Creatives are a fantastic bunch. They’re full of surprises and insights into how else you could approach any given problem. If not in your professional realm, I recommend that you find a way to insert yourself into their path. The rewards are, well, creatively rich. There’s a point, I promise.
“What makes creative people tingle are interesting problems, the chance to impress their friends, and caffeine.” –Alex Steffen
While my primary skillsets are in communication, processes, and organization I consider myself a healthy shade of creative; my background is in Product Design, and I’m fairly passionate about music. I am at my core a Project Manager and coach, so I am constantly evaluating and drawing lessons. Singing, for instance, is rich with lessons in numerous applications. That said, I don’t even like coffee.
I sing in a barbershop quartet and chorus. I know. It’s a classic American art form. No, I don’t wear a boater or armband. Yes, I love “The Music Man” with a passion. Click that link. I’ll wait.
I’ve been singing barbershop for about 14 years now. In that time I’ve learned a handful of amazing lessons that I take everywhere I go.
- Not everyone wants to hear what I have to say.
- If I’m not being challenged, I’m not growing.
- Authenticity makes it worthwhile, no matter the perspective.
- I can’t control what someone else does.
- Mastering a craft isn’t a destination, no matter the stage.
- Having partners requires commitment, trust, and feedback.
- Most things worth doing aren’t worth doing alone.
- The afterglow is the best part.
I’ve been fortunate enough to have some amazing coaches and directors to guide my perspective.
1. Not everyone wants to hear what I have to say.
As a performer, someone actually needs to be enticed to come hear you. Translated into business, it’s ‘the ask’. Maybe it’s getting the meeting, communicating a change, or dealing with a difficult client; pick your challenge. If no one is willing to listen to you, any amount of preparation is wasted. Put the effort into the content and style of your message, and don’t forget to figure out why someone would benefit from your message. It seems so basic, but find the ‘why’ and you’ll unlock the door.
2. If I’m not being challenged, I’m not growing.
Coaches like busting your chops, and it’s always for a good reason. They see what’s missing and their job is to cause you to create it yourself. Anyone can tell you ‘do this’, it’s recognizing it and taking committed action on your own initiative in the future that means you’ve grown at all. I guess my first bit of advice on that is to find yourself a coach, internally or externally; empower someone to empower you.
In your professional world, take the initiative. Find a way to audit your process and find the weak points. Don’t let the difficult thing be what you avoid because while you ignore whatever that is, it’s still there. Stretch out of your comfort zone with employees, take the risk for winning that big project, and try something that you resist. And when you’ve taken the leap, don’t prepare to point a finger. Experimentation takes practice, trust, and not treating failure like the worst thing ever. Risks keep you growing, and your coach will inspire you to take them and learn something. Safety’s overrated.
3. Authenticity makes it worthwhile, no matter the perspective.
Any audience can tell when you don’t mean it. You can be really good, and if you don’t connect emotionally with what you’re doing, it’s a wasted effort. Singing can be cold and mechanical, or it can be authentic, filled with connection, and rewarding. All it takes is a passion and a choice.
For anything in your life, all it takes is passion and a choice. Going through the motions? You won’t land the sales you really want. Not passionate about your projects? They won’t make your clients’ hearts sing. Investment isn’t something that you happen upon, it’s a choice. The moment you say it matters, it does. People can tell when you authentically care about them, about yourself, about what you do– and it inspires a different energy in service to connection and buy-in to your message.
4. I can’t control what someone else does.
You didn’t win that RFP. The client didn’t choose your #1 favorite concept. An employee moved on. Whatever it was, it happened, and the outcome isn’t what you wanted it to be. Some things you can control, and some things you can’t. Learn to let the small stuff go, and don’t put yourself into a corner. I go out on stage with my chorus or quartet, and the biggest boon to the performance is trust. I can’t control what they do in the moment, but I can control my reaction and my contribution.
I can’t control that competitors might do better than me. I don’t compete or perform to beat someone or be better than another group. Mainly, I compete with myself and go for the best possible outcome. Sure, I miss a note or my voice cracks, or I don’t take a good quality breath every now and then, but that’s not the end of the world because I don’t put that pressure on myself; that mentality keeps me in the song and authentic. When I stop tying myself to a very specific outcome, I’m not destroyed by it not looking precisely how I planned it to look.
5. Mastering a craft isn’t a destination, no matter the stage.
Just when you think you’ve got it figured out is when a new coach experiments on your sound and shows you the next biggest breakthroughs available. The key here is being ready for it, open to it, and taking advantage of it for your own improvement. The pinnacle of barbershop singing is to win a Gold Medal at the International Competition. I’m not sure what that same pinnacle is in every situation, but I imagine they probably all feel the same and take fairly similar efforts.
Don’t be afraid to do the work and admit you don’t know what you’re doing. This goes back to authenticity as well, but if you aren’t able to tap into humility and what you know or don’t know, you’re ripping yourself off, setting yourself and your business up for stagnation, and not maximizing your value. Mastering a craft is fairly difficult, but mastering components is well within anyone’s reach. Some people like to talk about it taking 10,000 hours to master a craft. I’ve heard other schools of thought where 20 hours is what it takes to master a sub-skill. Regardless, life is a matter of stringing together learning moments and your business growth is no different.
6. Having partners requires commitment, trust, and feedback.
Quartets form about as often as they break up. Marriages perform better, but actually still a same-same for this point. The most successful groups perform at the highest level because they’re committed to each other, they trust that everyone means their best, and they don’t shy away from feedback because it is constructive and opens the door for new possibilities.
This one’s a no brainer on the business side. Treat your people right, be the leader they want and need, and they’ll stick if they’re right for the company. How long do people stay at the same job anymore? Whether they choose to leave, are let go, circumstances happen, or something else entirely, you have a chance to make a difference in someone’s life. Teach them to perform at the highest level, and they will.
7. Most things worth doing aren’t worth doing alone.
When you sing in a group, you’re contributing to something bigger than you. If you make it about your sound versus the unit sound, the whole suffers. In my group I keep hearing “A little too much Tenor”, so I struggle to manufacture the right sound, relentlessly. Recently I had a coaching session where I learned how to align my mechanism, and all those pieces melted away. Do I still use those tools? Yes, but I don’t need to layer them on every time, and the ensemble is better for me learning my own improvement.
Your team is probably pretty cool. If you don’t see it, take another look, it’s there. Each and every person on your team is contributing towards the bigger goal and adds something that would otherwise be missing no matter who you found to replace them. Do your own preparation, make yourself excellent, and trust that your team is on your team. Does that mean ignore problems? No, in fact it means the opposite! Clearing the space in your team opens the door for collaboration and getting your own house in order before you even think about taking on the ‘competition’.
8. The afterglow is the best part.
In barbershop you have shows and competitions every so often, and when it’s done there’s an Afterglow. You connect with other competitors or performers, enjoy a beverage responsibly, catch up on old times, and generally do a lot more singing. If you and your quartet have given your all and the preparation lined up with the opportunity, the celebration feels real and fulfilling. It’s not even the fact that it’s a party, you just feel good.
When your team delivers, it’s usually because you put in the effort together. That’s what makes it so satisfying. The designer crushed it, the art director guided it with a nuanced hand, the account manager was on top of it, the vendors all delivered to the quality that was expected or better… At that point you don’t need to throw a party, everyone’s stoked. Enjoy it, and use it as a lesson. When we’re on, it’s because we’re all on. You spend a lot of time with that team, it only makes sense to commit to everyone winning together.
I sing in a quartet with 3 of my best friends, and a chorus of several more. My Account Management partner at ZoCo is another one of them. The rest of the team, you guessed it, I love them too. It’s a choice that makes the rough times smoother, and the best times bigger. So what’s my insight there? Make the choice, make the commitment, and assume the best of your people.
If all this talk of Barbershop and life lessons gets you pumped, check out The Alliance Chorus, and The Regulars. They’re pretty cool. I mean, I’m in them.