Learning How To Jam

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Let the tape roll and see what happens.

One of the most important lessons that I learned from my days in the music industry (which was a long, long time ago) is that artists – true artists – don’t like to play by the rules or work within the confines of lines and structure. Yes, music is structured. It must be orchestrated and more, but the true joy that these musicians and artists always uncover happens from the most odd moments of discovery. The idea of jamming plays a prominent role in the history of all music. Mozart didn’t just put notes on a paper. He tinkered, toiled and jammed with his instruments until something interesting happened. Maybe he even jammed with other musicians to see how a particular phrase would play out. The Beatles did it the same way and, while you can do it with an app and a computer, there’s something magical about jamming with others. Watching them discover their own instruments and time signatures.

How often do you jam?

Personally, I am jamming right now. I am playing with thoughts and words as they come to me. I am watching my brain connect to my fingers as it tries to figure out the next words to write. While I’m hoping that it’ s something valuable and something that you can use in your everyday work, I’m also embracing the idea that I don’t often write about jamming with words, jamming with ideas and even jamming with you. I was a never a fan of music school because the main focus was on learning to read and write the notes on paper. I much preferred reserving a jam room (or finding a fellow musician’s basement) to create an environment where I could go head to head with my peers and see what would come through the amplifiers.

It might get loud.

Jamming is far from perfect. Jamming is an opportunity to really test your thinking and your creative skills in a new and interesting way. Right now, I’m writing this blog post from 37,000 feet in the air as I make my way to TED 2013. I know what happens next. I know I have to take a deep breath before I get off of the plane and re-align my brain and attitude for what the next full week of TED Talks and connections is going to do to me. It’s just another form of jamming. Why? Jamming is not just about fiddling around to see what happens. Jamming is actually – at its core – about creating a sense of discovery. When people ask about the frequency of posts to this blog or the reason I am so diligent with my podcasting, it is because my sense of discovery when it comes to the business world knows no limits. I’m not bored with it and it’s exciting. I can’t wait to jam on some other riff or idea that you put into this world.

You don’t know what’s going to happen next. 

That sense of not knowing what’s going to happen next or the fear that a mistake will be made is not something that should turn you off from jamming. In fact, it is in those exact moments when the best stuff is usually created. It is in that tension. Think about the times that you gave a speech that you were reading from a slide deck – or worse – from a pre-written document. Have you ever noticed that some of the most memorable moments are the things that you improv in the moment. That doesn’t mean that you go on stage not being prepared. Don’t kid yourself. Most musicians have put in their 10,000 hours (thank you, Malcolm Gladwell). They know their instruments and they know what they’re capable of. Musicians provide great inspiration to businesspeople because of their ability to try stuff, to risk it and to take a chance on something that may be utter and complete junk… or possibly the next big hit.

Get some feeling.

There are only so many notes and so many chord progressions in the world. What separates one musician from another is their feel. Two accomplished musicians can both pick up the same electric guitar to play a G chord and they will sound completely different. No two musicians are alike. What we appreciate – in business and in music – is someone who has a great feel. Just look at the difference between Steve Jobs and Tim Cook. They’re both amazing and top performers and they both have very different feels, don’t they? Finesse and feel is what makes us all unique and interesting.

In the age of technology.

In the age of technology it is easy to automate and augment nearly everything that we do. There are even systems in place to help us curate and publish content. I’m pleading with you to think about this: In the age of technology we need to keep at the human element. It is the human element that raises an eyebrow, inspires us, makes us cry, makes us think and, ultimately, makes us better. Take the ideas of jamming above and think about how you can add more jamming to your day. It could be in meetings, in brainstorm sessions, at a networking event or even in how you blog, tweet or post to Facebook. You’re going to discover something new and that’s really the most exciting thing about being in business.

Isn’t it?

One comment

  1. Mitch, as you know this post resonates to my soul as someone who worked in the music industry for over 25 years. I interviewed over a thousand artists – some were in it to be popular while most were in it because they simply had to be in it.
    We say you need entrepreneurial spirit to run a business but that’s not enough. You need to put in the time, learn your craft, and be able to jam with others. To also paraphrase Mr. Gladwell, none of us is self-made.
    I was looking for some material on inspiration for a client this week and found a video with Jack White explaining how he maintains tension in his creativity to make it difficult and restricted. He doesn’t let himself off the hook and make it easy. He doesn’t give himself infinite choices or he would make none. It’s a cool piece on the creative process.
    Jamming requires commitment and collaboration but it begins with each of us picking up our guitar and experimenting. It’s never perfect but often noisy and beautiful. Jam on.

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