Michael Jones was alone at an old upright piano in a hotel lobby playing his own music —something he rarely did in public at the time — as well as cover tunes, when an elderly stranger wandered in to listen. The man couldn’t have known the struggle churning inside Michael.

Michael was at a point where he felt he couldn’t continue much longer in the field of leadership consultancy in the same way he had been. It was as if the elderly man, a glass of red wine in his hand, had been sent just that day to help Michael through his struggle. After listening awhile and then learning how little Michael played his own music for others, the man expressed how much Michael’s work had touched him. Then he asked the question that would prove to be life-changing, “If you don’t play your own music, who will?”

That moment stirred up a whole career in recording his own music, Michael says. He committed himself to no longer trying to live someone else’s story, as he saw he had been trying to do, but to play his own music, speak his own stories — to be as true as possible to his own nature and who he was.

While the commitment brought an exhilarating sense of liberty, Michael suddenly found himself at a lonely spot in his leadership consultant and organizational development work.

Part of the challenge was that people were hard-pressed to categorize what Michael now had to offer in a way that they knew how to invite him into relevant opportunities.

One person, however, saw what might be possible.

Michael met Charles Holmes, an international business consultant and facilitator, at a small gathering of people wanting to explore how they might use their gifts to create the world they envisioned. At the end of one of the days, Charles invited Michael to play some of his music.

Michael recalls Charles searching the hotel for a piano, finding an old one in some hallway and dragging it into the gathering place — likely completely against the rules.

Michael Jones (Photo: Kimberley Simpson)

Michael Jones (Photo: Kimberley Simpson)

Then Michael sat down and played. People listened, some laying on the floor. For two hours he played, sharing stories in-between, sharing about the inspiration for the music, then playing again. A velvet touch characterized his craft, much like that of Fredric Chopin, one of his muses. It was as if he, the pianist, and the listeners, had gone on a journey together, Michael remembers.

At the end Charles said he’d love for Michael to join a gathering he was hosting of people committed to creating communities of abundance. He said he saw how Michael’s music could contribute to opening not only people’s minds, but all their senses, so they could “see” the world in new ways.

Michael’s instant answer was yes. The year was 2007.

Since then, Michael and Charles have joined together on a trajectory of work that is essentially about helping organizations and leaders move from thinking only in strategic terms to beginning to think and act in truly transformative ways — to essentially stir up “narratives of life” across organizations and leadership.

An unexpected and welcome opportunity allowed them to explore the full possibilities of this approach with Quaker Foods to start. They have since worked with the International Leadership Association, PepsiCo’s Global Nutrition Group, the Dalai Lama Summit for Peace and others.

Along the way, a few others have joined them, including Avril Orloff, who brings her gifts in graphic facilitation to the room, Stephanie Sauve, a writer and story strategist and Ann Ralston, who is brilliant at working the logistics of each gathering so they all run as smoothly as possible.

The group has begun to call themselves the Sandbox.

They come together, share their gifts and hold each other up in this profound work that is, in many ways, pioneering work.

Michael says he’s most recently come to describe it as creating the opportunity for people to experience carnival — where they can step out of their day-to-day routines into a “whole other new you” that’s enlivened through art, music, poetry, conversation and other gifts. That experience provides a rich, nurturing soil to then create significant and long-lasting change.

– More to Come

Writer: Michelle Strutzenberger

Editor’s Note: Click here to read about Axiom News’ partnership with Charles Holmes Consulting and the intent of the stories in this series.