Getting creative with restrictions may seem a bit counterintuitive, but our guests—inspiring musician-slash-lawyer Coré Cotton and Relativity’s director of operational risk management, Stephen Powell—challenge this belief in the latest episode of Security Sandbox.
Learn how taking risks and finding rhythm can make an unlikely duo, even in business, and how you can start conducting your team like an orchestra. Also, I don’t want to give too much away, but I have to ask: Whose singing voice was your favorite? Let us know by joining the conversation on Instagram and Twitter.
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Security Sandbox is about using your curiosity and personal passions to fuel more well-rounded security practices. So, tell us: What inspires you?
Amanda Fennell: Welcome to Security Sandbox! I'm Amanda Fennell, chief security officer at Relativity, where we help the legal and compliance world solve complex data problems securely. And that takes a lot of creativity! One of the best things about a sandbox is that you can try anything. This season, let's explore how curiosity and personal passions inspire stronger security. Grab your shovel, and let's dig in!
Securing data takes a lot of coordination and weaving everything together. At times it can feel like you're trying to conduct an actual symphony of different instruments to create that right rhythm for the company. Let's create our own symphony in a sandbox with someone who has woven music and law together in her journey. And let's get grooving for securing your data!
The CEO of the Empowerment Collective Company, the creator of Elite Accelerator, the assistant GC for Wells Fargo for more than 18 years, former featured vocalist of the Grammy-winning Sounds of Blackness—and this is the first time I think I've met someone that I knew I'd been missing in my life—Miss Coré Cotton. Completely in sync with this topic of music and law, we bring in my own personal treble clef, who tells me how to direct Relativity's operational risk management, Mr. Stephen Powell. First question, we'll start with both of you and then we'll see which one of you runs with this. Compliance, frameworks, standards, legal documents, contracts—it feels restrictive. How do you try to bring creativity into this realm and is music part of that?
Coré Cotton: Amanda, I'm going to jump in on this one to start. It's about what music represents to me: connecting, finding common ground, and therefore common solutions, while making the listener feel heard. That's how I approach my legal work, whether it's with the client or the person that I'm negotiating with across the table—getting as close as possible to the "win-win." Thinking about the long-term relationship rather than the quick win. That's how I approach law and music, actually. And even with respect to the law, when I'm learning a new area—because I've done a lot of different roles throughout my law career—I have to connect with the subject for myself, as well as from the perspective of how can I serve my clients. And then I can dig in deeper and pull back layers and become the subject matter expert. But that's what it is for me.
Stephen Powell: For me, music is a creative hobby. It is a way to strengthen creativity in general. I totally agree about the client interaction piece. That's kind of like your North Star: who are my stakeholders, what is it that they want to see, that kind of thing. And then oftentimes on security teams, on compliance teams, I know that's very true with our compliance team—a lot of creativity amongst the team. Great subject matter expertise. If you've been able to exercise the creative muscles in your brain, then when you're faced with the real complex issue that involves a lot of stakeholders or a lot of conflicting views or what have you, it's a lot easier to come up with creative solutions that are effective for everybody. So that's what music for me is. It is a creative exercise, something that I do with my friends, something that alleviates stress and hopefully helps me come up with better professional solutions.
AF: Do you find yourself thinking of song lyrics and bopping when you're in any kind of meeting?
SP: Yeah, and DMX, if something's upsetting me. Yeah, absolutely.
AF: Coré, what about you?
CC: Listen, music is always in my head. I'm always writing a song. I'm always singing a lyric in my head, even when I don't know it. People tell me, "You're just sitting there singing." I think it's just something that's kind of a part of you. When you have a passion for music, it just becomes a part of everything that you do. And you don't go to it as music. It is you. It is a part of you. So, yes, absolutely. I'm thinking about music when I'm creating at work.
AF: How do you make something your own, though? I'll start with you on this one because I know Steve's got a funny story. He had to make a program his own. So how do you make something your own with music?
CC: With music, as well as with anything that I do, I start with having and being committed to my authentic brand. Whatever the project is, whether it's legal-based or entertainment-based, it's really bringing my full self, my logical self, my creative self, my relator self, my developer self, to that project because what I want is for people to be able to recognize me in any platform. However I'm showing up, they'll say, "Hey, that is Coré, the servant leader, the one that wants to connect and wants to write this beautiful song so that it resonates with someone in particular." So that's where I start. And then honestly, from there, it really creates itself.
AF: I feel like this is where we're going to have a separation for a minute, because I know you two have very different styles for how you approach music in your background, in your history with it. So before I move to the history, Mr. Powell: How do you make something your own? You took over a program. You had to come in. As Coré has taught me before and said, "You have to listen for a while and immerse yourself in it before you can fully get it." How did you do that?
SP: I think the main thing is really trying to understand what's working, what isn't, and being patient, and listening. You come into a new situation—just like music, the best musicians have the best ears. They can hear a tone. They can sense when they're flat. They can sense when they're sharp, and they can adjust accordingly. I think that same metaphor exists in business, particularly if you're taking over a strong function that's already running. Maybe you've been asked to take it in a slightly different direction or modify something material in the workstream. Whatever the case is, it's important to listen first, particularly as a leader. Just like Coré mentioned: the benefits of being a servant leader, I think that always resonates with me. Ask a lot of questions, do a lot of listening. You know, tune yourself to the environment that you've walked into. Tune yourself to the concerns that your team has. In this particular scenario that you're mentioning, my team had been here a lot longer than I had. They knew a lot of the history, a lot of the issues. They knew a lot of the challenges. They understood the company culture a whole lot better, so they have a better sense on what's going to work and what's not going to work if we're trying to come up with creative solutions. So, again, sometimes music, it's more important about what you hear as opposed to how well you can play or sing or whatever. Just being humble and listening I think is the most important.
AF: What a nice thing to say. Coré, you look like you have something to say...?
CC: That resonates with me completely because it's also a collaborative process. Whether it's that project, Steve, that you talked about, or whether it's a musical piece, you don't do anything in isolation. It's about leveraging the strengths of the people that you're working with, right? Not just taking in a project for project’s sake or just trying to get something done to get it done. It's looking at, who do you have at the table and what are the strengths of those people at the table relative to the project or the song that you are collaborating on? And that's really, I think, one of the marks of a great leader: knowing when to leverage someone else for something that you don't have or some gift that someone else is greater at than you.
AF: It does sound like composing something and bringing in the right instruments at the right time and the sound and the levels. But, yeah, that's a really cool way to look at it.
SP: To piggyback on that analogy, if you think about roles and responsibilities, you might be conducting the orchestra or you might be leading the band, but that doesn't necessarily mean you play every instrument as well as the person who has studied it. That drummer is the drummer for a reason. That person on the keys is the person on the keys for a reason. The person singing or playing the guitar or whatever else is going on, they don't know how to play these other instruments as well.
AF: So there's this concept with rhythm, right? And I think it's funny you bring this up. I actually am horrible at knowing the tone of something. I love music. It's part of my life. It's everywhere. We do it in meetings all the time.
CC: Oh, I love that!
AF: It's all those things. We love music because it can evoke so many different feelings. Joining a meeting for a stand-up on a Monday with CCR playing Fortunate Son or something is very different from joining and hearing Ella Fitzgerald. It's different emotions, but there is this concept of rhythm. I know that we've had these conversations before, and I love to bring this up: as a Buddhist concept within rhythm, that when you're in rhythm with the universe, things just feel like everything's going the right direction and so on. Coré, what is "in rhythm" mean to you, and how do you explain it?
CC: First of all, I agree with you 100 percent because music is universal. It has the capacity to transcend socioeconomic status, race, religion, all of these things. When I am in rhythm and music, when I have lost myself in it, and I have connected with what I call its "true purpose”—which for me is connecting with and ministering to at least one person in that audience—that's when I know that I'm in rhythm with music. To extrapolate on that, I know when I am in rhythm in life when I am fully engaged in both parts of who I am, both the law part and the music part—passion and dream. When I feel unencumbered by boxes. We don't do boxes; we don't like boxes. And frankly, when I'm out of my own head, that's when I know that I'm in sync—when I'm in the groove, when I'm in rhythm, when I'm in, frankly, my best self.
AF: And you seem like, when we've spoken before, it feels like you feel a oneness with your environment. You feel like it's with you.
CC: That's absolutely the case. I feel like, when I'm having to choose between one or the other, that I'm really living a fragmented existence, and I'm not really giving the fullest part, the best part of me. I can pull it off. I can do one thing great. I can do another thing great. But I'm really not coming to the table as my full self unless I'm bringing all of me to what I do.
AF: Love it. Powell, you have a feeling for rhythm as well. You have such a classically trained background. Can you tell us a little bit about that and then what rhythm means?
SP: Rhythm, to me ... In order to operate effectively, there's the conscious mind and the subconscious mind. My conscious mind is always on edge—a lot of anxiety, you know, things of that nature. I'm always worried: Did I get to this? Have I not gotten to that? Is something running behind? Am I going to forget to do this? What's the team doing; what's the team not doing? You know, you don't want to forget the now and you want to understand what's going on. My subconscious mind needs to be fed something. My subconscious mind will get bored and sit back, and then I'll start losing my creativity. I'll start freaking out. And so sometimes I just need the music on just for peace of mind. I think Coré kind of hit on some of that. I feel more balanced if I have that—and this is just working with music on a day-to-day basis—sometimes for certain tasks, if I have that background noise going and the rhythm kind of matches the pace of whatever it is I'm working on. If I'm reading through a bunch of emails, maybe I got something instrumental on. If I'm trying to respond to a bunch of people on Slack or something like that, maybe I get something a little more upbeat on. It kind of depends on what's going on. I try to match the rhythm with whatever I'm doing. It helps me set my pace. My breathing probably changes a little bit, and then I can better adjust for whatever I need at the moment. Whatever I need from me in that moment, sometimes the music helps me calibrate myself to it.
CC: Can I just say one thing? I'm about to jump out of my skin right now, and I'm trying to be calm. But I think that, something that you're talking about, highlights the fact that music is also about balance. You're talking about the yin and the yang, so to speak. Like if I'm feeling up, the music will soothe me down, kind of thing. Music definitely has the capacity to change the environment, to make a shift in the atmosphere, right? To put you from a glad mood to a sad mood or sad mood to a glad mood. I'm so glad that you mention that, because that's one of the key things about music that we lose focus on sometimes, is balance.
AF: I have a fun thing I'm going to spring on you all as a little activity that I did not forewarn, but I think it's fun. First song that comes to your mind—"I know this song; I know the lyrics of it." And you got it.
CC: Oh, well, you're going to guess this, no doubt. [sings] Somewhere over the rainbow. What is that? I mean, if you don't get that, you just don't get to talk anymore today.
AF: That song ... I know you love this song! It's so pretty though. So beautiful. I love it. And your voice is so gorgeous. I had to do that because I can't have you on here and not have you sing something, right?
CC: Invoice coming. [Laughs]
AF: I know, I'm taking advantage. Alright, Powell. Did you have one? And it can't be DMX!
SP: My little baby girl turned five last week. The first song that came to my mind: “Isn't she lovely? Isn't she wonderful? Isn't she happy? Isn't she--”
SP: Isn't she precious? There's like two bars of it, and I forget which one.
CC: Okay, we're all crying now.
SP: Isn't It Wonderful.
AF: That's awesome. I mean, I'd hate to sing it with two beautiful singers on the line, but I will. We'll see who gets this with just the words. You ready? "Hold me close and hold me fast, the magic spell you cast."
CC: I'm stumped.
AF: [sings] La vie en rose...
SP: I'm going to Google.
AF: It's La Vie En Rose! That's the opening line: "Hold me close and hold me fast." There's something about Louis Armstrong's version, which I love, so.
CC: Oh, I love that.
AF: Alright, we're going to pivot into this risk frame of mind. We have two people who spend a lot of time looking at contracts and red lines and discussions and what is a regulatory, legal, et cetera. I love to look at this from a standpoint of stringing all these threads together for music. How do you define "risk," and how does that come across in your music?
CC: I'll take a stab at that, and particularly from the music perspective, risk to me is exposure to the unknown, right? That could potentially take you outside your comfort zone. Taking risk in music is about stepping outside that comfort zone for whatever you deem worthy or for whatever fits within your personal risk appetite, if you will. For me, that would be finding yet another form, another style, another type of music to reach or connect with the audience or to find another way to tell what you think is an important story.
AF: Even the way that you sing a song and you make it your own, that's the risk of seeing how people react.
AF: Mr. Powell?
SP: I think my example ... As a risk professional, unfortunately, part of the job is to give bad news sometimes. Telling folks that a control has failed, telling people that they need to rethink a process, talking to executives and giving them news that they don't necessarily want to hear. I think a lot of that has to do with confidence and homework. If you're prepared, if you've done the assessment, if you and your team are comfortable on the facts and you think that you feel confident about your conclusion, whether it's good or bad, you have to suck it up and go present this thing. From a music perspective, I would call that performing, if you will. The notion of the preparation—have you practiced? Have you done your homework? Do you know the music? Have you been practicing with the metronome? Has somebody else been listening to you and giving you feedback? Have you recorded it and listened to it yourself?
AF: You're so exacting! It's so like a compliance professional, right? Coré and I are like, "We just kind of immerse ourselves in the music." And you're like, "Did you check this list? Did you do this control collection for evidence?"
CC: There's room for all of it, right?
AF: Practice, practice, practice.
SP: There's room for it. And people don't want to hear [bad news], you know? You have to be confident in your messaging. If I'm going to go to an executive and say, "Hey, we may have an issue here or something that we need you to think about..." How well is my presentation? How well have I organized my notes? How concise am I going to try to be so that I don't lose them as I'm trying to make the point? I think the same thing applies with a music performance. If you're playing on stage, if you're singing or doing something like that, you just want to make sure that you've put in the effort so that when it comes time to present this news or present a risk or whatever the case may be, are you going to lose everybody in the audience? Are you going to be able to keep people engaged? Are you going to be able to get your point across and ultimately deliver?
CC: I have to validate you, Steve, if you don't mind. That is one thing to talk about: the approach to music and the risk in the approach to music. There's something completely different about the performance of music. I don't want anybody to hear this and say, "She's lying!" Because I am a workhorse on the practice thing. Anybody in any show of mine is rehearsing it. Do it better, do it better. But you first got to get there. You got to reach people where they are, even the people on your team, right? You have to allow them to come in and connect with it. But once we've connected with it—once we've connected with the approach—now it's about execution, and execution is about the detail that you talk about. I completely agree. But we don't start with the execution. We start with getting people there and then we move to the execution.
AF: That absolutely actually leads to the cap-off for this episode. Of a few things that came out in this dialogue, I believe these are some big takeaways for us.
- You can take the risks, but you should practice. You should prepare before you take the risk, if you can, which is spoken like true risk professionals, by the way.
- Adapt to the situation and use what's in the room. Right? Conduct that. I think there's an adaptability that you mentioned there.
- But this last part, Coré, I think you said this: Meet people where they are. I think music does that.
And I always like to end on a quote. This is an odd one that I came across from Hans Christian Andersen, the fairytale writer. He is known for things like The Emperor's New Clothes,” “The Ugly Duckling,” things like that. But he had a comment that he became famous for. It said: "When words fail, music speaks." Thank you both for speaking today about music. I think that we definitely succeeded for this one.
CC: Thank you, Amanda.
SP: Coré, it was a pleasure.
CC: Oh, all mine. All mine.
AF: Thanks for digging into these topics with us today. We hope you got some valuable insights from the episode. Please share your comments, give us a rating—we'd love to hear from you!