The Genius of Creative Mornings

Creative Mornings Palm Beach is attracting big crowds to their monthly events.

Editor’s note: I had the opportunity to speak last Friday at the Arts Garage to Creative Mornings Palm Beach. It was a thrilling experience. I have been asked by a few attendees to post my remarks, which are mostly accurate, but I did veer off on a few tangents. The talks are videotaped and live streamed so the actual talk should be posted on the Internet soon. In the live event, I thanked my dad, for being an inspiration and guiding star. He was in attendance, which was very special. Special thanks to Yulia, Amber, Nichole, the Arts Garage, Marjorie Waldo and the Creative Mornings team for giving me the opportunity.

Good morning…

I’m going to start with a confession….I am not a genius.

That’s probably not a surprise or a revelation to those of you who know me.

But I believe in genius.

I have seen genius and I appreciate genius—and I’ve learned that while genius is important to success, it’s not essential… there are ways we can tap into genius without actually having to be one.

There are ways we can leverage genius by using the work of great artists, great leaders, great entrepreneurs, great musicians—to inspire us and help us improve our world.

This morning, I want to share a little of my story with you and how I’ve found the motivation to take risks, overcome fear, try new things and hopefully find a way to make my little corner of the universe just a little bit better.

First, let me say that I’m inspired by genius every day…

The Beatles.

Bruce Springsteen.

Abraham Lincoln.

Winston Churchill.

Martin Luther King Jr.

Nelson Mandela.

Maya Angelou, Joni Mitchell, Frank Lloyd Wright..

Geniuses….whose body of work motivates us to dream, strive and aspire.

But even the geniuses can’t do it alone…and that’s my message this morning.

If you are a genius, you still need a team….—Steve Jobs had Steve Wozniak, Johnny Ive and thousands of employees…some of whom work at the local Genius bar. Mark Zuckerberg connected 2 billion people on Facebook but he needed Sheryl Sandberg to scale his platform…

Lincoln put together a team of rivals—to win the Civil War and preserve the union.

Even Bruce Springsteen has the E Street Band….or as he describes them—and I quote: “the heart-stopping, pants-dropping, house-rocking, earth-quaking, booty-shaking, Viagra-taking, love-making -Le-gen-dary E – Street – Band!” ….Which includes Delray resident Max Weinberg…who has become a friend of the Arts Garage and this city.

No man or woman is an Island. Genius or no genius, nobody can do it alone.

The best way we can move forward as a culture is to harness the power of people to build community.

There’s genius ready to be tapped, created and deployed —anywhere –at any time– for anything—if we take the time to build community….

There’s no problem we can’t solve…no challenge we can’t overcome –if we build community.

I believe, that if we cultivate genius, nurture talent and encourage aspiration we can move mountains…we did it in Delray, I’ve seen it done elsewhere, it happens in business and it happens in organizations too….to capture genius is to embrace the magic of the crowd….to be open to ideas and imagination….

And consequently, there is a price to pay if we don’t engage and make connections…

If we tell people to go elsewhere to pursue their dreams—we will lose not only our present —but we will squander our future too….

Genius unites….it brings people together around ideas and visions of a better future.

Genius incites…the ideas that you have to fight the hardest for are often the ones you will be remembered for. (Let me say that again)….Everything that people now love about Delray Beach faced initial and often strong resistance…but if you believe in your vision, if you persevere—over time, you will make real and lasting change.

Genius also excites….it makes you feel alive with possibility and hope, but genius can’t take root and spread if it’s isolated and alone.

I attended my first Creative Morning….last month in Boca. And frankly, I was blown away.

I walked into that meeting not knowing what to expect…and in need of community and inspiration…

We live in a very challenging world…the news can be heartbreaking and overwhelming, the personalities we confront on a daily basis can deflate even the most optimistic among us.

And so I walked into Creative Mornings… feeling a little lost …as if I was at sea without any navigation—I felt a little lonely and exhausted that day…which I think all of us feel from time to time.

We are living in significant times…our anchors are being ripped from the ground…our world is moving so fast and I’m not sure if we are always aware of what’s happening.. It can leave us feeling unsure and unsettled…..

And then I met you …and the sense of community I felt in the room awakened something inside of me…it awakened my belief in community

and in leadership…

and in entrepreneurship—the three pillars of my life outside of  family and friends.

There is power and beauty in what you are building here with Creative Mornings….

your inclusiveness, your openness, your energy and your warmth not only impressed me but it moved me…

there is genius in what you have tapped into and it shows leadership, it builds community and it nurtures creative entrepreneurs. And our world needs what you are creating—now more than ever.

So I feel at home here with you….And this morning I want to share a little of my story and some thoughts on genius and how it relates to your work and our world.

One of my favorite quotes about genius is the following by moral philosopher Bernard Williams: “Talent is a flame. Genius is a fire.”

I’m impressed by talent…but I am awed by genius.

I am also inspired by genius…as I think most of us are….genius is what moves us….it stops us cold and it makes us pay attention. And when you are exposed to genius—it starts a fire and it changes the world.

For me, genius is a step or two beyond excellence….it’s something you feel. It hits you…stops you cold, and makes you reach for the railings because once you see it…you can’t go back….It looks like this…(cue Bruce Springsteen video).

As I mentioned, I am not a genius. But I think we all have the ability to tap into genius and in some ways we have a responsibility to do so.…

I showed you that clip of Springsteen at age 25…because there’s something about him that spoke to me on a visceral level…moments in his songs that hit me deep in my soul and listening to him made me want to go out and do…(pause)… something….to do something of significance with my life.

I wish I could write like Steinbeck, or think like Seth Godin, or scale like Mark Zuckerberg or write songs like Bruce Springsteen….but I can’t….Still, I’m here to say that accomplishment and achievement are possible if we dare to try…if we allow ourselves to experience life. If we don’t play it safe and succumb to fear.

I use the geniuses that move me as fuel…a great song gives me faith in the future and great writing makes me want to write—so that maybe I could taste— if just for a moment— something magical.

So we should seek genius—that magic….in our businesses and in our communities…., it’s there to be discovered and awakened.

It’s waiting there for us to be leveraged and turned into something positive and special. And that’s what we did in this city by reaching out to the stakeholders of this community and asking them what they wanted to see their city become. When we did that—through visioning and civic engagement—we tapped into the genius of this city. And we were able to move mountains as a result. This kind of magic is available to us as entrepreneurs and artists…if we reach out to our audience…if we devote ourselves to making their lives better.

So how did I get involved in this kind of work? I have no idea…

This is a picture of me…on my first day of college.

I’m 18 or 19…I’m away from home for the first time in a place called Oswego, NY, a world away from my Long Island roots.

This young man….who I barely recognize as me….has no idea what’s in store for him.

I had never heard of Delray Beach…had never dreamed of being mayor of a city….and I had never met a person from Pittsburgh PA….

And yet those three things—Delray, serving as mayor and marrying a woman from Pittsburgh would completely shape my life in magical ways that I could not have fathomed way back when….

I moved to Florida after experiencing several Oswego winters…which by the way last 11 months a year.

I came here to be a newspaper reporter….and trade endless winters for endless summers. My best friend lived here and I thought it would be nice to be in the sunshine.

And then I fell in love with this little city…because I saw its potential and its possibilities and I was attracted by the leadership that was here and by the vision that was just starting to take shape….First I wrote about it for a newspaper and then I decided to help make it happen.

And we did….

We got a lot done…

It was a team effort, it was fun. It was thrilling. It was also exhausting and at times stressful.

But a group of people worked together over a period of years because they believed in this place, they believed in each other and they believed in the value of creating a better future for ourselves and our children. What a concept….why can’t we embrace that philosophy for our country?…find a unifying vision and work together to bring it to life….

If I were a genius…I probably would have had a solid plan for my life based on that genius….John Lennon knew he wanted to be a musician from the time he was a young boy.

Scientists and engineers are fueled by their interests…Me…. I was trying to figure it out on the fly…

I always enjoyed writing….but I also knew that I was never go to be a Hemingway or a Pulitzer Prize Winner…But I discovered that I enjoyed people, that I loved to connect and that I had a passion for cities and an entrepreneurial streak…and so Delray resonated with me….

I saw in this city a chance to be a civic entrepreneur and inspired by local leadership I decided to run for office, about a year after I lost my mother to cancer.

She died at a young age…and I saw how life was fragile and that tomorrow was not guaranteed and so I made a conscious decision to say yes to things….even though I was afraid, way outside my comfort zone and not really sure I had leadership skills.

But Delray’s formula…its secret sauce of involving people— spoke to me. I also saw that it got results and that in small cities you can make big strides pretty quickly if you want too…if you harness the genius and talent in your community.

It’s a simple concept—there’s nothing in that success formula that is complicated or requires an Albert Einstein like brain. But there was genius in the simplicity of engaging the community’s stakeholders, forging a vision for a sustainable future and having the courage and the fortitude to stick with it—despite the roadblocks, despite the naysayers, despite the people who tell you that what you want to do is impossible.

We heard all the excuses– the instant you announce an idea you can count on the critics to whack you over the head.

. So what do you do when you encounter resistance…

My advice—listen.

Listen to the critics—and then defy them. Dig deep and make it happen. Or as Steve Martin advises…Be so good they can’t ignore you…

And I realize in preparing for this creative morning…that while I am not a genius, I was surrounded by a few…

talented leaders, incredible entrepreneurs, amazing public servants—and together we captured genius and we built a place and a vibe that made us fall in love, encouraged us to take risks on businesses and projects and compelled us to keep going when the going got rough…and we all know —it always gets rough.

I kept going…through the loss of my mother—who was my biggest champion, the end of a marriage, a terrible accident that almost took my father, through hurricanes that exhausted me, controversies nearly every week, protests and the shooting of a 15 year old that challenged all of us—-we kept going.

And because we created community….because we harnessed the genius of our citizens, we survived it all—whatever was thrown at us– and we thrived.

My adventures in local politics….opened up my world.

I went from a journalist—a noble profession to an elected official—-which should be a noble profession—to business and entrepreneurship….where I have been able to apply the lessons that I learned over the past 30 years….

And that’s how those of us who aren’t geniuses can succeed…by finding good people, understanding that you are never the smartest person in the room and by committing yourself to lifelong learning and experimentation.

I am as curious and as aspirational today….as I have ever been. Probably more so. Because in 8 days I will be 53…and while I still feel that is young, I can see old age for the first time…it’s out there…still hazy…but I see it…it’s coming. If I’m lucky…So I have a renewed sense of urgency…

And I wish that I had five lives to live….because there is so much that I want to do and experience. So many people I want to learn from…so many people I’d like to help.

I think it’s important to share actionable lessons…so I will conclude with a few from the geniuses I have encountered and studied….in the three important areas of my life…leadership, entrepreneurship and community..

First leadership…

From Churchill and Lincoln….I learned about the power of belief….Churchill’s belief that England would never be defeated and Lincoln’s belief in our better angels…these leadership lessons that we can all use regardless of where we are in life.

Failure was not an option to Churchill, because he knew failure to beat the Nazi’s meant certain death for his country and the values that shaped western civilization. Lincoln understood his weaknesses and sought to build a team that bolstered his blind spots—He was a strong enough leader and a secure enough person to surround himself with people who held different views.

I’m no Lincoln or Churchill…but I believe that leaders at all levels of life can learn from their example….I did not fight a World or Civil War when I served as mayor…but I was challenged– as we all are– by events that are out of our control….my biggest challenge was trying to keep our city together in the wake of a tragic shooting that took the life of a 15 year-old boy named Jerrod Miller.

Jerrod was shot and killed by a rookie police officer outside of a school dance in the southwest section of Delray… there is no playbook when these tragedies happen…and so you have to rely on your team and your own inner reserves in order to keep the community from spiraling out of control.

Jerrod was shot exactly 5 years before Trayvon Martin was killed by a neighborhood watch volunteer in Sanford, Florida and we all saw what happened in Ferguson and Baltimore after Freddie Gray…

My best advice to any of you who might face a similar challenge is to channel Lincoln and Churchill…to reach deep and lead with your heart.

I had a 15 year old daughter at the time…so Jerrod’s death was something that struck me very deeply. Because I could not imagine losing my child in such a way…or in any way for that matter.

And so I followed my heart…

I met with everyone who would see me and I absorbed the anger…the love…the pain…and the hurt….all of which was directed at what I symbolized at the time—the mayor of our city and all that title implies….

And I realized it really wasn’t me who was being yelled by some…and in many ways it wasn’t me who was being hugged by others…I was a receptacle for the slew of emotions we were all experiencing.

My friends, I will say it’s a strange job when in the course of a day, you are told that you are evil —and told you are loved…

We made a choice to survive during that tough time.

We made a choice not to destroy what we had built here..that choice was possible in Delray because we had made the investment in community that places like Ferguson didn’t…that was our genius…

….Some of us grew closer…a few of us grew apart…but none of us emerged from the experience unchanged….we learned to face the anger and the pain and the heartache with compassion.

Great leaders, great mayors work to make their communities more caring, inclusive and collaborative. They seek to unify, not divide. They seek to create a reservoir of good will…which makes it possible to weather any storm….

Lessons from the genius of Entrepreneurs….

This is where we can find a slew of geniuses….Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates, Seth Godin, Richard Branson and the list of entrepreneurial genius goes on and on…the common thread—fire…they all have a fire to see their visions come to life. They have an ability to dream and to execute…they know how to build teams, they know how to scale, how to market, how to make us long for things we never knew we wanted….

They blaze a path..they are mavericks….originals….they are geniuses….

So the longer I am in business….the more projects and entrepreneurial endeavors I am exposed to or involved with– from Hot Sauce and Beverages to restaurants and real estate— the more I realize how much I don’t know. But that’s OK.

Because we can learn from the entrepreneur…we can see the common threads: their ability to take risks, their vision, their belief in their ideas, their passion to bring those ideas into the world. And if we dig deep, we realize that there are virtually no overnight successes…there are always obstacles, always challenges, always setbacks…but the ones who win are always the ones who persevere.

Celsius our beverage…just announced a record setting quarter—an overnight success a decade in the making…there are no shortcuts…it is not a straight path…hang on is the best advice I can give you or fail fast, learn and do something else. Each of us has the ability to be resilient…grit is what succeeds, even more than genius….

In my Community work.

I was fortunate to be exposed to three geniuses in my community life…two mentored me and one married me…

My two mentors were our former Police Chief Rick Overman who I write about extensively in the book. He was the best manager/leader I’ve ever observed up close…his genius –and it was genius –was his incredible ability to inspire and empower his staff to do amazing things from bringing down drug rings and fixing neighborhoods to building a reservoir of good will in communities that were hard to reach.

When he came to Delray, the Police Department was the biggest issue in town….within a year it was arguably our biggest strength and the work of that department paved the way for remarkable success and investment. There is no Delray as we know it…without Rick Overman. He was genius…a visionary chess player always six moves ahead of where things were going…His success formula: empower others in your organization and you’ll soar.

Mayor Tom Lynch was another civic genius…he put the city on a track that enabled success and enabled guys like me to move the ball forward. Tom was an astute businessman, steeped in policy and very sure of his instincts and philosophy. I saw genius in him….he believed when others didn’t —and it made all the difference. He was the one who sat me down and encouraged me to be involved…geniuses inspire…and that conversation has fueled the last 20 years of my life. His success formula: Government can and should be entrepreneurial, take some risks…make it happen.

And finally, there’s my wife, Diane….who led our planning department and our Community Redevelopment Agency to new heights….she was a managerial genius….able to motivate staff, manage a board, navigate politics and race relations….she’s very smart—terrible taste in men– but very smart.

….I would label her a genius because she was able to see the forest through the trees and able to focus on the big picture and the details too…..Not too many people can do that…

She also is able to tolerate me…not too many people can do that either —which requires a very special level of genius. Her success formula: Never take your eye off the big picture, adopt a vision and get it done.

I want to conclude our morning of genius with a real quick diversion to music….which means the world to me.

And the two musical geniuses—among the many that I have found and enjoyed over the years—that I want to share with you are Springsteen and The Beatles….

Genius is timeless and both of these artists have created a musical canon that has stood the test of time….

Genius is also visionary…both of these artists have a vision and a message they needed to share with the world and their message was so resonant…that it is appreciated worldwide regardless of culture, age, geography, race or religion….

For Springsteen the vision was to take us on a musical journey and to focus on life, work, love, our towns, our country, our dreams, our frustrations, our triumphs and our aspirations.

His work has inspired me in my civic life, my family life and my entrepreneurial adventures….

His music is about breaking free of shackles and expectations of holding on to our dreams even when…especially when— they are challenged….

Not all of his characters make it….but all our fighters and in my darkest moments….facing cash flow issues in business, trying to keep a city from imploding after a racially charged shooting …I have found salvation, solace and hope in Springsteen’s words and music. We were both born to run….

That is genius…

As for the Beatles….their genius can be summed up in 5 words…All You Need Is Love.

And That’s a Perfect sentiment on which to end….thank you.


  1. Thanks Jeff-I had a wonderful morning-you did a fantastic job- Proud Dad

  2. Thanks for sharing, Jeff – great wisdom and insight…

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