet if we let you loose in a full-stocked, state-of-the-art studio and said "go for it" you might be shutdown for a while. Or at least until you set some rules for yourself.

This is how we approach the concept in my improvisation course: I draw a box on the whiteboard and inside of the box I write the rules for our first improvisation together. I also say something along the lines of "we are going to do this many times, so try not to worry about this first try defining who you are as an improvisor." Sheer quantity of attempts reduces the stress level a bit - as with anything.


  1. We will improvise for 1 minute at a time (I secretly measure the time, but the group needs to feel the time and try to end after about a minute has elapsed)
  2. We will improvise with our voices
  3. We will improvise together as a group at the same time

And that's it (to start).

As the game progresses, I introduce new and slightly more complex or interesting (depending on how you look at it) rules to the scenario. These rules typically take the form of additional stimuli - the other toys thrown in the sandbox. First, we improvise while all looking at the same color, then simple shapes, then images and finally video. The time rule changes as we progress and finally can be eliminated entirely and replaced by a more highly developed sense of when a song or piece has been organically completed.

This semester, the class culminated its study of free improvisation by improvising a soundtrack to a small portion of the film 2001: A Space Odyssey live on campus.

Here's the video of that performance:

This is just one example of one rule listed above. There are literally unlimited creative applications of this information and I encourage any teachers, students or artists reading this post to experiment with these concepts. And, if and when you do come up with something cool, or if you just have a question, please share in the comments below or find me on Twitter or Facebook and continue the conversation. 


For more on improvisation check out this interview of jazz pianist, Keith Jarrett:

And follow Dave Morris on twitter @davemorrisisa