How to Play the Piano

I’ve had a piano for seven years and a synthesiser for seventeen years and I’ve just learnt how to play. I’d been trying the play all that time but failed dramatically. Then as soon as I stopped ‘trying’, within a week I could suddenly play.

It came about because I wanted to retain the ‘cool dad’ tag for as long as possible with my fourteen month old son. We’ve been filling his day with music since he was born and when he expressed an interest in the large wooden piece of furniture covered in ebony and ivory keys I wanted to be able to play a tune for him. So I did. Was it as simple as that, you say? Actually yes. And I’m not saying all this to impress you, but to impress upon you a strategy for learning which can be, and should be, applied to everything you want to learn.

Let’s have a look at what is going on here.

The first thing was that suddenly the motivation was there to learn. When I was at school my parents and the teacher were concerned that I was late in reading. The reason was that they had given me a load of old boring books to read. I wanted to be able to do it to please them and get away with it and I wasn’t motivated in the actual reading of such dull stories. But when I got me hands on the Dalek and Star Wars annuals with their comic strips I suddenly ‘got it’. Then I devoured the many Doctor Who novelisations of the television series, a couple I owned and the rest from the library. Remember these were the days before video recordings. A Doctor Who story was on television once and then never repeated so books were the only way of reliving the adventures.

Comic strips, pulp science fiction, novels of tv series and fantasy ‘choose your own adventure’ books were all decried by teachers and parents in the 70s and 80s. What they failed to recognise, as the author Philip Pulman has often pointed out, is that it’s the reading that is important for children. It doesn’t really matter what they read as long as they do read. (For Pullman it was the Superman comics). Children soon consume a range of books and then look to the next thing to satisfy their reading desires. It’s often those who started on the lesser appreciated literary forms that move quicker onto more advanced works.

What was going on with my early reading was that I was getting a result straight away. I was learning as I went along, but I was getting the result which was the understanding of the particular adventure story.

I’d used the same approach to learning the guitar. I was self-taught. I learnt that I only needed the chords A and D to play ‘Mull of Kintyre’. Add in an E and I could play Buddy Holly’s entire back catalogue. My goal was to sing and play and within a week I could do that. After a month I was writing my own songs.

So it was this technique that I applied to the piano. The goal was to be able to play and sing some popular songs. I didn’t need to start at the very beginning and learn the history and meaning of dots and squiggly lines on wires. All I had to do was to make a convincing sound.

All learning begins with self learning. A good teacher shows the way and needs to surround the student with the right motivation for them. The student then pulls themselves up, by themselves. The thrill of achievement then fuels the next stage; the desire to get better. This is where the teacher is needed as mentor, to guide the student through to mastery by showing technique and information.

So many teachers get this process back to front. They bombard the student with technique and information which goes over the heads of so many students who then feel disenfranchised and lose interest. There is a certain percentage of people who can learn this way but many will get quickly bored if the information is not relevant to their current goal. It’s all about finding the right teaching strategy to match the student’s learning strategy.

Now that I can convincingly play ‘Hey Jude’ and ‘Let it Be’ I can begin to expand my repertoire as well as going back to look at the technique and information for reading printed music. I now have the motivation to be able to get there.

You’ll have your own learning strategies. They may be different to mine but they’ll be the same in the one vital way: you will always need less will power to learn something you want to learn and that you will enjoy learning. If you have to use will power then you are more than likely to just give up and do something more rewarding at the first sign of hard work. Build the reward into the learning. This will work whether you want to learn Mandarin, Chemistry, salsa dancing or piano. Ask yourself ‘why?’. If that ‘why’ is compelling enough you’ll be doing it in no time.

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Take it as red

Have a look outside for a red car. Have a closer look at the body of it. Is it really red? The more you look the more you’ll see that it’s many different colours, few if any of them are actually red. You’ll see that areas are different shades of pink, grey, white, black. Perhaps other colours that are reflected slightly giving us murky greens and browns. “But I know it’s red” you may say. Well it isn’t red. There is unlike to be a situation where the car is entirely red.

We make assumptions, ‘knowing’ that the car will have been painted with one colour of ‘red’ paint. But to say the car is ‘red’ is a simplification, a minimisation or the truth. It is a reductionistic viewpoint. “But it’s still red!” you cry. Well, no, it isn’t. Colour is determined by the frequency of light which hits our retina. When white light bounces of the car, the microscopic texture within the paint diffracts the light and absorbs certain wavelength of the colour spectrum, reflecting only certain other colours. So if the ‘red’ car reflects ‘grey’, than that part of the car is grey from the observers viewpoint. As the viewer moves, the colour of the car changes. Only the ‘ideal’ car, the reductionistic abstract is ‘red’. Likewise, a tin of red paint with the lid on is not actually red. Only when the lid is removed and light shone in does it become red.

All of this has consequences relevant here as this level of reductionism goes on all the time, stunting our true perception of the world around us, blinding us to what is really going on out there.

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Think Ahead for Glory

At this time of year sensible people do some form of goal setting exercise. You can’t hit a target you can’t see, so set the target. An easy and fun way to do this something I do every year. Give it a go yourself.

Get a piece of lined paper and write ‘Glory list 20** (this past year)’ at the top. Then write a column of numbers 1 to 30 down the left hand side. For each number write something that you achieved this year that was glorious. Include personal and business, large and small things. You must do all 30.

Then get another identical piece of paper. This time write ‘Glory list 20** (next year)’ at the top and the numbers down the side. Referring to what you wrote on the other sheet, write a new version of it next year that’s bigger and better. So if one of your glories from this last year was “I had a weeks holiday in France”, put for next year: “I had two weeks holiday in France and a week in America” or whatever would upstage last year for you. Write each and every line as if it has already happened.

On a third piece of paper write “Glory List 20** (next year) extra” and write anything else that you missed out on here. This is what you will have achieved come this time next year. Just by doing that you’ve made it so much more likely to come true.

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Don’t be a generalist – be a specialist

You can’t please everybody all the time. If you try you actually end up pleasing nobody all the time. This is what television broadcasting companies and record companies have only just started to realise. ITV for example has tried for years to please the ‘masses’, the ‘popular vote’, the ‘average viewer’ only to find that now no such viewer exists. As a commercial television broadcaster their revenue comes from advertisements during the programmes. So they have to put on programmes that the demographic for the adverts would want to see. Recent viewing figures have shown that less and less people want to watch what ITV has to offer that many advertisers no longer want to invest in spending their money on commercial television. Last year Cadbury have ended their ten year sponsorship of Coronation Street.

The days of everyone in the nation doing the same thing are long gone. The 1977 Morecambe and Wise Christmas show was watched by 30 million people. That amounted to every home that had a television and 60% of the population. Now the most watched television reaches 15 million (Eastenders and Doctor Who) which is only 16% of the country.

The Sun claims to be the UK’s most popular newspaper with an average of 7.8 million readers every day (twice as many and The Times). The Sun claim to be ‘the voice of the nation’ but the reality is that only 13% of the population actually read it, so it’s not that popular after all.

When the BBC started releasing archive television programmes on video in the 1980s they made an assumption that the audience for the videos was a general one who would be interested in the old programmes from a general interest point of view. So they made compilations of long running shows such as Doctor Who and Monty Python, creating a ‘best of’ video series. What took them a long time to realise was that the potential Doctor Who audience wanted the entire episodes uncut, not edited. The Doctor Who audience was a specialist audience who would pay handsomely to have their favourite programme in its entirety. They even wanted the BBC indents, trailers, out-takes and behind the scenes interviews released. The BBC realised that they were now catering for a specialist market that was so much bigger than the general interest market they’d originally planned for. In the 80s and 90s Doctor Who made more money through merchandise for the BBC than all of the rest of its output put together and that was while the programme was off air for 16 years.

In marketing terms this is known as ‘the long tail’. A bookshop in town with limited shelf space needs to stock the books that are going to sell so it stocks all the ‘best-sellers’. Simply put it’s a business model that relies on selling a few titles to lots of people. On the other hand, an internet specialist shop sells lots of obscure titles to a few people. Because of the internet, the people who love the more obscure titles can be reached, even though they are spread all over the world. In effect the specialist market for something obscure is now huge. This is how new bands are able to market their music more effectively than ever before. There may not be many glam goth teddy boy punk heads in your town but when you capture the one from every town you have a sizeable market.

This is how many business have made a lot of money out of internet marketing in recent years – by realising that the marketplace is fragmented. Everyone is interested in something and there’s no common ground to reach them all on. There are no generalist customers out there. They all have specialist needs. We can meet those needs with our business by becoming specialists ourselves. The new rule is that it’s possible to please somebody all of the time.

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Avoid Cliches like the Plague

A cliché is a phrase or opinion that is overused or displays a lack of original thought. When an audience hears (or reads) a cliché they unconsciously assume that the rest of what has been said and what else is about to be said will also display a lack of original thought and the message, if there is one, will be ignored. George Orwell said “Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.”

Using a cliché isn’t clever and it isn’t amusing. People often use them as they think that it makes their prose more professional or business-like. It doesn’t. If you want your presentations to be heard or your articles to be read try using your own words to describe the thing you’re talking about. Your message will then seem alive and real instead of false and dead. So instead of ‘at the end of the day’, say something that fits the context of what you’re saying. ‘Finally’ may be enough. Instead of ‘at this moment in time’ try ‘currently’ or ‘today’. Endeavour to bin such phrases as ‘with all due respect’ and ‘I hear what you’re saying’ as well as that anathema ’24/7′. Using default chunks of cliché is the opposite of poetry.

Some other dastardly favourites are ‘on a weekly basis’ instead of ‘every week’ or ‘going forward’ instead of simply a pause. A bad writer or speaker is always telling us everything is ‘literally’ or ‘basically’ something or that they are ‘being honest’ or even worse ‘being perfectly honest’ – so was everything you said earlier a lie?

My pet hate has to be the need so many people have to avoid personal pronouns (I, me and you) as if they feel they might offend. So they’ll say, ‘can I get this for yourself?’, ‘Speaking personally myself…’ or ‘Myself and John’. It’s simply John and I.

Basically I bet now you’re beginning to feel like you’re caught between a rock and a hard place. It’s time to literally wake up and smell the coffee. Using language creatively is not rocket science. Rocket science is the scientific study of propulsion using explosive chemicals. That is what rocket science is and we all know that. It is not anything else you may like to compare it to. So let’s just say ‘it’s not complicated’ instead.

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When Jargon Replaces Thinking

Many businesses find it impossible to run a meeting without lacing it with cliched jargon. Ridiculous phrases, odd metaphors and allegories seem to be increasingly used without a great deal of thought into what’s really being said or any consideration for those present who may not have heard this nonsense before.

Investors in People ran a survey last year which found that a third of 3000 workers polled felt excluded when gobbledygook jargon speak was used. Two thirds felt it gave the impression that bosses were being untrustworthy or hiding something. All those polled felt that it was a sign of bad management and showed the bosses didn’t really know what they were talking about.

There are also cases of male bosses using male dominated sports metaphors without realising that their audience is mostly women. Some of these are used without knowledge of their origin, eg. ‘stepping up to the plate’ means nothing unless you know baseball. (The UK version would be stepping up to the crease, from cricket).

Here are some of the most used and what you could say instead:

Blue-sky thinking: Think of some idealistic or visionary ideas – don’t worry about their practical application
Get our ducks in a row: Have things efficiently ordered
Brain dump: Tell everything you know about a particular topic
Think outside the box: Don’t limit your thinking to within your job description
Joined-up thinking: Take into account how things affect each other
Drilling down: Get more detail about a particular issue
Push the envelope: Improve performance by going beyond commonly accepted boundaries
The helicopter view: An overview
Low-hanging fruit: The easiest targets
Guestimate: A guess
Going forward: from now on
Singing from the same hymn sheet: talking about the same subject

and the best one:

I know where you’re coming from: you are wrong

I’m all for metaphors and there’s nothing really wrong with any of the above unless they are used when people don’t understand them or used out of context. The most successful managers are those that recognise that communicating in a way that everyone can understand is the key to having an engaged, motivated and enthusiastic team. If you find yourself trapped in jargon land, print out the list and play Buzzword Bingo.

The Plain English Campaign have created a ‘Gobbledygook Generator’. Click here to try it – You really can’t fail with systemised organisational alignment.

Ayd works with people and businesses to explore and unlock their creative ideas in ways they may never have thought possible, to inspire innovation.

Book Ayd to speak about the Power of ‘What If?’ and Inspiration for Innovation at your conference, or in your business. A great way to open your event or as an after lunch energiser.

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