Lessons From Miles Davis Documentary ‘Birth Of The Cool’ For A Future Workforce That’s Largely Black And POC
Legendary musician Miles Davis left a massive artistic legacy, but he is also a masterful study of long-reaching success that can serve as a stunning example for any tech founder today.
While many of us know the music, we may not be familiar with the rich life story of Davis. Unfolding this is where treasures lie. Indeed, Stanley Nelson’s new documentary “Miles Davis: Birth Of The Cool” theatrically allows us a rare and unprecedented look at the life of this legend through his own words and those of his friends and collaborators such as Herbie Hancock and Quincy Jones.
“The story of Miles Davis – who he was as a man and artist – has often been told as the tale of a drug-addled genius,” Director Stanley Nelson said in a statement. “You rarely see a portrait of a man that worked hard at honing his craft, a man who deeply studied all forms of music, from Baroque to classical Indian. An elegant man who could render ballads with such tenderness yet hold rage in his heart from the racism he faced throughout his life.”
With full access to the Miles Davis estate, the film features never-before-seen footage in a production that is beyond compelling and extremely well-crafted.
Here are five major takeaways from an extraordinary career that anyone striving for success should apply today.
Davis struggled with addiction on and off several times in his life. He battled personal demons and post-traumatic stress from racist actions that he encountered repeatedly in his life. Toward his latter years, he endured daily pain as a result of a reckless car accident. Yet with all of these hardships, he persisted in delivering an unparalleled craft.
The lesson here: It is possible to overcome anything and claim or reclaim success.
Davis was an absolute genius at identifying young, new talent (yes, like Coltrane when few were checking for Coltrane). He’d create a new band with them but let them express themselves the way they heard the music, not the way he thought they should. Surprisingly, with some of the most awe-inspiring music for which he was credited, there was little more than an outline on paper.
The lesson here: Plans are great but the ability to lead and respect each talented player on your team to allow him to be his or her authentic self will lead to magic.
Davis was known for his sense of fashions. It was, indeed, part of his personal brand but it never stagnated. He was savvy enough to rock the suit-and-tie look when a more polished vibe was in fashion and was open enough to move right into the chic wrap-around glasses, fringe and other iconic cool looks of the ’70s. Similarly, he used sitars and other instruments in his work when no one else was even thinking about such combinations in jazz.
The lesson here: Ensure that your personal brand and business always remain culturally relevant and differentiated yet organic. Images define more strongly than words most of the time. A combination of expertise and hot image is unstoppable. Be surprising.
Davis was never afraid to re-invent a musical group when he felt it had run its course. Most always, the new musicians were very young. Herbie Hancock was only 23 when he started with Davis. The trumpeter never grew tired of being a mentor but was also being mentored by others once drum machines and other technology began to infuse the industry.
The lesson here: As you rise up the ladder to success, never be too busy to mentor. This drives the industry and also your own personal legacy. Such engagement helps you always keep a leg up on the competition by associating with new blood while generating goodwill and good karma. This is especially important for a future workforce that is largely of color.
Davis was known for a mercurial personality, one that could be even violent at times. Though certainly not condoned, (particularly for physical harm to his former wife) his personality offered a curious, unapologetic nature. He never pandered to others, did not say what he thought should be said, and did what he thought was appropriate in a situation, even if it made him uncomfortable. Today, we would call this being one’s authentic self. In the ’60s, however, no one titled this vibe as such. It takes courage to embrace both the light and dark sides of oneself.
The lesson here: While many spend time fitting in yet wondering why they are not recognized, there are others who have come to a deep acceptance of how they are at the moment. It is this revealing of — in Davis’ case, an intoxicating mix of boldness, vulnerability, creativity, jealousy and more — that enables them to realize themselves, whatever shape that takes.
From Steve Jobs to Lady Gaga to Martin Luther King, Jr. those who are courageous enough to be transparent in their being are those we tend to watch — not cookie-cutters. Embrace yourself as you develop your career and watch what happens.
Miles Davis died on Sept. 28, 1991, in Santa Monica, Calif.
This documentary premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2019, and will start its theatrical run at The Film Forum in New York on Friday, Aug. 23, followed by The Landmark in Los Angeles on Friday, Aug. 30. It will be showing in additional markets beginning in September. Don’t miss it.
Lauren DeLisa Coleman is a digi-cultural trend analyst, author and strategist. Her expertise is deciphering and forecasting power trends, public sentiment within the convergence of pop culture, millennials & emerging tech behavior and analyzing the impact on business, governance. Her sub-specialty is diverse demos, and she is a contributor to media outlets from Forbes to Campaigns & Elections, as well as a guest commentator on MSNBC. As an entrepreneur, she has provided strategic intelligence on projects from Snoop Dogg to Microsoft execs to public policy leaders. She heads Lnk Agency, a hot trend consulting & multimedia company. Her latest e-book is “Americas Most Wanted: The Millennial.” You can read her Forbes contributions here.
You can read her Inc column here.