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I started playing Ukulele last year when my business started to slow down and I found myself with more free time. In his book The First 20 Hours: How to Learn Anything…Fast, Josh Kaufman describes how he learned just three chords and was able to play most pop songs.
He gave himself a timeline for when he was going to play the uke publicly in three months (or something like that) giving him motivation to practice daily. I was first interested in his book because of his story about how he learned how to play GO, the ancient Chinese board game. In his videos, Josh performs the ukulele on stage just before talking about learning GO. “If Josh can learn GO and ukulele, so can I!”
Soon after that, when I told a friend that I was bored and struggling with a sense of guilt for not doing anything or being busy, he suggested I read How to Be Idle: A Loafer’s Manifesto, by Tom Hodgkinson. It it, Hodgkinson suggests that every Idler should learn to play the Ukulele. It’s easy to learn, sounds nice, and is very portable.
So for the December holidays in 2015, my wife got me a $50 ukulele with her bonus, and I got her one too so we can play together. It’s been about a year that I’ve been playing almost everyday.
In July 2015, I started a Ukulele group in my house where 10 of us started to meet each Sunday to play songs. When the local paper picked up the story, we got too big for my living room and found a great location at the Grange. We call ourselves The Tigard Ukulele Group (TUGs).
I went from beginner to band leader overnight. I’m still a beginner, but now my job is to organize our meetings, find songs to sing and make sure we all play at the same tempo. A few months ago, I purchased an old suitcase and built a suitcase drum like this one. Now our timing is way better! (but our singing is still too soft.)
Since my singing is really quite terrible, I’ve decided to learn fingerstyle, that’s when you fingerpick the ukulele for melodies, rather than just strumming and humming. In my research to learn fingerstyle, I discovered James Hill and his Ukulele in the Classroom series. This is a school curriculum to teach music theory through ukulele. Many schools use this to teach music reading, rhythm and performance skills
Over the last three month or so, I’ve been going through his books and learning a great deal.
The problem I had was that I could read the music fine and I could play with the metronome fine. But when it came to playing with other people, or with the 2nd parts, I got jammed. Plus, Lily (my wife) didn’t have the free time I did to practice. I needed a way to play on top of the harmonies and chords.
Enter Garageband. Yes, that squirrely Apple program that took me 1 hour to get off of my hard drive! Well, Apple’s IOS version of the program is amazingsauce. With the pickup on my gorgeous cocobolo ukulele and the Apogee Jam interface that plugs into my iPhone I have been recording bass lines, chords and melody lines, adding sampled percussion and etc to make pretty cool sounding recordings.
I’d like to share with you (the 1 person reading this) my learning progress with ukulele fingerstyle. Over the next few months, I’ll be posting songs from James Hills’s books on Soundcloud and putting them here on my blog. My goal is to get better at keeping time, making good sounding tones, and developing my music reading. At the end of the series, I will then attempt to play Bach’s Prelude to Cello Suite No. 1.
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Recently a cool venture called, The Work Revolution interviewed me for their blog. “The Work Revolution is the collaborative effort of a few passionate people who contribute purely out of excitement for the cause.” What’s the cause? To re-energize our experience at work. To make work fun and meaningful. Here are my answers to their questions.
Why does the world need a work revolution? (In other words: the way we’re working isn’t working. Why not?)
Cubicle living just wasn’t for me. I found that although I was considered a “knowledge worker” in the “creative class” that my daily experience had little to do with knowledge or creativity. So getting laid off (twice) was the best thing to ever happen to me because it forced me to really look at what I enjoyed doing, how to really work with and grow my knowledge and creativity.
Now that I run my own company, I make sure to allow the people I hire to actually make creative decisions and to fully express their talents. I hire up. All of my writers are better writers than me. All of my trainers are better trainers than me. Even my sales team are better than I could ever hope to be. They enjoy their craft and are good at it. This is fulfilling to them, and provides enormous value to the company and to our clients. They don’t want to do my job, they see their craft as a means in and of itself.
I don’t think aspiration to management is the ultimate goal, despite what society tells us. There is no golden fruit up top the proverbial ladder. The golden fruit is loving your craft, and enjoying and getting lost in the amazing creative work you do now.
Most of what corporate America calls “knowledge work” is little more than following someone else’s procedures and making choices pre-determined by some consultant looking to optimize profits and reduce risk. That’s not creativity! And I think we need to be critical of the work deemed “creative” when it’s actually not.
How are you or your organization reinventing work in some way (big or small)?
All of my employees are 1099 contractors. I don’t want to be their sole source of income or fulfillment. That’s way too much responsibility! At the same time, they chose to work with me because I don’t hold them hostage to just my projects, my industry nor my policies. This mutual freedom works amazingly well.
On one hand, I can scale up and down based on my actual sales. On the other hand, they are welcome to take on as much or as little work with me or with other clients. Now that healthcare is no longer a major motivator for employment, the 1099 freelance economy has a real chance.
Why do you do what you do?
I’m not a good employee. I know that. My managers in the past certainly know that! I admire anyone who can keep a job longer than 6 months, I’ve not been able to do that. So in a very real sense, I don’t have a choice but to be an entrepreneur and business owner. And I’m incredibly grateful to live in a country that makes this so easy.
At the core of what I do is the notion of challenging convention for the purpose of helping people improve their lives. Everything I do revolves around this. I challenge people to look at job search differently, then give them tools to find better jobs, faster.
When I’m on my deathbed, I want to look back and think, “I’ve helped thousands of people live better.” I won’t look back and say, “I’ve been a great marketer,” or “I’ve built a great company that’s given me freedom to pursue my other interests.” Although these things might or might not be true, it’s the impact I’ve been able to have on others that drive me. Profits just help me keep doing that.
What kind of art (any kind) do you like and why? Any recommendations we should know about?
I don’t have much talent. But I’m a fast learner and I enjoy learning. Currently, I’m learning to play the ukulele. I suck. But I enjoy playing. I’ve dabbled in drawing and photography as well. More than anything, trying to learn these things, although it hasn’t been fruitful from an artistic point of view, has given me huge appreciation to the artists who do it well (and who make a living at it).
What is one specific thing your company does that makes your culture unique and/or different?
I believe in democracy, quite literally. I think my employees can make way better decisions than I can. So I let them do that. My three favorite words to tell them are, “Up to you”. If they need help after that, I’ll help. But I trust their inherent intelligence about solving problems. Even with my writers, when a client comes in and wants us to write a LinkedIn profile for them, I’ll let the writers decide who’s the best fit for that client. This approach has worked very, very well.
What is one discipline/industry totally different from your own that has inspired you? How does it impact your work?
I’m a huge fan of E. F. Schumacher’s work from “Small is Beautiful” which he published in the 1970s as well as his other essays. The premise is about how small economies are preferable to larger, global ones. As a royal economist in the UK, he was sent to Burma to “teach them modern economics” to the developing world. But what happened instead is that they taught him the value of communities that support it’s members and that keep their wealth within their craft guilds. He saw happy people and villages completely immune to the oil crisis happening at the time.
Schumacher talks about the three fallacies of our economic system. The first is the fallacy that our sources of energy are unlimited, this promotes hyper consumption without much foresight into the predicament of our next generations. The second is the fallacy that technology will solve all of our problems. Human problems can only be solved by humans. Technology has managed to shift things around, but the core of what we need to work on, as a society has pretty much remained the same for thousands of years. I forgot the third fallacy. Ha! Shoot me.
What’s one tangible and concrete technique other organizations should use if they want to create a more human and/or meaningful place to work?
Easy. So many companies now hire the cheapest labor they can find. All decision-making happens at the top, and the unskilled labor just following the rules. Basically, management has taken the conveyor belt from a Ford factory and applied it to knowledge work. It’s recipe for boredom, unfulfillment, non-loyalty, and high turn over. More and more actual creative decision-making is get relegated to a fewer minority at the top.
Despite the immediate increase in profits this approach might get you, it’s not sustainable in the long-term. And it hurts our society, as fewer and fewer people are tasked to innovate.
Instead, put your exponential (and ludicrous) growth targets away and give your employees a chance to refine their craft, to exercise real decisions, to truly take part in innovation. Give up SOPs and start saying, “up to you.
What is one surprising thing we should know about you?
I lived in Nepal for three years, and was very close to becoming a Buddhist monk.
What piece of technology (other than your laptop/smartphone/tablet) could you not live without and why?
When I was in highschool, I went through a depression and slouched a lot. This bad posture has caused me a lot of pain, even after the depression lifted. Though I don’t slouch any more, my back and neck are very susceptible to soreness and pain. And when there’s pain, it’s hard to work well, and be positive. Chiropractic only seemed to solve the problems for a few days, and got costly.
While training in Crossfit, I discovered mobility, which is a way of manually changing the nature of your physical tissues with everyday objects. I mobilize my back and neck daily and have been virtually pain-free for years. So I won’t go anywhere without my lacrosse ball. There is no reason to be in physical pain, and there’s no reason why you can’t use low-cost solutions to accomplish that.
What do you do for fun?
I love growing my own food! It’s been extremely liberating to pick my dinner from my backyard in the summers.
Also, since I stare at a computer for living, getting my hands dirty in the garden is very grounding.
How do you stay productive throughout your day?
There are three things to consider here and one caveat.
First, everyone suffers from decision fatigue. The more little choices you have to make, the harder it will be to make the more important choices later. Maybe that’s why Mark Zuckerberg only wears gray t-shirts. This phenomenon has been studied quite a bit. So I make my most important (and creative) decisions early on in the day.
Second, I change my mental state my changing my physical state. Taking a walk or doing some push ups can get me out of a mental fog extremely quickly.
Third, I chunk my work up into smaller segments. I wrote my book, Job Searching with Social Media For Dummies, in 25 minute chunks over the course of seven months.
Now the caveat. I don’t think it’s good to be at 100% productivity all the time. I go through phases of amazing productivity. I write thousands of words a day, launch products, build marketing funnels etc. at a high rate, waking up at 4 or 5 am. Then I go through weeks, sometimes months, of waking up late, languishing, gardening and hiking the Pacific Northwest. Producing all the time is not the optimum human condition, no matter what our protestant work ethic tells us. And there’s no reason to feel guilty about not being productive!
Where in the world are you?
I have an unfortunate facial tick. Sometimes my eyebrows go together in a flash moment. Kind of like when you hear something, but you weren’t quite sure what it was…
This is me thinking about how to respond. (I’m an introvert! Sometimes it’s hard, sheesh.)
Or maybe I just wasn’t paying attention and I was accessing my memory banks for the recording of your last 5 seconds of speech.
When I was younger, it was me judging you. I rejected first, than considered later. My world was small then.
I don’t do that any more, but the eyebrows still do!
So sometimes people get the impression that I’m squeamish. Actually, I’ve put a lot of work into learning how to have an open mind. Sure I might catch myself. And when I don’t, I always lose.
For example, I hired a Online Business Manager to help me with a product launch. She suggested I use Asana. But I had looked at it once and didn’t like it. Plus, I had made up my mind to like this other task management tool called Azendoo.
I did the eyebrow thing and she never pushed me.
Asana is amazing. And Azendoo was holding me back. It took five more people telling me to switch before I did.
In another example, I’m thinking about working with an engineer to test a new market.
I’d rather use Asana than email since it’s much easier to collaborate on a single part of the project. While emails tend to contain many items of review, a task management tool let’s you just focus on one part of the project.
He’s refused to consider moving away from email to collaborate. Maybe five more people need to convince him.
All of this got me thinking about the importance of remaining flexible while making business decisions. I’ve heard of this law of thermodynamics that states that the entity most adaptable is the most likely to survive (or something like that).
By what code do we determine if an idea is completely ridiculous or immoral, versus one that simply is unfamiliar or pushes our comfort level? In other words, how do you keep flexibility whilst holding firm to your sense of identity?
First, I look for any moral issues. As Khaled Hosseini said in The Kite Runner, all sins are some form of theft. Murder, theft of life. Coveting your neighbor’s wife, theft of love for your own wife. So, does the idea steal something from someone else.
Next, there are any plethora of human complications that can muddle such a seemingly simple decision. There might be the pure neurological limitation, part of a growing field of neuro-ethics. Can I see colors? No, then I can do something that requires me discerning blue from yellow. Can I recognize faces? No, then I can’t use a system that relies on faces. More commonly, do I have any learning differences that make something difficult, like number order or reading.
In the case of the engineer I was thinking of working with, perhaps he encountered some neurological issue that makes email more accessible than a task management tool, some learning difference.
Regardless of the reason for the limitation, the limitation is there nonetheless.
In my case, I suffer from a mild dyslexia. Although it wasn’t always mild. In recent years, I’ve learned strategies for making this less a barrier for me. The less dyslexia effects me, the more flexibility I have in life and business.
Yes. I learned many powerful coping strategies for overcoming dyslexia that, I think, make me more resourceful than an average learner.
Perhaps the eyebrow tick is me accessing a by-pass pathway to understanding you.
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