Long before business, I played music. A lot, and if for no reason other than loving it. And it was in good company, with great friends. We started practicing in the basement of public buildings, which evolved to playing semi-legally in semi-public buildings, which led to dive bars, clubs, houses, outdoor venues, you name it. Eventually we started clocking regional touring miles to meccas and non-meccas of indie rock of the time.
Then I took a couple turns and entered the business world in my early 20’s. This was not a graceful transition- but it works. For the last 2 years I’ve been immersed in living an expat life in Sydney and running a regional start-up business.
Running a startup consultancy embodies everything of consulting and nothing of consulting at the same time. On one hand, you have constant complexity and change, and on the other you have an ever steady flow of grunt work that rewards itself in multiples as you succeed. It’s a high touch business, and everything you do counts. With your clients, your people, your suppliers. There’s no such thing as dumb luck, yet you must have some luck to survive – particularly in the early stages.
But do business and music world follow entirely separate paths?
Bad Shows and Good Shows
I remember dozens of average shows, some remarkably bad, and a handful of epic shows. The epic would be least anticipated and least planned. In business you have a constant run of meetings, deliverables, interviews, and communications. It’s tempting to let ‘normal’ define all, but you well and truly do have sessions that define the business and your own experience within. In this business, you must perform well constantly, but you’re most meaningful and fulfilling performances often happen with least predictability.
Practice and Performance
In music you spend disproportionate time practicing and improving and a relatively minute slice of time producing or performing live. Business couldn’t be more opposite, whereby you spend most time producing or attempting to perform, and little to no time actually practicing the form. It’s pathetic really – the value of ‘busy’ versus the value of quality performance. But in both cases, you do make mistakes and improve from them.
The Beauty of Imperfections
The business world maintains a false sense of security in the idea of perfection. We diminish the value of failure and promote value on perfect. Until, at least you have a humbling mistake and are forced through the motions of post-mortems. But in music (at least the kind I enjoy) you thrive on imperfections, possibly evolving from them and drawing from them new ideas. It’s the whole point.
In music, it was driving and then moving your kit in and out of places. Hours, days, weeks of time driving city to city. When you do arrive, then the manual work begins. In business it’s the endless volume of administration. No matter what you do, there is an endless stream of administration. I’d take driving over paperwork a thousand times over. Even in Iowa.
This only can happen with a lot of practice, yet an abandonment of your fundamental study. It’s arguably the most free form of art. So in business, are we best suited to practice the known truths, or seek variants and different forms of expression to make it work? The people who seem to enjoy their businesses the most are constantly seeking ways to improve it and grow it. The least prolific and miserable appear to be stuck in a pattern of repetitive motion, constantly seeking a better outcome via the same techniques with less and less spirit – the antithesis of art.