How Being a Marine Drummer Set My Lifetime Creative Tempo

November 6, 2009

The Rhythm of Design: How Being a Marine Drummer Set My Lifetime Creative Tempo


Published in Fast Company
Fast Company | November 2009

By Peter Clarke, Product Ventures CEO & Founder
 

Who would have thought my training as a young man in the U.S. Marine Corps Band would prepare me to become the founder of a structural packaging agency? Back when I was doing the barbed wire crawl with my M16 or providing the drum beat for a pass and review ceremony, I certainly didn't expect that someday these experiences would help me shape many of the world's best known brands. It was this early foundation of discipline, creative performance, demanding expectations, and commitment to excellence that set the stage for my career in design.

Fleet Marine Force Pacific Band at Punch Bowl National Cemetery, Honolulu, Hawaii, September 1984 

Fleet Marine Force Pacific Band at Punch Bowl National Cemetery, Honolulu, Hawaii, September 1984 

Fleet Marine Force Pacific Band Performing at the USS Arizona Memorial Visitor Center Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, July 1985 

Fleet Marine Force Pacific Band Performing at the USS Arizona Memorial Visitor Center Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, July 1985 

Peter Clarke is the First Snare Drummer on the Left 

Peter Clarke is the First Snare Drummer on the Left 

In the swamps of Paris Island—where I encountered commands and demands, and fielded expectations to perform seemingly impossible feats—I learned firsthand why the Marine Corps is renowned for its elite training. But what really prepared me for the strategic creative leadership I provide today was playing the drums in the Marine Corps Band. Historically, military drummers played a vital role in communicating battlefield orders. Eventually this same drum beat would be used to provide daily direction to my talented staff.

Following the Marines, I pursued an education as an industrial designer and was trained in the art of mass production. After years of experience across multiple categories and challenges at various firms, I chose to take on the added challenge of being an entrepreneur and formed my own creative agency. My military training had instilled in me the courage and commitment to build an organization that would be beneficial for clients.

Like the scene in Mission Impossible, where Mr. Phelps pulls out photographs of specialists in their designated fields to help him with his impossible mission, I remember so vividly laying out my business plans. In my orchestra, the voices of the consumer, the creative talents of the designers, and the precision of the engineers would unite to innovate for marketplace success. The most experienced professionals in the fields of consumer insights, industrial design, and engineering would work harmoniously together. Their collective mission: to identify consumer needs, embody viable solutions, and deliver manufacturing specifications for effective product commercialization. 

Now, responsible for the daily management of my multi-disciplinary staff, I think of myself as the commanding officer who brings together my tactical support units for the ultimate goal of successfully maneuvering through a very complex and competitive battlefield. As in my days behind the drum, I provide the daily beat and tempo to ensure the delivery of a beautiful performance with each and every challenge presented. The new leadership required today was recently described in the Washington Postreferencing the style of General David Petraeus, who oversaw all U.S. forces in Iraq: 

"He redefined during his tour in Iraq what it means to be a commanding general. He broke the mold. The traditional responsibilities are not enough anymore. You have to be a skilled diplomat. You have to be savvy with the press, and you have to be a really sophisticated leader of a large organization."

While I certainly don't compare myself to General Petraeus, I will say that today's leader needs to exhibit many of these traits. In the design business, it takes diplomacy to align the client to the realities of their challenge and to deliver results that hit the sweet spot between what a consumer wants, what he or she can afford, and what the business can produce for a profit. 

Who would have thought that it was my hybrid experience as a musician in the Marine Corps that would equip me with the ability to effectively harness the creative talents of my organization and rally them to meet the challenges of the world's best known brands? Discipline and creativity, often thought to be at odds with one another, are a necessary requirement within the design business. Good design, like music, is the harmonization of elements to create beautiful results. To ensure the best performance, musicians must play their notes as proscribed within the musical score. In essence, the discipline involved with a performance parallels the objectives of the design team. Each member must successfully complete the project within the prescribed work plan, on time and on budget. The importance of discipline, creative performance, and clear expectations—from my days as a drummer in the Marine band—have allowed me to continually set the tempo and rhythm of my company. For any global organization, this subtle daily motivation to galvanize your troops, along with the pursuit of excellence and the ability to harmonize a collective skill set, can be the key to your company's success. 

 

Peter Clarke is a visionary entrepreneur who founded Product Ventures 15 years ago as the ultimate strategic creative agency for the research, design and development of manufactured goods.. His passion for excellence and dedication to helping shape products and packaging to enhance consumers' lives have garnered Clarke enormous recognition. Product Ventures has been honored to create innovative and award-winning package designs for such notable clients as Procter and Gamble, Nestle and Bayer, among many others. As an expert commentator, Peter Clarke is frequently profiled in the media, including CBS' The Early Show, Fox Business News, and news broadcasts discussing industry trends.

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