How Being a Musician Helps You in Business

I have been a musician for close to 30 years.  A guitar player.  I was weened on music the likes of Rush and Genesis, then moving jazz which led to amazing guitarists like Mike Stern, and Pat Metheny.  This led to influences from Brazil with artists like Djavan.  Then I found more funk oriented groups such as Jamiroquai and Incognito and the lushness of groups like the insanely talented Swing Out Sister with their heavy Burt Bacharach influences.  For the harder edge I started playing even a few tunes from metal groups like Iron Maiden (very fun to play live).

In all of this playing in a group setting, I’ve come to realize that there are many parallels between playing music in a live setting and doing business.  At first you might think this is out of left field, but consider the following:

Patience and Practice: It takes time to learn a song and how to recreate the piece that was written.  There is a great quote from Thomas “Endurance is patience concentrated”.  Learning music requires patience.  Getting good at it requires patience.  Mastering it requires practice and doing it live.

Rhythm: Setting the rhythm is key to making a song work or not. It’s the same with company culture.  Set the pace, set the rhythm and let that take you forward.  Check this out (especially from 1:40 on):

Nuance: Music is full of nuances and hints to paint a picture aurally of the story behind the music.  Do you push the note or pull it?  Do you hit it hard or soft.  It all depends on the outcome you want.  It’s the same in business – know what outcome you want first then attack it the way that makes sense.  Here a great example from Al Di Meola of mastery of nuance in music.

Silence: Sometime the best parts of the music are the gaps between the notes.  This is particularly true when it comes to soloing.  It also has a lot to do with UI design where less is often more.  Sometimes you need to know when to stay quiet for best effect. Sade’s band is one of the best at employing silence for effect.

Improvisation: Jazz is full of improvisation.  The underlying song is there for you but you have to figure out what to play in real time. It’s rapid fire decision making live in front of an audience.  It’s often full of mistakes and you get to noodle your way out of those mistakes very quickly by restructuring where you are on the fly.  Sometimes it’s the same in business – you might need to improvise.  Things don’t go according to plan and understanding the song helps you know what to do – but when it’s on it’s great, like this:

Decision Making and Thinking on the Fly: Sometimes it all falls apart.  The whole band gets off track, or one guy forgets where he is and messes up the rest of the band.  It’s at this moment that the whole group has to eyeball each other and figure out who among them is going to take the lead and get the group out of the mess.  The rule in music – everyone start together and everyone finish together.  What happens in the middle can be sorted out.  Business is similar.  When the plan doesn’t work, the skill you learn in music helps you quickly assess and quickly resolve.

Multiple Ways of Doing Something:  On a piano or on the fretboard of a guitar the notes repeat themselves over and over again.  There are many ways to play any particular note or chord and you have to decide which one to play at any given time.  Playing for example an A chord on guitar in the 2nd fret sounds very different than that same A chord played on the 5th fret with open notes on the bottom.  You can color a song this way.  The way you might do business in the USA is often very different that the way it gets done in another country.  Remember there are often several ways of accomplishing something.  Writing music helps you put things in context and context in things. Like Al Di Meola playing the Beatles:

Harmony: I love the way major 7ths and minor 7ths can be mixed and blended.  Putting one chord next to another can make all the difference in the world in how the song sounds or evokes emotion.  Think about harmony in your business.  What works well and what do you need to modify to get back in harmony.  Here’s Incognito doing their thing live across that major 7th, minor 7th thing:

Left Brain Right Brain: This has always be a favorite of mine.  Ultimately music is math, but it’s also art.  It’s both.  You can technically explain to someone why a major chord is different than a minor chord, or why a major 9th sounds one way and a suspended 2nd sounds another way – but, it’s almost impossible to explain why a chord (or a series of chords in a certain pattern) evokes a feeling in someone.  It’s knowing how to manipulate this that makes all the difference.  Music has patterns and shapes.  You can see them.  Business has patterns and things shape up or not.  You develop a sense of where to steer on the fretboard just as you develop a business sense from doing it over and over.

Cadence:  Cadence is a blend of rhythm with beat that sets the tone for the driving force of the music.  In business, it’s important to have a feel for what pace to set.  Imagine you’re sitting across the table from some Chinese businessmen and you’re there to get a deal done.  What if instead of Chinese they’re American.  What about Italian?  Does the cadence change?  You bet it does. Setting the right cadence and flow might be the difference to a signed deal or not.

Signature: 6/8 is probably my favorite time signature (Check this out from Pat Metheny)  I am naturally drawn to this tempo for some reason.  What makes the author decide to put a song in one time signature versus another?  Rush is the master group at signature manipulation.  They’re so good at it you often don’t know they’ve gone in and out of multiple time signatures – you just enjoyed the song.  It’s the same in business.  Learn how to be so good at what you do, so agile, that your customers are simply blown away with how effortlessly you can get stuff done for them.  Think about a really elegant website that you like.  Why do you like it?  Mailchimp I think is a great example of how the complex and the elegance can be perfectly blended.  This is one of those times when it’s the minute details that count.  Just for fun, check this out from Rush, especially the middle part, see if you can naturally count it or tap it out:

Disonance – Dissonance is one of the strangest but pleasant concepts.  If you listen to a dissonant chord by itself, it might sound like the worst sound ever, but if you hear that same chords sitting on top of a base chord that compliments it, it becomes brilliant.  Some for notes in solos.  Sometimes you hit a note that seems completely out of place – that is until you hear it in context and magically it becomes elevated.  Listen to the guitar solo in Van Halen’s “Little Dreamer” and you’ll hear how Eddie sticks in just a few dissonance notes in the middle of the solo that take this lead from just a rock lead to something out of Bach.  Dissonance helps you stand out.  Used well it is very effective.  Think about people like Richard Branson who so often come out of left field that most people don’t get it, but the dissonance puts him in the news.

Teamwork: It’s one thing to pick up a guitar and play.  It’s another to put several people together who all have their very specific parts and make it all mesh together seamlessly.  When that happens on stage it’s nothing short of magical.  Hard to convey what a cool feeling that is when the group nails it.  Just trust me.  Music is one of the best places to combine individual craftsmanship with teamwork.  Business is no difference.  Be great at what do you and then bring it to the table as part of the larger team.  Sticking with the 6/8 tune from the Signature section above, here’s that same Metheny tune done with a huge orchestra.  Each individual here is ridiculously good at what they do, but they all come together to make one amazing performance:

In all, the experience of bring a musician, and especially a live musician help you to think about almost everything in life and business.  Everything flows and you learn to see context where it might not be obvious.  Whether you have to figure out how to launch a product, how to go to market, or perhaps how to create something new, the above elements of being a musician should not be discounted.

At the very least it’s a great way to engage both right and left brain and produce a work of art.

Photo credit | Trey Ratcliff | Stuck in Customs


Possibly The Best Economics Lesson Ever

Ray Dalio of Bridgewater Associates has produced a 30 minute video called “How The Economic Machine Works” that distills down to the very essence pretty much all you need to know about how the general economy works.  It’s useful to see particularly because it’s able to zoom in and out of where the economy is at pretty much any given point, which in turn is useful to try and understand (and anticipate) where we are (and will be) in our economic cycles in the future.

He does this by explaining how income, spending, and credit work together.  He presents three basic graphs and lays them on top of each other so you can see what’s happening in the long term view, the short term view, and how productivity grows over time.

I thought it was a 30 minutes well spent and you might like it too.

Colombian Retail

When you think of Colombia, what’s the first word that comes to mind? Now, have you ever been to Colombia?

One of the advantages of travel is being able to see first-hand how the world really is as opposed to how you’re told it is.  Retail is one of those areas that can help “paint the picture” as it were of an overall general progress of a nation.  It is a broad reflection of a country’s economy and infrastructure – and sometimes you’ll find yourself to be even surprised that what you thought was one way turns out to not only be different that your expectations, but even beyond what’s in your own backyard.  (Airports are like that too.  If you look at say LaGuardia then compare it to some of the airports found in Asia today there simply is no comparison).

Here are some photos I took earlier this year in Medellin while walking through a well known mall in the city.  You’ll see the retail shops of certain Colombian brands you may have not even know existed.  You’ll also see UK and American brands.  The Banana Republic in this mall is nicer that the one at the mall in my area of Atlanta.

Brands are crossing borders into territory they used to never be seen in.  And some of these brands are able to source production “locally” and sell it locally since Colombia is a producer of apparel.

The retail scene is Colombia is on the move and no doubt this is also happening in other key Latin American cities. The interesting thing is that the shelf pricing is about the same as in the USA but the general income levels are not.

In any event, getting yourself to see the world in person gives you a perspective on how things are and how things move that nothing else can replace.

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Why I Deleted My Facebook Data

I have to admit that Facebook is a pretty cool platform – you can connect with your old friends far away, see families grow, get funny jokes passed around, and see real time photos of what’s going on in the lives of your friends and family. That’s all nice but I’m not Facebook’s customer, the businesses that Facebook sells advertising to are their customers.  I don’t pay to use Facebook, if I did I would be the customer.  Instead what Facebook is depending on is the egos of their users to voluntarily pony up the almost complete database of their lives. For me “Timeline” was the final blow.

I only use Facebook as an entertaining tool to keep in touch with my close friends and family – if I don’t know you or if we were sort of acquaintances back in high school I don’t make the connection.  The settings are private, it’s not pushed to search engines, and I don’t connect there with anyone I don’t know well.   LinkedIn is a different story – I use LinkedIn as a business tool and am connected to over 1000 people there – but that’s totally different not only because I pay LinkedIn, but also because it’s an effective business tool that provides real value.

Since I’m only dealing with family and friends on Facebook do I really need to tell them what college I went to or what are my favorite books, or indicate my “likes” – they know me, they generally know my likes without me have to actually “like” it.  I generally know theirs.  We’re friends after all.  This is key because Facebook per se doesn’t care what my “likes” are, they care that their advertisers know what my “likes” are as well as what the “likes” of the network of my family and friends.

But really the finally straw for me was the map that Facebook instantly produced based on past “check-ins” I did (there were 12 of them).   This map showed every single place where I checked in on a full map of the world.  Sorry Facebook – I am not interested in the least in this feature.  Why would I be?  Here I was and with a detailed map showing where I was and a timestamp of exactly when I was there.  I had to asked myself whose for exactly whose benefit was this information?  I mean – I know where I was and I know who I was with –  but to have these steps captured and published on a map was simply a bridge to far.

Of course I fully understand I have full control of this simply by not “checking in” and so going forward I see no value in me actually checking in anywhere – if I’m there, I’m there, and I’m not really interested in feeding this information any longer to Facebook.

I did not delete my account but I did delete all of my basic data to “devolve” the profile.  I removed schools, work, quotes, books, and photos (I run a photo travelogue on WordPress where I publish anything I want anyway, if somebody wants to see them they can go there).  It’s all gone except for the raw minimum needed to maintain a Facebook account – name, birthday, and email address.  If Facebook’s advertisers would like to know about me, they can visit me on my homepage.

I wonder if I’m not the only one?  Check out this NYT article published today as well.

The Consequences of Being Irrational

This week California Governor Jerry Brown signed into law a tax on Internet sales in California.  His thinking (and the “Board of Equalization”) was that if they would just mandate that taxes be paid on internet sales in California then the state could collect a $200 million it doesn’t currently collect.

Immediately thereafter email 25,000 of it’s affiliates a termination notice.  Good for Amazon and shame on the Governor’s office and the “Board of Equalization” (a faceless government name seemingly straight out of an Ayn Rand novel) for getting in the way of the free enterprise system.

Why do governments operate as if they live in a vacuum?  What did California government people think was going to happen?  It’s 2011, why do governments think that all they have to do is raise taxes to raise state revenue.  If they want to raise state revenue, they would lower taxes and generate more velocity of money (lots of repetitive economic activity) in their own backyard economy, which would in turn generate more tax revenue.

California seems to be doing everything it can do drive business and businesses out of California. This is just the most recent example of failed centralized economic planning from people not in the private market but who think they should have some all powerful dominion over the individuals in the private market that actually work productively and truly support families.

No entity is more irrational and nothing destroys like government.

The best line in this article on the story tells it in plain English – “Board of Equalization Member George Runner blasted Brown for signing the law. “Even as Governor Jerry Brown lifted his pen to sign this legislation, thousands of affiliates across California were losing their jobs. The so-called ‘Amazon tax’ is truly a lose-lose proposition for California. Not only won’t we see the promised revenues, we’ll actually lose income tax revenue as affiliates move to other states.”

Think about that.

Bureaucrats seem to have a very hard time understanding the unintended consequences of their “actions”.

An Interview with Erik Wachtmeister

Thanks Erik for taking the time to talk with you about your new venture “Best of All Worlds“.   In order for us to give people some context to your new venture, perhaps you can tell me how you went from A Small World to “Best of All Worlds”.

A.  After working as an investment banker for 20 years, I started to think of online opportunities in 1998. To me the Internet immediately presented incredible opportunities to aggregate and leverage human mind and behavior. My wife, Louise Wachtmeister, and I launched ASMALLWORLD in March 2004 and were true pioneers in Social Media. We were able to transfer people’s real life relations on-line, enabling them to reconnect with each other.  We had 250,000 active online connectors globally in 2006 when Facebook was just emerging from colleges in the US.  This was the start of a new industry and very few understood the relevance and magnitude of this.

I had realized since many years the existence of a global community of people who are strongly connected and continuously gravitate towards each other. This came to me after having lived in and travelled to many places across the globe, running into the same people over and over again, looking for the same things.

My vision is not about excluding people. On the contrary, it has to do with creating an intimate environment where you can let your hair down and feel at ease when interacting with friends of friends or new relationships that share common interests. My goal with BestofallWorlds is to help people getting together around the world to build new businesses, start strong friendships and learn from each other. To create an atmosphere where people can be more accessible, accommodating strangers as friends. It’s the kind of intimacy that has not generally existed before on the World Wide Web.

Today there is still a huge vacuum that all social networks have failed to cover, and which has nothing to do with the ‘collecting connections’ approach so prevalent everywhere today. Facebook provides an effective way of indexing people’s relationships and reconnecting with the past. BestofAllWorlds will be focusing on helping people build new relationships that are relevant for your present and future life. By entering secure global groups on BAW that correspond to mutual interests, users will grow and develop new useful and relevant relationships. We will continually leverage the best new technology available, in order to provide services to our members and to global niche interest groups. Being an agile platform, the most recent technology will be available as we will be aggregating rather than reinventing the wheel. Our users will also be able to access and post directly to their walls and feeds in Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and many other services, without leaving BestofallWorlds. Thus the best of all worlds!

We live in a world of increasing information saturation and overload. As more and more people upload videos, documents and photos on to the web, it’s becoming harder and harder to find what we are looking for. We need to think about the “signal-to-noise ratio”, particularly online. People need tools to filter out what is relevant to them, whether it is finding good places to eat, nannies, vacation homes, useful I-phone or Ipad Apps, or cool services available on line. By creating an intimate atmosphere of people you trust and can learn from, the ratio naturally increases to help you find the relevant signals among the noise. That way it becomes easier to find relevant, useful and unbiased information.

What also distinguishes Best of All Worlds is that anybody will be able to join the platform; once in, they will find their way into global private groups that will have defined their own membership rules. Much the same as in real life in most societies.

A supporting network of representatives and local committees will help manage the scalability, consistency and careful growth of the groups. It is surprising how many people are keen to help out in exchange for corresponding recognition and visibility. Dedication, expertise, and delegated authority is key to manage successful network proliferation.

I have always been drawn to strong connectors with large and diverse networks across many different interests. It is the ability to relate on a range of different areas that deepens and extends relationships. I would never have come up with these ventures, had I stuck to a network of banking professionals. I strongly believe in creating an exciting and diverse tapestry of relationships that enrich people in each of their own personal dimensions.

BestofallWorlds is focusing on what is relevant to you right now, not when you were in a different stage in life, living somewhere else, with somebody else, and in a different time.

It is about responding to a prevalent need that exists, as all successful businesses tend to do.

Q. I have been traveling the world for over 20 years and the part of ASW I find coolest (and most useful) is the Geolocator.  Can you tell us about how this works, its uses, and if Best of All Worlds will offer this sort of a feature?  If yes, do you see an even more enhanced version given the newer technology that exists today that did not exist a few years ago?

A. You said it yourself! Today we are in an era with geo-positioning technology and mobile apps. It’s very different from building something in 2003.  Best of all Worlds will leverage all this new technology and give our users the ultimate access to this within the boundaries of the privacy settings of each user. Just wait and see!

Q. When I am on “A Small World” I sense two groups of people in the community.  Maybe I’m wrong but I sense there is one group of people that are true players on the world stage or in their professional careers and a different group that looks like they were lucky enough to snag an invite and are somewhat out of place to some degree on ASW.  Do you envision with “Best of All Worlds” both open and private groups such that you can build a much larger overall community yet allow invite-only groups to form where needed to better serve the needs of a particular community within the community?

A. You are absolutely on the right track. Just like in real life we will have intimate areas of privacy and at the same time allowing for more public spaces elsewhere. We will be aggregating people that share similar backgrounds, interests and passions. The focus will be on connecting with relevant people that bring you relevant information or experiences. Other networks are focusing primarily on the noise from the past.

Q. People will leave the home without their watch, but they won’t leave their home without their iPhone or Blackberry or Android….. Do you see Best of All Worlds doing anything in the mobile space?

A. We will be launching on most mobile platforms including the IPhone, Android, Blackberry, Windows phone. Mobile platforms will be core for us.

Q. How can people learn more about Best of All Worlds or get on board?

A.  For early access, go to and follow erikww on twitter!

Q. Just curious – what is your favorite airport, hotel, and restaurant anywhere in the world?


Thank you Erik for your taking the time to provide some insight to your story and what coming next with Best of All Worlds.

Ed.Note:  Best of All World was also covered in Scandinavian Startups.