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Akili PHD: The Musician

 

By Joel Middleton | Business Planning Consultant

Who hears music, feels his solitude peopled at once.”

– Robert Browning

Music. What a powerful force in this world. What else has done the following so successfully?

  • Incited riots
  • Inspired repressed people to infect themselves with a deadly virus
  • Sparked more than one revolution
  • Changed how people get down the wedding aisle

Or, the fact that music also gets us to sing, dance, grieve, laugh, and experience a moment either alone or with others?

As a species we’ve had music before structured and written language. It’s in each of us, like E. Coli or that piece of gum you accidentally swallowed a few years ago.

For me, music has always been a big part of my life. Some of my earliest and fondest memories are about hearing my favorite childhood songs for the first time and repetitiously listening to them to get the rhythm and melody of each one. The swing, jazz, rock, and blues songs were always my favorite. I’m fairly certain my parents might still have PTSD from how many times I watched Jungle Book, Brave Little Toaster, and Aristocats simply because of the jazz, blues, and rock leanings in those movies.

My parents have always had their own love of music, too. My dad plays piano and my mom’s a natural-born dancer. We also attended church every Sunday where music was a big part of the service.

With all of that musical exposure, you’d think I would’ve naturally gravitated towards actually learning music early on, but didn’t find my way into it until I was given a guitar and a set of lessons at the local rec center for my 16th birthday. I didn’t know it then, but this was where a lifelong passion for music would begin. The “not knowing” part is important, but I’ll come back to that in a moment.

By the time college was on my horizon, I decided that I wanted to study music in school and enrolled as a music performance major at the University of Memphis, focusing on Jazz & Studio Music. I showed up in Memphis full of enthusiasm and excitement. Not even two weeks later, I was ready to throw in the towel and change majors.

I had seriously overestimated my level of ability at the time and was in way over my head. Unlike many of the other students in the music program, I never did anything like band, choir, or theatre in middle or high school. I didn’t know how to read sheet music or how to communicate with other musicians in an effective way. I was, musically speaking, illiterate.

Faced with the decision of quitting the music program, I decided instead to lean into the discomfort and resolved to not quit without putting up a fight.

And man, did I hate the slog.

The daily routine of honest self-criticism and evaluation that I had to make myself face. Fumbling through sight-reading exercises at a pithy 60 beats per minute. Guessing almost every interval except the right one in-ear training exercises. Slowly transcribing solos and tunes from famed jazz records only to read it back and be wrong in large swathes of the song. Not to mention, wrestling with the heedless voice of self-doubt providing the tempting belief that ability and talent are fixed attributes.

I wish I could say it was passion that pushed me through this time. That it was some kind of supreme love for the craft that fit well with the narrative that anyone with enough heart and passion can succeed despite the obstacles before them. But it wasn’t. If anything, halfway through that first semester, I was less passionate about music and guitar than I’d ever been.

But I kept working and as my first semester came to a close, I wasn’t dramatically better than when I’d began but I was starting to show growth. More importantly, the gains I had made in my musical competency over those 15 weeks had ignited a deeper and broader love for music. The kind of love that I would qualify as genuine passion. The kind of passion that you can only develop from struggle, strife, and honesty. Where the slog transforms from drudgery to something you legitimately get excited for.

Fast forward more than a few years and I found myself in new career at Akili where I’m thankful that we have a culture that embraces passion, heart, and desire. Learning new technologies and creating solutions for our clients’ many business needs is ripe for opportunities to struggle, grow, and deepen the passion I have for what we do!

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Employee Spotlight: Meet Mark Butler

 

Director of Business Process & Organizational Change Management Mark Butler knows Akili all too well, as he’s been with us from the very beginning! This week, we discovered more about this seasoned Akilian and his role.

What’s your role at Akili and the most satisfying aspect about it?

I serve as the Director of the BPM/OCM Center of Excellence. My responsibility in this role is to establish all of the IP, methodology, and discipline necessary to provide a best in-class level service for clients who need help with business process optimization and leading organizational change.

I have told people for years that one of the best parts of my job is that no two days are ever alike. I may provide the same type of service to our clients, or collaborate with my fellow employees around common activities, nevertheless, every case is unique, every outcome is unique, and every project brings new opportunities to learn, adapt, and grow.

How did you become interested in your line of work?

I was working in our data modeling group at American Airlines in 1991 when I received an invitation from the VP of our Division to participate in a special project. It was the first Business Process Reengineering effort at AA. BPR was a hot topic of the day with the recent publication of Hammer and Champy’s wildly successful book, “Reengineering the Corporation”.

For the next nine months, I was blessed to work with nine other peers who also received this invitation. It was a huge project, with major game-changing outcomes for the Saber Computer Services, the Division in which I worked. But more importantly, it was a new path for me. We were coached extensively by four experts in the new field and it was an awesome experience. It was stressful every day for sure, but an amazing opportunity.

By the time we reached the conclusion of the project, it had become apparent to me that a process-centric approach to solving business problems was the best way to make a real difference in the world. I went to our mentor consultants and asked if there was any way I could join them in this work. I could not imagine going back to my former role and ever being satisfied knowing what I now knew.

Long story short, the answer was yes, and the rest is history.

What about Akili made you decide to join?

When I joined in July 1996, Akili was still in its infancy. The “culture” of Akili that is now a hallmark was barely forming, so I had no perspective on that, and Akili had no big reputation of success to speak of. I made the decision based primarily on my brief interactions with Shiek and Andrew and I have never regretted the decision we made that week. Everything good that has happened to me in my career since 1996 has been a direct result of the relationships I have formed at Akili.

What’s a memory that stood out to you at Akili?

Wow… that is a tough question. How do you pick one from among so many? Given the two decades of water that have passed under the Akili bridge, you can imagine those waters have carried an uncountable quantity of memories. On the fun side of the coin, the Cancun trip was no doubt the very best memory. On the work side of the coin, I have to say that my work on the ERP implementation at Samson Resources will always be a highlight of my career.

In your opinion, what makes Akili different?

Every company wants to say how “different” they are in their marketing materials. I give it as my opinion that the real difference is based on two factors. First, our CEO has a very clear and unmatched expectation of excellence in terms of our performance in client engagements. Failure is NOT an option. Secondly, this same expectation of excellence flows right into the character of the people whom we attract, prepare, and deploy to those client engagements; and the same standard of performance for us all is the number one priority. We hire very smart people with a strong work ethic, and we teach and guide them towards the standard of excellence that must prevail in our work.

What do you enjoy doing outside of work?

If you had asked me that question two decades ago, the answer would be different. We all experience changes in the focus of our lives over time. Gratefully, today my understanding of what is important in life is for more refined. I love being with, and working on whatever project you can imagine with my wife, the center and soul of my life.

We enjoy serving others in our church work—we teach, mentor, and guide others we love toward lives of richness and joy. We love our 10 grandchildren beyond words and enjoy supporting them in all of their fun growing-up activities. We love the mountains. As a family, we went camping every year. Holiday traditions are important family foundation building work that we are committed to doing. Christmas together is our favorite time of year.

Left: Mark’s yard – they did all of the work! Right: Christmas – their favorite time of year.
Left: Butler family (minus 2). Right: Christmas dinner with the Butler’s.

What keeps you motivated?

Motivating me has never been something anyone else has had to do. My intense internal competitive nature drove me for years. Today, the driver is more based in the search for knowledge about my specific professional focus. BPM and OCM are all about relentless, continuous improvement and about purposeful adaptation to the factors in a dynamic and constantly evolving business environment. I love to learn. The joy of learning drives me.

Tell us about some of the greatest advice you’ve ever received.

It is exceptionally easy to identify the greatest advice or counsel I’ve ever received—if you don’t include the scriptures. Without question, that advice came from Stephen R. Covey and his two best-selling books: 7-Habits and Principle Centered Leadership.

My wife will tell you that the truths taught in his books changed me, for the better.

Anything you’d like everyone to know? 

Serving and helping others is one of the keys to understanding ourselves, and recognizing the blessings in our lives.

Many years ago we received a cup from someone that sat in our kitchen window sill. It had a wonderful message inscribed on it:

“Life is a gift. It’s wrapped in a ribbon woven with dreams, and whether you are very young or very old, life is full of wonder and surprises.”