What Does “Making a Difference” Really Mean… to You?

What Does “Making a Difference” Really Mean… to You?

Through the trials and travails of life, we rarely stop to think of what we are doing or have done that makes a difference. A real difference.  Something that makes the world a little bit better in any way – no matter how small.

Something that leaves our slice of a fleeting, vaporous life better than before our first baby breath.  We’re so enmeshed in doing, doing and more doing, that we lose sight of creating meaning– usually until it’s too late.

But what does a real difference mean? Many times it bares no resemblance to what we might have thought at the time. Or others think. 

This is one such story.

The Great Divide Beckons

The old man sat down to write. His time was short, and he knew it. The Great Divide beckoned. He thought back through the events of his life.

An Amazing Life

From any perspective, it was a life of turbulence, war, love, grief, joy, industry and 50 years of public service. He’d been a writer, horticulturist, lawyer, philosopher, architect, political leader and revolutionary – an amazing life.

For the Ages

Many world-altering moments and events which he’d been involved would be inked into the history books for the ages—but not into this document.

So Simple – So Hard

He began to write. Short. Concise. His criterion was simple. How had he made the world a better place? And his words had to be worthy of being inscribed in granite.

Have you ever tried that? Sat down and recount what you have done to make this world a better place?  I did. And I sucked. 

Just Two Things

When the old man was finished, he realized that there were only two things: He was an author and a father. He put the pen down. He was done. Those things had made the world a better place. He left explicit instructions of how and where to display the document.

On the face of the Obelisk the following inscription, & not a word more – because by these, as testimonials that I have lived, I wish most to be remembered.


What was remarkable was what he left off … that he had been the third President of the United States and served two terms. Thomas Jefferson wrote his own epitaph.

What About You?

What would you write for your epitaph if you had to do it right now? Testimonials that you have lived? How have you made the world a better place? What’s your difference?

Shooting Blanks

I tried it. It’s a humbling exercise. My computer screen is still blank.

How do you know if  your mission in life is finished?

If you’re still alive, it isn’t. – Richard Bach

I guess there’s still time to start.


Flickr photo courtesy of H. Kopp Delaney  under a  Creative Commons License

Thinking is Hard Work

Thinking is Hard Work

“Thinking is probably the hardest work there is, which is probably why so few engage in it.” – Henry Ford

When was the last time you stopped, turned off everything around you— your mobile phone, iPad, computer, TV, radio and everything else in this hyper-connected, hyper-distracted world—and took the time to just … think? Can you remember? I can’t. I’m always on – 25 x 7.


Last year 107 trillion emails were sent. Each day two-billion tweets are twooted (I know that’s not a word, but I like the neologism connotation) and one-billion pieces of content are posted on Facebook. Not to mention that 7,000 comments per second are posted on Facebook. That’s a lot of “doing” but most of it is “reactive.” Responding to the thoughts of others, who are probably reacting to the thoughts of others reacting to the thoughts of others.

How much thorough thinking do you think was thought in all that doing?


So, I decided to try it. Think that is. The first thing I noticed was weird. Really weird. It was a strange sound that I later identified as …


It was unnerving. To get past the unnerving weirdness, I decided to do some deep, thorough thinking on a problem I was having with a book I was writing.

Unprovided with original learning, unformed in the habits of thinking, unskilled in the arts of composition, I resolved to write a book. – Edward Gibbon

I quickly arrived at a conclusion. It’s much easier to do a lot of stuff than think. But that wasn’t the solution to the problem I was looking for. So I stopped to think again … and immediately ran into another conundrum. Thinking is hard work. I just couldn’t get started again with that deafening silence distracting me.

So, to help the process I decided to track down one of the nation’s foremost visionaries and leading authorities on thinking and marketing, Joey Reiman, and talk to him about the future of thinking, the business of thinking … or the lack thereof.


Joey Reiman is the bestselling author of several books, including Thinking for a Living, Success: The Original Handbook, and The Best Year of Your Life … Make It Happen Now! A world-renowned speaker, he provides listeners with the inspiration and foresight needed to become leaders of the future. Next year, Random House will publish Joey’s latest book, Business at the Speed of Molasses, which promises to speed up the ideas revolution by slowing business down so that it may be more purposeful, passionate and profitable.

Joey Reiman has it nailed. He’s won over 500 creative awards in national and international competitions, including the Cannes Film Festival. Joey also teaches a course on “Ideation” as an adjunct professor at Emory University’s Goizueta Business School.


And … Joey Reiman and his company, BrightHouse, charge between $500,000 and $1,000,000 per idea.


In 1994, Joey Reiman did something most would think unthinkable. He walked into a meeting with his Board of Directors and announced that he was shutting down his award-winning $100 million a year ad agency, to create an ideas company—to think for a living. His only product would be “ideas.”

“The world was ad rich and ideas poor.” – Joey Reiman

Joey Reiman was convinced that the marketing and advertising world had it all wrong. Their business model—built on the primacy of ideas, but only being paid for the execution of those ideas—was flawed. You see advertising and creative agencies get clients by pitching ideas and giving them away for free. They make their money in the execution of volume production, media spots aired, print ads sold, etc. They don’t get paid for where they create value—the idea. They get paid for the execution of those ideas.


Joey Reiman had a better idea. He shut down the advertising company, walked away from a $100-million-a-year advertising agency and started a new company he named BrightHouse. It’s considered the world’s first Ideation Corporation.

I wanted to talk to Joey not only about “Thinking for a Living” but also about walking away from a successful $100 million-dollar company. Think about that? It took a real conviction, commitment and some serious …


Steve Kayser (SK): What was going through your mind when you shut down your successful advertising company to start a new company selling ideas? That took a lot of guts.

Joey Reiman (JR): I think everyone has a Joseph Campbell moment at some point in their lives. You’re living what would be called an “ordinary existence” or what I would call doing the “day-to-day job,” and you’re somewhere in your career, and out of the blue, you get a call, just like Luke Skywalker got a call. His was a little more dramatic because he leaves his uncle and aunt to go out and save an evil empire; he got a call to go save a princess and the universe. We all get calls to save ourselves, our families, our companies and even save the world in our own way, but we don’t take the call because we’re sort of set in our ways.

We’ve become routinized, codified and structured and live out a fairly dull existence. But we don’t have to. Those of us who do get a call to do something bigger, better … some higher calling—it’s often to leave your job, to leave your career and follow your calling.

SK: Joseph Campbell called it “Follow Your Bliss.”


JR: Yes, he did. That’s what I’m talking about. I’m keen on teaching my students at Emory University’s Goizueta Business School on not going after a job or a career but a calling.

In 1994, after having a meteoric rise in the advertising industry, winning every possible award (over 500 of them), and really gathering all of the stuff that is supposed to make you happy, I recognized that when you got to the top of the mountain, what you find up there was what you brought with you. And those gold statues actually weighed me down on the hike up. Worse … having the gold statues up there really means nothing.


That’s when I had a “spear in the chest” moment. I recognized that all of the work I was doing on behalf of the advertising agency was really nothing else than selling people what they didn’t need. Then I started thinking about advertising as the grandest, social experiment in civilization that had failed.

SK: Why?

JR: Because we can’t get enough of what we don’t need. If you have any industry that’s a trillion-dollar industry focused on getting people what they don’t need, then to what end or benefit is that?

I thought the advertising industry had the smartest, most creative people on the planet, and I asked myself, can’t we do better? Can marketing move from marketing to seller to marketing to serve as a healer? This concept was very exciting to me.


I combed through history; I looked throughout civilization for the biggest ideas that served humankind and I found what I call “master ideas.” Ideas like:

We shall overcome

God is law

For better or for worse

All men are created equal

Very big ideas that were not necessarily factual, but that I recognized as truths.


The hypothesis was:

Can a company—a marketing company—actually look into other companies as we look through civilization, searching for the instructive sparks of fire that actually gave birth to the company, that gave the company a reason for being alive? To find the”why?”

If you found the DNA of the why, that instructive spark of fire, then you could actually rebuild a culture, wrap genuine value around it, be a more purposeful company and have that purpose drive strategy and tactics.


That notion was big enough for me to recognize a space that nobody had ever gone to in marketing. What I called it was from a word I borrowed from the psychiatric community—”ideation.” Now in the medical community, that’s not a very good word. It means to ruminate about suicide. But the second meaning of the word is the thought process—the thinking process. I combined that in with the notion of a marketing company that would call itself an ideation company that would deliver larger ideas for organizations with the hope that those ideas could help improve public life. And not just in the public perception of the brands, but the company whose advertising we’re supporting. To deliver real results for our clients.


And I thought “that’s pretty grand,” that should be in the executive branch of thinking. That, of course, would be in the White House. The White House turned into our company BrightHouse with the idea that I would attract the very best thinkers from around the globe in service of the globe and the people living on it.

“Ideals are like stars: You will not succeed in touching them with your hands, but like the seafaring man on the ocean desert of waters, you choose them as your guides, and following them, you reach your destiny.” – Carl Schurz

That was the vision to me years ago. Frankly, it was big enough of a vision. It’s kind of you to call it courageous, but the vision was more enlightening than courageous. It just wouldn’t let go of me. In all callings and in all purposes, when they’re given to you, they’re gifts. Once you acknowledge and hear it, it’s hard not to keep hearing it. Actually, it might take more courage to live a life that has not been lived than to fully recognize the power of the life you have inside you to be lived.

With that enlightenment, I put the word out and some exceptionally smart people came in. I fired all of my advertising clients except for Children’s Hospital, which I didn’t think was the right thing to do. That was 15 years ago, and BrightHouse has enjoyed a great journey helping other companies, other leaders, and other marketers hear their call and take their journey.

SK: By that you mean helping them find their bliss? Find their meaning? Viktor Frankl’s book The Search for Meaning spoke to this journey, but I think Joseph Campbell might have had a little better interpretation of it. Campbell said, “People don’t want to search for meaning—they want to experience meaning.”

JR: Yes. It’s a real search for the rapture of life. People are not necessarily searching for the meaning, but like you just mentioned, Joseph Campbell said they’re in search of the experience of meaning in life.


The privilege of a lifetime is to be who we are. In this society, we are not allowed to be who we are. The freedom to be who we are is often taken away from us at work. We are accountable not to our family, but to the company, and we don’t get to define successes in our terms.

Be who you are; it’s a privilege that’s exclusively yours.

So, what the power of purpose and the power of living our story is, autobiographically or with authority (the power of being the author), is that we get to write our own scripts, and that’s a cool place to be. I mean, I really love my work. I help people to make their lives work, and their companies work better than they do.

SK: So many people give into resistance. “‘I will do it some day. I will, I really will.” But then someday never comes. Resistance beats you. You came to a point in your life—a jumping-off point—where you just said you were going to do it. Was that because you were so comfortable already due to previous successes, or because you were so convinced that it was the right thing for you to do personally?


JR: It was the right thing for me to do personally. I could not have turned my back on it. In that sense, it was the courage to be who you are in the face of adversity which, at that time, everyone in the world was saying to me;

  • You can’t have a company based on ideas.
  • Why would you turn your back on the advertising industry that’s been so good to you?
  • Why would you give up the accolades, financial rewards and the comfort and security of an industry that’s been proven?

I believed marketing and advertising could do better. Since then, I think I’ve proven that it can.


SK: You created a thinking-process framework for BrightHouse by melding the experiences, processes and thoughts of many great thinkers; from Herman von Helmholtz and Csikszentmihalyi (I’ll never say that one on the radio) to Marshall McLuhan to produce your trademark Four I’s thinking methodology.


  • Investigate – Gather and analyze quantitative and qualitative data.
  • Incubate – Three or more weeks of thinking, daydreaming.
  • Illuminate – Big ideas don’t appear. They evolve. Look for the flash, the “AHA” spark of a BIG IDEA that will make a dent in the universe.
  • Illustrate – Visually portray and personalize the Big Idea.

How did the Four I’s concept evolve?

JR: I looked through all of the thinking frameworks throughout history. In the Anatomy of Thinking by Herman Von Helmholtz, a Berlin physicist, his framework is designed to suggest that there was an incubation period. He was a 19th-century physicist, so this guy was way-way ahead of his time.


When I looked further at the frameworks, especially in American business, there is no narrative time, no incubation time, no pondering or wandering time, so we actually put it into our model.

Albert Einstein was keen on thinking like a child and taking the time to daydream. I think the notion of daydreaming is critical, not only for thinking but critical thinking.


To think great thoughts, you have to create them. In order to create an environment for an unconditioned response, you need to schedule time to think, and this sounds like daydreaming to me—space-time or freebie time. That time is when we do our best thinking. It’s where intelligence has thought. The bottom line is that creativity is intelligence having thought. In order to do that, you have to make time.


“Four I’s see greater than two eyes. It’s my equation not only for marketing, but living, loving and life.” – Joey Reiman


SK: Most companies would probably look askew at scheduled daydreaming time at work.

JR: Yes. That’s a problem isn’t it. Where to think? I wrote a paper about the last five bastions of great thinking. It’s certainly not the office; it’s the:

  1. Car
  2. John (aka toilet)
  3. Shower
  4. Church
  5. Park

Turn off the noise. Listen to your mind. Get out of your cubic-hell. People who work in cubicles have jobs too small for the spirit, and that’s an American tragedy. They’re really cubic-hells.

“Face it, most of us have jobs too small for our spirits. “- Joey Reiman

SK: And that’s still the model you use, the four “I”s?

JR: It’s the methodology we use in order to identify a company’s purpose. What BrightHouse is known for is helping Fortune 100 companies:

  • Discover and articulate their purpose
  • Tell their story— and by doing so
  • Attract relationships and not necessarily customers


That’s very different from typical marketing that is focused on getting people to buy things. We’re focused on one thing, and that’s to buy into—not to buy things but to buy into things.

“You don’t buy an iPod, you buy into the Apple philosophy.”- Joey Reiman

This is all predicated on the notion that human beings crave meaning. If you’re not creating meaning, then why should people seek you out? But if you create meaning in a genuine, moral and ethical sense, then people will not just want to break down your door, they’ll want to live with you. I think this is really the most important thing as marketing moves from product-focused to customer-focused and gets into the power of relationships.


SK: Just a wild guess here, but I think you probably ran into some resistance and adversity when you tried to create BrightHouse. What was the biggest hurdle you had to overcome?

JR: I ran into a lot of people that said “No. Won’t work. Who’ll pay for an idea? “

SK: (That’s what I was thinking— boy was I wrong. But then again, refer to the opening cartoon.)

JR: And … “Really , who would pay for an idea? It’s not the way the world works.” That’s when the Coca-Cola Company and Coty Cosmetics stepped forward and tried it. We’ve never looked back. But, even to this day, fifteen years later, I still have to teach people a whole new way of thinking and sell the concept.

Our business is really Thinkonomics, and the work we do at BrightHouse is for visionary leadership. Though I’d like to think that every leader is visionary, you and I both know that’s not the case.


I search for people who are thinking forward into the next quarter century—not just the next quarter—for their shareholders. I think that stereoscopic vision where you’re focused on both the next quarter and the next quarter century is the kind of leader that hires BrightHouse.

“I paid Joey Reiman $1 million just to think!” – CEO Jim Adamson of the Advantica Restaurant Group

SK: Selling value. Selling the value of an idea. You actually charge $500,000 to $1,000,000 per idea?

JR: Yes. I think if you were to ask any of those CEOs “was it worth it?” they’d say yes. Many have been asked. There is a real sense of great value delivered. And value, in return, should be received for great ideas.


It’s something I feel strongly about and stand for. It’s just like grammar school. You don’t get credit for the answers; you get credit for solving the question. The questions could be a lot more important than the answers. These questions lead you to deeper thinking toward thoughtful solutions. We don’t need quick solutions. A quick solution often doesn’t work. Thinking more deeply, thinking more thoughtfully, thinking more long-term, takes a longer period of time, but it has greater generative effects.


We need to stop the doing and start thinking.

SK: Yes. Agreed. But it’s a little difficult for some managers and leaders to think you’re working when you’re at your desk thinking. For example, I tried that once.

And the boss caught me deep in thought, which I re-positioned as “I was hard at work.” My reward? A retro-pay adjustment. That belies the flawed notion of seemingly “doing something” means your working.

“Never mistake motion for action.” – Ernest Hemingway

Was there a point when you were creating BrightHouse and the “Thinking for a Living” concept that you questioned whether you could really pull it off?

JR: I’ve had times at BrightHouse where we took a step backward. I remember working with Delta Airlines and they wanted us to go back to doing their advertising. There was a lot of money on the table—a very lucrative opportunity. I did it, took the money, and it was a big mistake. So yes, I did question myself.

SK: How do you sell ideas? I know you can sell ideas with volume production and execution, but just the idea itself? It sounds to me like the epitome of the definition of a “Complex Sale.”

JR: I couldn’t sell something unless I believed in it—passionately. It’s very similar to consultants. There are two kinds of consultants: the experts and the advisors. The experts I can get in the phonebook. But the advisor is different. In past times, the king would rely on his advisor, not the expert. The advisor was always stacked above everyone else next to the king.

That’s what we sell at BrightHouse. I’m not selling expertise. Those in advertising, they’re experts at communicating. We’re advisors. I do think people will pay for a point of view because anyone can have a point of view.


But to have a:

  • Point of view
  • Noble purpose
  • Live that purpose
  • Look at the world through a prism of purpose that magnifies everything

… that people will pay well for … very well; millions of dollars.

SK: What do you look for in a person when BrightHouse hires a thinker?

JR: Well I used to put out a “For Hire” sign, but it was spelled “higher;” the notion being that we were looking for people with a higher form of thinking. Beginning at BrightHouse is pretty hard. There are some interviews, a number of case studies, a number of cases, and I don’t look for anything close until I look into the eyes of the person.

I look for passion because I can teach anyone just about anything, but I can’t teach will. I need will much more than I need skill. If I see will in your eyes, I don’t care what your skills are like; that can be taught. But the will is a gift. That’s what I look for.

“Will is more important than skill. Thinking can be taught. But will is a gift.” – Joey Reiman

SK: Who are some of the luminary thinkers you’ve attracted to BrightHouse?

JR: We’ve created the largest and most distinguished Luminary Network on the planet. We engage these top scholars and expert advisors on all of our projects to provide divergent, unprecedented thinking and insights. It’d be easier if people just went to our website and clicked on “Luminaries” to check them out. But they include:

  • Dr. Philip Kotler, Distinguished Professor of International Marketing at the Kellogg School of Management
  • Dr. Edgar Mitchell, the sixth astronaut to walk on the moon and the pilot of Apollo 14
  • Robert Watson, former CEO of the Salvation Army
  • Horst Schulze, founding president of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company
  • Dr. Kary Mullis, the 1993 Nobel Prize winner in chemistry
  • Dr. Allison Druin, Director of the human-computer interaction lab at the University of Maryland
  • Sam Keen, noted philosopher and author. Bill Moyers profiled him in the 60 Minutes PBS special “Your Mythic Journey.”

Among many others.

SK: Back to thinking for a living. What do you think of a genius-type like Nikola Tesla who got the call to change the world through his inventions? He did change the world but died alone and penniless, mainly because his call didn’t include business smarts. He believed himself to be a “Planter of Seeds,” of great ideas for the benefit of our world. Thomas Edison on the other hand invented for one purpose: to sell a product. If he couldn’t sell it, it wasn’t worth inventing. The businesses he created still exist today, and he died fabulously wealthy.

JR: When so many artists and great inventors get the calling, there is not a checkbook. Larry Barkin said, “Infinite patience produces immediate results.” What he meant by that is that if you have a calling of something great, you need to heed it. Edison beat Tesla in sales. Plain and simple. It was his call. Not Tesla’s. But I think if people follow their dreams, try to live them every day, then their dreams will come true. Those of us who have them every day get to live a better life than those who are living without the dream, which is, I think, a nightmare.

Aspirations are different.

What do you aspire to? Is it money? Will you be happy with money? I don’t think most are. Life isn’t printed or lived on dollar bills even though a lot of people think it is. I know a lot of unhappy rich people. I know more happy people without a lot of money but have great hearts, and the dream in their heart is what sustains them.

I wish for everyone to be a Tesla and not an Edison.

SK: If Tesla were alive today, would it be any different?

JR: Yes. Because he’d be working with BrightHouse. His soulful passion would be nurtured and rewarded.

Passion + Purpose = Profit


About Joey Reiman

As founder of BrightHouse, the world’s first Ideation Corporation™, Joey Reiman decided to offer companies a revolutionary way of thinking that promised to change the way they did business forever. Over the past 25 years, Joey has emerged as one of the nation’s foremost visionaries and leading authorities on thinking and marketing. He is the bestselling author of several books, including Thinking for a Living, Success: The Original Handbook, and The Best Year of Your Life … Make It Happen Now! A world-renowned speaker, he provides listeners with the inspiration and foresight needed to become leaders of the future.


JReiman@thinkbrighthouse.com Atlanta 790 Marietta Street P: 404-240-2500 Atlanta, GA 30318 F: 404-240-2501

Batman Saved by a Cincinnati Love Story?

Batman Saved by a Cincinnati Love Story?

By Steve Kayser

When you were a little boy or girl you had this dream, you were going to change the world, restore honor, restore dignity. Remember? Did you follow your dream?

Michael Uslan did – and earned $2.6 billion dollars along the way. I had the wonderful opportunity (and great fun) of interviewing Michael. For those of you that don’t know the name, Michael Uslan, he was the executive producer of films such as Batman, Batman Returns, Batman Forever, Batman & Robin, Constantine, The Spirit, Batman Begins, and the second highest grossing film of all time, The Dark Knight. As a producer, he is one of the highest-grossing movie producers of all time, with The Dark Knight alone having already passed the $1 billion mark.

The Boy That Loved Batman

But the real story behind the rise of Batman and the Dark Knight is a Horatio Alger-type tale. And it all started when an 8-year-old boy got mad at the dissing of Batman and vowed to avenge his honor.  Michael tells the story in his book “The Boy Who Loved Batman,” a true story of how a comic-obsessed kid conquered Hollywood to bring The Dark Knight to the silver screen. And along the way, a Cincinnati love story places a critical part, without which, the Dark Knight may have never risen.

Steve Kayser: Michael, your book is exceptional. It’s an inspirational tale of how one person (you) armed only with a burning desire to restore dignity to your childhood hero, Batman, conquered Hollywood. Can you talk about the moment – the Bruce Wayne moment – that changed your life forever?

Michael Uslan: Yes, you know it’s funny when those moments strike. I guess I have to explain what a “Bruce Wayne” moment is. For those of you out there who might be Batman fanatics or comic book nerds as I was, young Bruce Wayne, at about age 12, saw his parents murdered before his own eyes. At that moment, he sacrificed his childhood and swore that he would get the guy who did it. Swore he’d also get all bad guys. He made a commitment that he would honor for the rest of his life, even though he had to walk through hell for the rest of his life to do so.

The Dissing of Batman

Well, my Bruce Wayne moment came on a cold night in January 1966. My parents were safe upstairs in the kitchen, and I was downstairs in the den watching the debut of the Batman TV show. I was simultaneously thrilled and horrified by what I saw on TV. I mean I was thrilled that it was the first TV series since George Reeves’ Adventures of Superman, about a superhero. It was in color, the car was cool, but I was horrified that the whole world was laughing at Batman.


That just killed me. I made my little vow that somehow, someday, someway, I would show the world what the true Batman, the 1939 creature of the night, stalking criminals in the shadows, was really like.

And that somehow I would erase from the collective consciousness of the world culture those three little words: pow, zap, and wham.

Steve Kayser: Uh-Oh. I love those words. I knew that when I heard those words, someone was going to get a butt-whipping. Robin was going to get in trouble. Then he’d say, “Holy crap.” Then Batman would save him.

And the world would be alright.

Michael Uslan: It was a superhero version of Tourette Syndrome that Robin had.

Steve Kayser: Haha, funny. What I liked about that is, down deep you realize that Batman has one thing that none of the other superheroes had. He was a normal guy in extraordinary circumstances, very much like Joseph Campbell’s archetypal monomyth described in the book, “The Hero’s Journey.” His parents were killed, was thrown into a life journey to avenge a mighty wrong. You were like that too, but you started that night in 1966. What got you through all those years until you got to college before you started on your grand journey?

Michael Uslan: Well, I was the ultimate comic book fan boy. I collected, read and devoured comics. My mom said I learned to read from comics before I was 4. By the time I graduated high school, I had a collection of over 30,000 comic books dating back to 1936.

My poor dad, when we moved into our house, never once got his car in the garage. But he supported my interest in reading and built wall-to-wall-to-floor-to-ceiling shelves for my comic book collection. And as soon as I filled the shelves up, we sold the entire floor of the garage. So that defined me.

And I was lucky. I grew up in the ’50s and ‘60s. In the mid-‘50s, there was an attack on comic books. A psychiatrist claimed that comic books were the reason for the post-World War II rise in juvenile delinquency and that any kid who read a comic book would become a juvenile delinquent if not worse. Many of my friends’ parents burned their collections, would not allow them to bring comics into the house.

So I was lucky because my mom said if I promised to read books, newspapers, and magazines as well as my comics and kept them neat, I could keep them. That was the best deal I ever had in my life.

So really, in going forward with a goal in life, to have supportive parents,  great teachers,  and to have ultimately a supportive wife is incredible.

Steve Kayser: You weren’t the product of a billionaire’s son – you worked your way up,  knocked down doors and along the way you even got bloody knuckles from pursuing your passion. It was a long road. Years of rejection. You even had one Hollywood producer say that it was the ‘worst idea they ever heard of in their life, creating a movie out of Batman.’

What was your worst rejection, how did you overcome it, and what sustained you?

First – Quit Your “Job”

Michael Uslan: Well, to set the stage, I actually acquired the rights to Batman in 1979 with my partner. I quit my job and went to Hollywood, even though I didn’t come from money and I couldn’t buy my way into Hollywood. I didn’t know anyone in Hollywood. I had no relatives in Hollywood. I thought with Batman in my back pocket I could convince them that dark and serious Batman movies, the way he was originally created, would be something that the world had never seen before and would be tremendously successful.

Batman as a Movie – HaHa – Are You Crazy?

I was shocked when every single studio in Hollywood turned me down.

I was repeatedly told I was crazy. It was the worst idea they ever heard, and the rejections just piled up. It was,

“Michael you are nuts. You can’t do serious comic book movies.” 

Michael, you are out of your mind. You can’t do dark superheroes.” 

“Michael for God’s sake, nobody has ever made a movie based on some old television series.”

I had a closet full of rejection slips. One of my favorite rejections was from Columbia Pictures, when after pitching my heart out for the dark and serious Batman, the head of production said,

“Michael, come on, you are crazy. Batman will never succeed as a movie because our movie “Annie” didn’t do well.”

Are you talking about that little red-headed girl who sings Tomorrow?


 Well, what does that have to do with Batman?”

“Oh come on Michael, they are both out of the funny pages.”

And that was my rejection from Columbia.

Steve Kayser: What was it about Batman that drew you in so much that it turned into your life’s pursuit?

The Greatest Super-Power … Humanity

Michael Uslan:  At age 8, when you are consuming every comic book you can get your hands, it’s magical. These comic books truly are today’s modern day mythology. It carries on from the ancient gods of Greece, Rome and Egypt except for today they are all in spandex and capes. And when you find a superhero who has no superpowers, his greatest superpower is his humanity. Somebody who is not a guy who slugs his way out of a fight with a pow, zap, and a wham, but it’s a guy who typically out thinks his opponent.

 At age 8, I did believe in my heart of hearts that if I worked out really hard if I studied real hard, if my dad bought me a cool car, I could become this guy.

In addition to that, you had the primal origin story of Batman that cuts across borders, demographics, and even cultures. You also have the other important elements that give any superhero his popularity and longevity, and that is great super villains. Batman simply had the best.

Steve Kayser: In retrospect, it all sounds easy. A great idea. Great story. A no-brainer. But it wasn’t, was it?

Michael Uslan: No. Let me go back a bit. I was eight years old when I decided my goal in life would be to write Batman comics. That came true for me when I was in college at Indiana University in Bloomington. And you know what? I panicked because then my dream as a little kid had come true. I needed a new dream, what was it going to be? And it took me 10 minutes to think back on that day in 1966 and say, okay my next dream in life is going to bring a dark and serious Batman to the big screen.

But then comes the real challenge … how do you do that? Remember – I was in Indiana.

Well, I had been mentored into DC Comics through a man who became the President there, a wonderful man named Sol Harrison. He brought me into DC when I was in college at Indiana. And when he heard what I wanted to do, he put his arm around me, very fatherly, and said,

“Michael, please save your money, don’t do this. Since Batman went off the air on television, he is as dead as a dodo. Nobody is interested in Batman anymore.”

And I said, “Yes, but Sol if we do it in this new dark and serious way like nobody has ever seen before, we can do it.” He said, “Is there any way I can talk you out of this?” I said, “No.” And he said, “All right, come on in.”

Do You Believe?

It took us six months of negotiation before my partner, and I were able to buy the rights, scrounge up money from people we knew, from dentists, doctors, lawyers, relatives, whatever we could find and get the rights to Batman.

Steve Kayser: So for the next TEN YEARS you busted your butt. Against staggering odds.  I would say almost overwhelming odds. Did you ever just say, “Ahh, I might not make it?”

Michael Uslan: Not really. I just kept on plugging. You know, at the bottom of it all it tests your mettle. When life turns into a 10-year long human endurance contest and everyone is telling you,“you are crazy,”  “you stink, your ideas are terrible,” you really have to look deep inside and say, ‘Okay, am I just being stubborn or do I really absolutely believe in myself and my work?’

The key thing is you have to have support behind you. I married a girl I met the first day of my freshman year at college. She wasn’t even unpacked when we went out for the first time. And she knew what she was dealing with right up front with a kid who at that point was 18 years old, still reading and collecting comic books, that wanted to make comic books his livelihood Batman. And,  by the way, she was a Cincinnati girl.

Steve Kayser: There you have it folks — The Dark Knight Rises because of Cincinnati girls. Wait a minute. That’ didn’t sound quite right.

Cincinnati Saves the Dark Knight!

Michael Uslan: I think I know what you mean.  But, as a result, we have spent just so much time over the years in Cincinnati. Her whole family is based in Cincinnati. Her dad founded the Cincinnati Eye Institute, and he became my guardian angel. If I have a minute, I’d like to tell that story.

Steve Kayser: Of course, take more than a minute. It has to be an amazing story because I don’t think any girl I dated in Cincinnati would ever protect me if I told her Batman was going to be my livelihood. Their first response would typically be a knock upside the head.

Michael Uslan: Well, it was at a time where my back was against the wall, the years were going by, I still couldn’t get the dark and serious Batman movie up and running, Finally, I ran out of money, didn’t know where to turn next, or what was going to be. And my father-in-law, Dr. Morris Osher from Cincinnati flew out. Wisest man I’ve ever known. He sat me down and here’s our conversation,

“Okay, you went to law school so you would have something to fall back on. You now have a new house and a mortgage. You now have a baby. You have got to support your family and you can’t think of yourself as having failed. It was a great struggle and trying is really worth everything.”

“Yes, but I am so frustrated, I am so close.”

“Well, how close are you?”Don’t tell me, to getting a signed contract or deal, but to having a check in your hand for six figures.”

Five months.”

“You are sure?”

 “I think in five months I will have a check like that.”

“All right, I am going to pay all your bills for the next five months and at 6 o’clock p.m. from this day, five months from now, if you don’t have that in your hands, you will then accept the fact that you need to go back, be a lawyer and support your family?”

Steve Kayser: Can I have his phone number?

Michael Uslan: Ha-ha. Well, I couldn’t thank him enough. I spent the next five months working probably 20 hours a day, seven days a week. Everyone in Hollywood knew about the deadline I was facing and then they took advantage of it, because the last day, sometime between noon and 3 o’clock, a FedEx truck pulled up with signed contracts and a check for six figures.

I was able to pay back my father-in-law and have enough money to get us to the start of Batman.

Steve Kayser: If Joseph Campbell were still alive he’d use your story as an additional monomyth for the “Hero With A Thousand Faces.” The part where the wise sage steps in and helps the struggling hero. I suspect Mr. Campbell would find true symbolic meaning in the fact that the wise man was also a man of vision  — an eye doctor. And I’m pretty sure it would be unique – I know of no other myths memorialized in Cincinnati. Well, except maybe the 1975 Big Red Machine.

But all of this still boiled down to you and your passion.

Michael Uslan: That’s so true. What it all comes down to, if you have a burning passion in your life, whatever it is – you have to pursue it. Make it come alive. Make it real.  I learned this from my dad. My dad was a Mason. He worked six days a week his entire life, from age 16 into his 80s. No matter what the weather was, he got up before dawn, a big smile on his face, couldn’t wait to get to work because he was an old world artist, a craftsman who loved what he did with brick, stone and marble. He loved building beautiful fireplaces, homes, and walls. When you grow up in a house with someone like that, how can you not want that for yourself? How can you not want to wake up on a rainy Monday morning and say I can’t wait to get to work?

Well, my brother and I went to work for my dad in the summers, and it was awful.

But this was our foundation. It was still awful. I realized I had to figure out what my “bricks and stones” were. For me it was comic books, Batman and movies gave me my passion. Then my mother taught my brother and I an important lesson in growing up and it was very simple in our house. Once you make a commitment, you stick to it, period, end of story, no excuses, you stick to it. If I didn’t like Little League, too bad, I had made a commitment to my teammates, and I would see it through, and that’s just the way it was.

So to have that degree where you will commit, where you will stick to it, where you will knock on those doors, and I am telling you, I never had so many doors slam in my face. And I realized early on when that happens; I only had two choices: I could go home and cry about it, or I could pick myself up, dust myself off, go back and knock again and knock again and not get frustrated. And when I speak of colleges today, the students say to me, “well, what about timing and what about luck?”

And I say, “well, the magic of this whole thing is there is no such thing because it’s all about knocking on doors. That’s how you eventually make your timing. That’s how you eventually make your luck. And I don’t think there is any other way around it. It’s not an easy process. It’s not a short process, but I have proven you can make your dreams come true if you are willing to do this.

Steve Kayser:  When you realized that you had finally done it, cut the deal, and you were assembling a team, what was it like?

Michael Uslan: Humbling. Can you imagine how lucky a person can be in a career spanning 35 years where in you can say I have been involved in projects with three geniuses. And,  in the 1989 Batman, there were two of them: Tim Burton is a genius; Anton Furst, our production designer and my dear friend who designed the whole look of Gotham City and the Batmobile. His work and Tim’s work still have an influence on every comic book and genre movie done even today. You can still feel it. You can still sense it.

It was revolutionary in 1989 because there had never been a dark and serious comic book superhero movie before. And, it was Tim’s genius that said a few things.

Number one: To get an audience to suspend its disbelief for a serious superhero, they had to from the opening frames of the film, believe in Gotham City. It had to be a place they could believe was real, had its own rules, and it’s own universe. They were very successful in creating that.

Number two: To me back then, the only actor who could play the Joker was Jack Nicolson. The day he was hired, it was one of the greatest days of my career because to me, at that time, in the comic book world of black versus white, good versus evil, this was the real clown prince of crime as had been portrayed in those comic books.

Another Bruce Wayne Moment

The other thing that Tim Burton realized that no one else did was that the audiences had to believe in Bruce Wayne. This was more about Bruce Wayne than Batman, and that’s why he felt he needed Michael Keaton to play the role, somebody so that an audience would not unintentionally laugh when they see an actor getting dressed up in a bat costume in a serious movie, but someone they could say,

“Oh my god, there is a guy so obsessed, so driven to the point of being psychotic that he would get dressed up in a costume like that and do it.”

And Tim was absolutely right. That’s one of the main reasons that movie worked and it set the stage for what was to come with all different kinds of comic book based films.

Steve Kayser: What did you think about the pick of Michael Keaton as Batman?

Michael Uslan: I was apoplectic when he first said, “Michael Keaton is Batman.” I said, “Oh my God.” Eight years of my life trying to bring a dark and serious Batman to the screen and now I had in my mind, I was picturing the posters,

“Mr. Mom is Batman.”

I almost fell apart.

But it was all under this vision that Tim had and his ability to execute.

Steve Kayser: When you saw the first couple of cuts, was there any trepidation? Were you worried or nervous?

Michael Uslan: No, I believed in this from day one.

When everyone was telling me no; when everyone told me it was the worst idea they ever heard, I never faltered in my belief.

I always knew it would be tremendously successful. And I guess my big epiphany in life came when the movie debuted and broke almost every box office record and started to impact culture worldwide. It was so huge in 1989.

Steve Kayser: Did you do a shimmy-shimmy-shake victory dance when you realized you had shown all the naysayers wrong?

Michael Uslan: Well, it was a great feeling. I got a call from the guy ten years ago who was one of the studio heads who had just virtually thrown me out of his office; he thought it was such a terrible idea. And the phone rings, and he says,

“Michael, I am just calling to congratulate you on the success of Batman. I always said you were a visionary.”

And then it was clear to me, if you don’t believe them when they tell you how bad you are and how awful your work is and if you don’t believe them when they start telling you how wonderful you are and how great all your ideas are and just believing yourself and your work, you will do fine in this life.


Steve Kayser is the author of “The Greatest Words You’ve Never Heard: True Stories of Triumph,” an award-winning writer, former radio host, public speaker and the Founder of Kayser Media – which specializes in PR, Marketing & Media Relations. His eclectic (some say bizarre) approach to PR, Marketing and Media Relations has been documented in a marketing best practices case study by MarketingSherpa, profiled as a “Purple Cow,” by author Seth Godin, and featured in the best-selling books, The New Rules of Marketing and PR by David Meerman Scott and “Tuned In: Uncover the Extraordinary Opportunities That Lead to Business Breakthroughs” by Craig Stull, Phil Myers, and David Meerman Scott.

In addition, Steve is the co-author of “Margins and Missions… Not Moonshots: Pathways to a Better U.S. Higher Education,” and was editor, designer, and producer of “The Surgeon and the Spirit: A Panoramic View of a Journey in Academic Medicine.”

Say Hello to One of the Finest New Piano Talents in America…

Say Hello to One of the Finest New Piano Talents in America…

Say Hello to One of the Finest New Piano Talents in America.

Is there really a prestidigitating piano-playing polyglot of a musical magician that can merge the styles of Yanni and Eastern Kentucky?  A once in a lifetime piano talent in America that melds and moves effortlessly between the eclectic styles of Yanni, Jerry Lee Lewis, Billy Joel, Bruce Hornsby, Chick Corea and more?

Yes. And the only thing more impressive than this person’s prodigy-like talent is his humble, down-home personality and life story. 


Kory Caudill, singer, songwriter, composer, and piano player extraordinaire.  A young man from Kentucky that performs wearing blue jeans, a University of Kentucky ball cap, and Creedence Clearwater Revival-like flannel shirts, but plays like Beethoven, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Bruce Hornsby combined, even on Bruce’s wildest, fastest, prestidigitating versions of “Spider Fingers.

Launched Career When He Was Four Years Old

When Kory was four years old, he shocked his parents when he toddled to the piano and played the melody to John Williams “Theme from Superman.” At the age of four, he became involved with the Kentucky Opry at the Mountain Arts Center in Prestonsburg, Kentucky.

Versatile Virtuosity

Kory Caudill has a new album out called. “Tree of Life.” And guess what? He self-funded it by playing studio gigs and touring with Justin Moore and Brad Paisley. And versatile? Rock, Jazz, Classical, Country, Boogie Woogie and more. Kory describes his style as “Yanni Meets Eastern Kentucky.”

Throughout the interview, you’ll see examples of Kory playing different musical styles. Let me know what your favorite is. Email me at Steve@Kaysermedia.com.


Steve Kayser: (Steve): When did you realize music was going to be your career?

Kory Caudill (Kory): I love getting this question. I grew up in eastern Kentucky before social media made the world a much smaller place, so I feel like it was common for kids in that area to have misconceptions of what they could and could not be, with the job of “musician” being the exception.

This may come as a surprise to people from outside the region, but there are a lot of artistic resources available in eastern Kentucky that most places don’t have, most notably the Mountain Arts Center and the Kentucky Opry. I was able to gain some solid performance and recording experience there at an early age, so it never really occurred to me to pursue anything else for a living. All this in mind, I still grew up with the notion that;

“if I have to be as good as James Whited (guitarist for the Kentucky Opry), and he’s in Prestonsburg, there’s no way I’ll ever be good enough to keep up with folks from Lexington, Louisville, or Nashville.”

So when I was able to attend the Governor’s School for the Arts in 2003, I got to spend weeks with kids from across the state and focus solely on music the entire time. This allowed me to understand how unique the opportunities are that I had as a kid and that the Eastern Kentucky music scene was one of the most vibrant in the country. I credit my Eastern Kentucky roots with the drive to be a musician, and I credit GSA for providing me that “aha” moment where I was certain I would be a career musician.

I also feel like it’s typical for artists to have had to overcome skepticism from their inner circles when they make the decision to pursue music for a living. We often hear of folks being told they couldn’t be a successful artist, or that “musician” isn’t a real profession, and they’re driven by the want to prove those people wrong. I consider myself one of the most fortunate people in the world because every person in my life has done nothing but encourage me to be a musician. My dad always jokes that he “hocked the farm” to allow me to attend out of state, private school and major in music, and I always knew that it made him and Mom happy to do that.

A Kory Caudill Piano Sampler

Steve: Who have been your biggest musical influences? You play an eclectic and diverse set of music.

Kory: Thank you! My parents are both professional musicians, so I was turned on to a lot of hip music at an early age. I’m sure this is the case with most musicians, but my influences came in phases. Some folks I’ve done more than just listen to and studied are Bruce Hornsby, Pat Metheny, Billy Preston, the Yellowjackets, Yanni, Oscar Peterson, the Band, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Elton John, Goose Creek Symphony, and so on.

I’m proud of the record I made, “Tree of Life.” I heard a lot of these artists make their way into my sound without doing it intentionally. I also studied a lot of Chopin and Beethoven growing up. I grew up playing country music and loving the textures and simplicity of the music. I feel like some folks who live only in the jazz world can be quick to assume country is easy to play, but it’s not. In country (the kind I grew up playing), you’re left very exposed, so timing, phrasing and the melodic nature of what you’re playing has to be dead on. One of my favorite things we did was have the guitar players play twangy country licks, but with a modern tone. If you listen closely to the title track, Tree of Life, Mark Stephens is playing a hook in the chorus that you’d expect to hear out of a steel guitar, but it’s disguised by a gritty tone. All this said my biggest musical influence are my parents, and I don’t just mean that in a sentimental way. Mom was an excellent music teacher; she really knew how to make things connect for me when I was struggling with them.

Is This Awesome or What?

SIDEBAR: A good writer is never supposed to let his views and values tilt or taint an interview.  But, in these days, when a son or a daughter so outwardly credits, and gives respect to their parents for giving them the love and support that enabled them to be the special person they are (without checking their cell phone 15 times in five seconds), it’s just awesome. Plus, I never claimed to be a good writer. So we’re good.

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Dad is an awesome piano player, but I think he’s best on Hammond B3. Dad has an instantly recognizable style that will make the hair on your arms stand up!

Talking About the Hammond B-3 Organ

Steve: What has been your most enjoyable concert yet?

Kory: This is a tough one. I’ve been able to make music with a lot of great people, and I’ve already performed thousands of shows in my relatively short career. There have been the huge concerts with Justin Moore, where you’re onstage with guys you consider brothers, and you look out into a sea of people and think;

“How did we get here? We were just in a van and trailer a couple of years ago.”

There have been some larger scale concerts of my own that were extremely memorable as well. That said, the most fun I’ve had was my senior recital at Belmont. Of course, I had to perform a couple of tunes that leaned more academic (and ate me alive), but none of that mattered. For the last tune, I surprised Dad and got him up on stage to play “This Little Light of Mine” with us. After an hour of tough, polished music, Dad came on stage, and we just mapped out the tune right there as if we were in church. Dad and I had performed together regularly, but never in Nashville in a theater full of other great musicians. It was an awesome moment in which I didn’t even realize I’d shut everything else out and was just jamming with my Dad, which was the perfect way to end my college career and begin my journey as an artist.

This Little Light of Mine

Steve: The business of music is much different than the raw creation process of music. What have been your three most important lessons so far?

Kory: Great question. As a new artist, I’ve learned to enjoy the process of blending the two. A lot of artists speak negatively on the business side of things, but the business side is simply the link between your audience and the music you want to share with them. I’m no expert, and nobody’s ever accused me of being the sharpest tool in the shed, but here are a few of the things being a new artist has taught me:

1. Be honest with yourself and create what’s genuine.

I know it’s easy for me to say this because I’m not a typical artist. I’ve lucked into a situation with my management and record label where I can pretty much create what I want, and they’ll put it in front of people, but I still think they’re willing to do so because the authenticity of what I give them only enhances the commercial potential of what we do. Even though I’m in a genre that has more room to breathe as far as creativity, I know that audiences in all genres are perceptive to whether or not an artist believes what they’re singing or playing, and that in turn has an effect on the business side of what they do.

2. When it comes to making music, listen to what everybody has to say.

Even your critics, even the folks who know little about music, and even your spouse! When I was in the mixing phase of my debut album, my wife Amanda walked into the studio and said (in her sexy little accent that turns more country when something has offended her) “gosh, what is that sound… it sounds like it’s from China or something,” in response to a track I was mixing. She was referring to an acoustic guitar that I’d EQ’d all the bottom end and mid range out of, which I’m guessing made it sound more like a sitar to her. My gut reaction was to laugh and tell myself she didn’t know what she was talking about, but I wised up and had two “light bulb” moments from this.

One, it reminded me that the purpose of making music is to make other folks happy. There are some brilliant musicians out there who are set in their ways and have become successful because of the “I’m an artist, I only do things a certain way, if you don’t get it then you’re not artistic” thing… I respect that, but that ain’t me. I want people like Amanda to hear my music and experience something personal instead of thinking, “wow, he’s really good” or “well that was weird sounding, he must be creative.”

Two, I’m trying to sell music to folks who don’t have time to learn about music, nor do they need to concern themselves with how to describe what they hear. Like Amanda, the folks I want to sell music to do other important things for a living (in Amanda’s case, much more important). It’s ok to be firm regarding how you want to make your music– I am–but I like to be of the mindset that everybody has something valuable to contribute to your creation process.

3. It’s about relationships. This music career thing is awesome.

You get to meet more people in a month than most people get to in a lifetime. Make friends with everybody. I’ve got a feeling that if I’m lucky enough to make it to old age, I’m going to think back to all the friends I’ve made, and the music will have only been what allowed me to meet them.

Steve: I heard Bruce Hornsby say in an interview that it’s much harder to sell records than it used to be because of the ways the music industry has been disrupted and the pirating issues. The economics, the money for musicians, seems to be in touring. Are you finding that to be true?

Kory: It’s a little early for me to be able to answer this with any certainty, but I do think that Bruce Hornsby and I are similar in that we tend to focus on our live performances to begin with. I’m hoping that as we start to really work “Tree of Life” this summer we’re able to turn some heads as far as sales, but I’m heavily focused on getting folks out to concerts and bringing them to the edge of their seat from start to finish. I’ve always wanted to be a performer, and making albums is a fun part of that process. I’m finding myself doing different, grittier versions of my songs live because fewer rules apply than they do in the studio. Economically, I’m still figuring things out, and I may not be the best example because of how different my career path is. For now, I sell the most records on tour dates, so the two seem to go hand in hand, but I’m curious to see how things shape up as we grow.

Steve: Why did you decide to self-fund your Tree of Life album? What’s the theme of your album? What’s it mean to you?

Kory: For starters, I didn’t have a record deal before I made the album, so my options were to fund it, or try crowdfunding. I think that crowdfunding can be a great thing for a lot of different goals, such as medical expenses, mission trips, extracurricular academic ventures, etc., but strictly about music, I’m not a fan of it. I think that crowdfunding in music is different than other areas because it’s possible to work as a musician to obtain the funds you need, but many in my generation lack the patience and drive for this.

Being a musician means I have the privilege of providing folks with an experience. I knew I wanted to make an album one day, so I moved to Nashville at 18 and began a several year process–which involved little sleep– to obtain the tools and resources to do so. Also, my parents did everything they could to send me to a music college they couldn’t afford. After graduating, I began work as a touring musician, and after a couple of years, I had the money to record an album they way I wanted it recorded. I was driven to do this because it gives me a purpose to make something that has a positive effect on people. I could have never asked folks to pay for something I wanted to do to make them proud and happy. Additionally, it would negate my entire reason for being a musician and point my career in a very self-centered direction. There are so many more ways an artist can obtain the resources for musical ventures that

Also, it would negate my entire reason for being a musician and point my career in a very self-centered direction. There are so many more ways an artist can obtain the resources for musical ventures that puts financial responsibility on them instead of fans. When I was given the chance to demo “Cowboys and Angels” for Dustin Lynch, I went to the bank and took out a loan so I could pay the band/studio/engineer, then recoup that money knowing I would do a good enough job to somehow be invited on the master project. In addition to all of this, I have never known anything other than unconditional support from those around me, so it was very rewarding to be able to show folks that they had gotten me to a place that allowed me to handle this project myself.

To me, the theme of this album is family. The older I get, the more I’m able to comprehend how fortunate I am. I wanted to make an album that reflected on how thankful I am for the people around me, as well as the way I experience life. I enjoy instrumental music because each song can invoke a broader emotion for different people while allowing them to apply it to their personal experiences.

Intro to The Tree of Life Album – Intimate Setting

Steve: What tips would you share to help other up and coming artists?

Kory: It’s a process. Cliche, I know. My managers and the label tell me once a week that;

“It’s a marathon, not a sprint.”

This helps me sleep at night. I’m in no position to give advice, but I can share some that I read about which helped me a lot. I was reading a Pat Metheny interview a while back where Pat mentioned how new artists like to think in terms of “if I only had X, then I could do Y,” when the best thing we can do is ask ourselves “what can I do in the next fifteen minutes that will let me work towards achieving this bigger goal?” For me, I could have a million things going on in terms of upcoming concerts/deadlines, but I stress most when there is nothing going on. I’ve had to learn that there’s always something I can be doing to make progress, even if it’s just sitting down at the piano and running scales longer than I usually do.

Steve: Spider Fingers by Bruce Hornsby… I always troll the web for people playing that song. You’re the only one that has ever come remotely close to pulling it off live. The only one except Bruce himself. Why did you decide to take that tune on? Musical challenge?

Kory: I decided to take on that tune during college. Bruce makes it sound so effortless, so when it came time for us to pick which tune we wanted to do for the Rock Ensemble performance, I figured it’d be a fun challenge…I had no idea how tough it would end up being. As I dove into it, I quickly gained, even more, appreciation for Bruce and what he does. Looking back, I think that me and the guys would play the tune much differently now. I think that in capturing the dexterity and flash of what the lyrics talk about, we still missed on how deep Bruce’s groove is, which is probably common for young players.

I will say, though, I do like that we usually tend to rock a bit more towards the end of the tune, I always dug having it peak the way we did. I’m from the bluegrass capital of the world, so I like to play on top of the beat more than what somebody like Bruce would probably dig. That said, one semester my roommate and I waited outside a back alley for Bruce to go into soundcheck at the Brown in Louisville (flattering I know), and after we approached him saying, “it’s ok, we’re piano majors.” Bruce stopped and talked to us.


It turns out he had seen my video of Spider Fingers online, and he said;

“Yes, that’s the toughest tune I play and here you’ve made it sound effortless,”

Needless to say, that’s been one of the coolest moments of my career.

This is What Bruce Was Talking About

Steve: What is the song you most enjoy playing- have the most fun?

Kory: This is where I should probably tell you it’s some emotional piece off the record, some overly technical number, or some hit I’ve recorded on for another artist, but honestly I have the most fun when I play “The Weight” by the Band. I love that song, and I never really take the time to think about why, I just make sure I put it into every set we play.

Steve: What was it like playing at the Hollywood Bowl? How did that gig happen?

Kory: That was a special day. I played it with Justin Moore on the Brad Paisley tour. Earlier in the day, I had coffee with Mike Regan, who manages one of my biggest influences, Yanni. When you grow up in eastern Kentucky and get to have coffee with your hero’s manager before you go play the Hollywood Bowl with your best friends, it’s safe to say you’re blessed beyond imagination.

Kory Kaudill, Hollywood Bowl

Steve: What’s your schedule like for the rest of the year?

Kory: I have several concerts that we’re waiting to confirm for the coming months, and we’re doing a very busy radio tour this summer. All this will lead up to a major event we have planned late fall and a Christmas tour that ends with our annual Christmas special in Elizabethtown, Kentucky.

Steve: Thanks, Kory. Looking forward to seeing you at “Live at the Ludlow Garage” in Cincinnati, Ohio May 13th, 2017.

Before You Go, Watch The Real Spider Fingers Take on Frankenstein


For more information on Kory Caudil go to:
Website: www.KoryCaudill.com
Twitter: @KoryCaudill

This article first appeared in Insider Music Magazine

How to Defeat Your Inner Deadbeat?

How to Defeat Your Inner Deadbeat?

Featuring an interview with Steven Pressfield, international bestselling author of The War of Art,” “Gates of Fire,” “Killing Rommel,” and “The Legend of Bagger Vance,” among many others.

In every person’s life, there is a still, small voice that tries to guide you to a wonderful calling − a destiny.

Your destiny.

A calling that you, and only you, were put on this earth to fulfill. Near silent, this voice is powerful enough to lift thoughts, dreams and visions to a higher ground. In ancient Rome, this inner voice was called “genius.” A tutelary inner-mentor to guide your aspirations forward − to be the best writer, politician, businessman, inventor, doctor, lawyer, painter, dancer, father, mother or whatever calling you were placed on this earth to fulfill.

Right or Wrong?

Each of you reading this right now has someplace you’d rather be; some job you’d rather have; something else you’d rather be doing. Your dreams and aspirations of bygone years are mingled with fond, longing memories of an unrealized life.

Right or wrong?


Hear it?

That small, still inner voice?

Sadly, for most people, this voice is muted, or completely silenced − sometimes for a lifetime. Silenced by an unyielding, implacable, despicable and evil, yes evil, force. Instead of listening to this inner voice and striving to achieve something great, you end up doing something totally different than you hoped or dreamed, or were put on this earth to do. How did it happen?


You drifted into boring and safe. That’s right. You drifted into doing something boring and safe that ensnares you. It sucks you in and imprints upon your consciousness the message that you’re too boring, lazy, incompetent, or incapable of reaching out for and capturing your dream. Boring becomes your life − not a dream but a dreary, monotonous, unending circle of boring. You take a boring job
, make some boring money, pay some boring bills, and boringly exist.

Boring is a Force.

But it’s not “THE FORCE.”  Yes, “THE FORCE” is what’s really holding you back. And what we’re talking about is the …

Inner Deadbeat Force

We all have it. It infects everyone.

Every time you start, or try to start, to listen and change your life for the better, this evil scourge kicks in. Your Inner Deadbeat. It manifests itself in many nefarious ways: Rationalization, procrastination, drugs, alcohol, depression, and despair. Any weaselly
way out works just fine for the Inner Deadbeat, as long as you remain mired and mucked-up in a life unfulfilled and unlived. The Inner Deadbeat fights, no holds barred, down and dirty, to win.

How to Win?

Are there ways to overcome this diabolically evil force? Are there ways to break on through to the other side − the better side?


To not only search for meaning in life, but experience a meaningful life?  Are there ways to battle resistance and win, in your life of business and business of life?


And an honorary citizen of Sparta and bestselling author of The War of Art:
Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles, Steven Pressfield, will guide us to some of these answers. “The War of Art” has been hailed as …

“A vital gem … a kick in the ass.” – Esquire

Yes, The War of Art is hell. But Steven Pressfield is our Clausewitz who shows how you too can battle against The Four Horsemen of The Apologetic: sloth, inertia, rationalization and procrastination. Shakespeare, Rembrandt and Beethoven all are proof of what you can do with talent and General Pressfield.” – Frank Deford, Author and NPR Commentator

But First …

I’m a deadbeat.

A real doofy-doozy, ding-a-ling-dinger deadbeat.

You are too (probably, or have suspicions) if you’re reading an article titled “How to Defeat Your Inner Deadbeat.” But stick with me. We’re going to learn and have some fun.

Oh No … Not Him Too!

I have this great novel in me. I use the word “great” humbly, not pompously or arrogantly, but quite conservatively. It’s a bestseller for sure. Not the “Great American Novel” but the “Great Global Novel.”  Harry Potter potential all over it. Nothing will get in its way. NOTHING! Except …

May the Force Be With You … NOT

Every time I try to start writing, a force holds me back; an all-powerful force that kicks me back like a horrified donkey getting sucked up in an F-5 tornado. I’ve battled this force unsuccessfully for over a year now (okay maybe two or three years) and I’m losing ground fast. So, as any person with worldly ambitions and initiative would, I sought expert counsel and guidance.

ENTER: Steven Pressfield

Steven Pressfield has been a New York City taxicab driver, truck driver, US Marine, oil-rig worker, bartender, fruit picker, and a $150-a-week copywriter for a New York City advertising agency, Benton & Bowles. One day while rewriting the “just-add-water” text for the back label of Gravy Train dog food, Mr. Pressfield asked himself, “Shouldn’t I be doing something a little more worthwhile?”  What followed? International bestselling books and screenplays.

Mr. Pressfield has written or co-written 34 screenplays, and is the author of international bestsellers “The Legend of Bagger Vance” (also a movie), “Gates of Fire, An Epic Novel of the Battle of Thermopylae,” “Tide of War,” “The Afghan Campaign,” “Virtues of War” and “The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Creative Battles.”

Gates of Fire, An Epic Novel of the Battle of Thermopylae, has been included in the curriculum of the U.S. Military Academy and the U.S. Naval Academy and is on the Commandant’s Reading List for the Marine Corps.


Steve K:  I’m looking for some help. In your book, the “War of Art,” you name “Resistance” (with a capital “R”) as a force, an implacable foe. Evil. Toxic.  It sounds like the same thing I’m struggling with right now, but I call it my Inner Deadbeat. I’m sure it’s the same thing. How do you define “Resistance?”
Steven: Just the way you described it above. Instead of “The Force Be With You” it’s “The Force Be Against You” anytime you try to achieve something positive. The self-sabotaging force we all seem to have. Resistance stops us from living our dreamed-of life. Resistance is particularly strong in creative and business people. The person that dreams of writing a great novel, starting a great business, losing weight or breaking away from corporate boredom to serve a greater cause, all struggle mightily with resistance.
Steve K: About the “novel writing” thing; I’ll want to follow up with you later (at the end of this interview). I have an idea on that. What are some examples of activities that bring out Resistance?

Steven:  How about a list in no particular order?

1) The pursuit of any calling in writing, painting, music, film, dance, or any creative art, however marginal or unconventional.

2) The launching of any entrepreneurial venture or enterprise, for profit or otherwise.

3) Any diet or health regimen.

4) Any program of spiritual advancement.

5) Any activity whose aim is tighter abdominals.

6) Any course or program designed to overcome an unwholesome habit or addiction.

7) Education of every kind.

8) Any act of political, moral, or ethical courage, including the decision to change for the better some unworthy pattern of thought or conduct in ourselves.

9) The undertaking of any enterprise or endeavor whose aim is to help others.

10) Any act that entails commitment of the heart. The decision to get married, to have a child, or to weather a rocky patch in a relationship.

11) The taking of any principled stand in the face of potential reprisal.

“Any act which disdains short-term gratification in favor of long-term growth, health or integrity. Any act that derives from our higher nature instead of our lower. Any act of these types will elicit Resistance.” –  – Steven Pressfield, War of Art

Steve K: How does Resistance operate?

Steven: Resistance is a liar. Resistance is relentless. Resistance is destructive. Resistance is creative. It finds ways − reasonable ways − for you to avoid doing the very thing you should be doing.

Steve K: How does it do that?

Steven: One way is rationalization. Coming up with all kind of reasons not to start. Waiting for your health to get better, the right moment, the right opportunity, the right partner, etc. This leads to procrastination. Procrastination serves its devious agenda. Rationalize and Procrastinate. They become bad habits.

Steve K: What are some of the ways Resistance manifests itself?

Steven: Remember I said it’s evil. Toxic. Protean − a shapeshifter. It can manifest itself in many ways. Depression. Despair. Alcohol and drug abuse. Overeating or overindulging in any short-term pleasure at the expense of long-term positive growth.

Steve K: You have a rule of thumb …

The Resistance Rule of Thumb

“The more important a call or an action is to our soul’s evolution,  the more resistance we will feel toward pursuing it.

Steve K: How did you come up with that?

Steven: Life experience. Lots of it. For example, I was a screenwriter in LA when the idea for “The Legend of Bagger Vance” came to me. As a book, not a screenplay. Remember I was a screenwriter. But not just any book … a book about golf. My first novel. First novels usually take forever to get published and realize very little financial gain, if any. Not much chance of success there. Resistance fired up the fear engine.  But … the Muse grabbed me. So I did it.

Steven K: And …
it ended up being a bestseller, both commercially and critically acclaimed, and later made into a movie.

Steven: Yes.

“Few things are harder to put up with than the annoyance of a good example. ” –  Pudd’nhead Wilson (1894)

Steve K: You state in your book that Resistance only strikes in one direction.

Steven: Yes. Down. Never up.

Steve K: Resistance wants you to take the low road? Example?

Steve: Yes. If you’re working to find a cure for a disease, or to eradicate poverty, and decide that you’d rather be driving a cab in Cincinnati, Resistance won’t stand in your way.

“Resistance only strikes in one direction … down.”

“Take the low road!” – Resistance

Steven K: How do you start to overcome resistance?

Steven: Facing death is one way.

Steven K: Uh …  I’ll pass on that one. But, what do you mean?

Steven: How about this example: a woman finds out she is going to die of cancer in six months. She quits her job immediately. She goes to a hospice (or – insert any lifelong dream here), and volunteers to help other dying people.  She’d always dreamed of helping others. Everyone thinks she’s crazy, friends and family alike. But she’s happier than she’s ever been. And P.S. …

Steve K: P.S. what?

Steven: Her cancer goes into remission.

“When we finally know we are dying, and all other sentient beings are dying with us, we start to have a burning, almost heartbreaking sense of the fragility and preciousness of each moment and each being, and from this can grow a deep, clear, limitless compassion for all beings.” – Sogyal Rinpoch

Remember Tom Laughlin? He starred in the movie “Billie Jack.” He now works with cancer patients. I heard him speak once, and he said (paraphrasing), The minute a person finds out they have cancer, everything changes. What was important seconds ago to them now no longer is. Everything changes.

When it happens, people think back to unrealized dreams. Think back on their unfulfilled dreams of being a musician, painter, farmer, or dancer. Maybe cancer is caused by not following your path − your dreams − what you should have, or should be doing.

“The truth is that our finest moments are most likely to occur when we are feeling deeply uncomfortable, unhappy, or unfulfilled. For it is only in such moments, propelled by our discomfort, that we are likely to step out of our ruts and start searching for different ways or truer answers.” – – M. Scott Peck

Steve K: How do you defeat resistance? Defeat this Inner Deadbeat? How do you start?

Steven: By starting. There’s no magic in the answer. But there’s magic in the start.

Wonderful things happen when you just do it. Mysterious things happen. Ideas pop up from nowhere. Happy accidents occur. People appear in your life at the very right time. It’s a beautiful thing.

It’s like tapping into this vast collection of creative possibilities just waiting to be discovered. Those possibilities are already out there. Right now. Waiting for you, or someone like you, to discover them. 

“The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious.  It is the source of all true art and science.” –  Albert Einstein

Steve: Just start? That’s it? That’s all there is to it?

Steven: Yes. But you have to be a professional. Not a weekend warrior. Do it as a profession, not an avocation. Not a weekend warrior. Have a hard hat, hard-head, lunch-pail mentality. Think like a professional. It’s an attitude shift. Show up for work every day. Rain, sleet, snow, sunshine. Then work every day. It doesn’t matter that you haven’t collected a check yet. Just keep at it. The money will come. But be prepared for adversity, failures, and criticism along the way. It will come too.

Steven K: Example?

Steven: The first screenplay I had made into a movie was “
King Kong Lives
.” I thought it was going to be a box office smash.

Steven K: And?

Steve: Variety magazine reviewed it like this, “We hope writers Steven Pressfield and Ronald Shusett are not their real names … for their parents’ sake.”  I learned from it. Don’t take it personal. Move on. 

“Success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm.” –  Sir Winston Churchill

Steven K: How do you do it? Write?

Steven: I put my boots on to write. I say a prayer and invoke the Muse, as the ancient Greeks did, humbly asking for aid to open up the creative channels. Then I just do it.

The hardest part is sitting down.

Let me say that again. The hardest part is sitting down.

I keep at it until I’m done for the day. It can be good … or bad. The main thing is to just do it

Steven K: Final thoughts?

Each person is destined to do something specific that only they can do. Follow your inner voice; just do it.

“Hide not your talents, they for use were made. What’s a sun-dial in the shade?”  – Benjamin Franklin

Steven: If you don’t, you’re not only hurting yourself, you’re hurting others by not helping enrich our world. By not sharing your gift. Do it and don’t quit no matter what. 

None of us will ever accomplish anything excellent or commanding except when he listens to this whisper which is heard by him alone.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Steven K: “The War of Art” (also available in MP3) by Steven Pressfield, is a timeless classic. Eloquent, elegant, quick, slick, easy to read, transformatively easy to understand. I very rarely rave about a book, but this book is raveable.