I’d like to share with you some important life and business lessons from an unexpected source. I just saw an extraordinary group of musicians in an unusual format. They each gave a short summary of their life story before performing a prepared piece. During the course of the evening, they also did some amazing improvisation. It was followed by audience participation and a question period.
I’m always looking for subtexts, themes, hidden meanings and underlying principles. Theirs were unmistakable. Each one talked about overcoming the personal risk of trying new things in front of other people who might see their shortcomings.
One talked about his first performance as a kid facing a neighborhood audience when he had realized seconds before that he really hadn’t prepared sufficiently.
An opera singer talked about thinking of herself as a pianist only to have the dean of her college and her teachers discover that she was a much better singer, a mode that she felt uncomfortable with.
Another talked about coming to America from Hungary because this is the land where risks are appreciated rather than punished. She also talked about the importance of intense studying of technique, then having the willingness to let it go and try new things, trusting that her technique could be relied upon.
Another talked about his mother and other performers exhorting him to put his real self out there with gusto.
I asked them to expand upon this theme of courage in the face of risk during the question period and they said some interesting things worth passing along.
- They said that life is improvisation and you have to be willing to act when you don’t know what’s going to happen, knowing that you can make adjustments along the way.
- One — who was obviously struggling with the complexities of being a painter, filmmaker, singer and flute-player — identified with Josephine Baker’s lifelong struggle with trying to be appreciated for being different and said that she had to think outside the box and trust that it would all somehow come together.
- Another asked for a chord from the pianist and improvised from it. But, when he asked for another chord, the pianist gave him an impossibly complex one. Rather than making an excuse, or failing an impossibly hard feat, he simply and humorously asked for another chord, to which another musicians said, “In life, you can always get another chord.”
It was obvious that they all seemed to enjoy their improvisational risk-taking much more then their rehearsed performances. We did too.
I was struck by these tales and demonstrations of real-life courage. I gained a new appreciation for the risk-taking that all real artists have to take, even when they were children. Most of all, I was inspired to think about ways to improvise instead of always presenting a finished product.
Artists are, after all, entrepreneurs: people who put an extension of themselves out in the world for other people to accept or reject, willing to assume greater than normal financial and psychological risk, fueled by their passion for their product, their precious baby. The artistic product is perhaps a little more noble than other products, but it’s a product nonetheless; and the artist is a very special entrepreneur.
My next post will be about what they have inspired me to do.