Monday, August 27, 2012

Your Other You

Regarding Picking, Sree wrote:
I just read through your post once, and my first thought is - your thought processes (& MO) are so different from mine in many areas, and it's super cool to see them explained in a way that makes sense. For instance, I'm usually a spreadsheet/analysis guy when it comes to houses & cars, considering each pro & con and assigning weighting factors and the whole bit, but it makes complete sense that if you're in an 'always-looking' mode, you would have that analysis ready to go (at its current level) at decision time.

Also, on reading your three tips under Serendipity, it seems to me to be akin to a nomadic approach to life, in that there isn't a particular home or profession or activity that you're picking and settling into for life. If something catches your eye, you pitch a tent and start working on it. If it doesn't work out after a while, you just pick up and move on to something else, no big deal. As opposed to building a huge structure there and getting basically chained to it.
Thinking about Sree's comments this morning, each of the two paragraphs boarded me onto a train of thought that dramatically extended my shower time.  (Fortunately, we have a tankless water heater, so Iris was able to get out the door on time.) The first train took me to the importance of developing the other you (I'll explain in a moment). The second dropped me off at the idea of a embracing a nomadic lifestyle where your nomadism extends beyond geographic locality (we'll talk about that tomorrow).

The Other You
When I was at Berklee College of Music, I learned as much from my fellow students as I did from my teachers. One guy in particular had an approach to learning guitar that I've since applied to everything from music to math to management.

Each month Jason would pick a famous guitarist to emulate. One month it would be Jimi Hendrix, the next, Larry Coryell, and then Al Di Meola, and so on. He would go about learning to play everything that the guitarist had recorded. He would search high and low for obscure records, taped live-radio sessions, and concert bootlegs.

Jason would learn to play all that his guitarist du mois had played. However, his goal was not to grow his repertoire. Instead, Jason used repertoire as a way to get inside the head of the other guitarist. His goal was to experience playing guitar as his virtual teacher would.

To be sure, there were many guitarists at Berklee who could perfectly replicate famous solos performed by famous players. Many could play them better than the original. At first, I confused this with what Jason was doing.  However, as the months passed it became clear that Jason was onto something quite different. He slowly pulled away from the pack of great players and soon was head-and-shoulders above the rest.

The way Jason would describe it is: "I want to learn Jimi Hendrix so well that when I improvise, the next note that I play will be the one he would have played even if everything inside me is screaming, 'No, don't play that note!'"

And that's exactly what Jason did. He'd learn a guitarist's music. He study his life. He'd try to get hold of guitars, pedals and amplifiers similar to the one's he used. Sometimes, he'd adopt the guitarist's diet. Jason would learn the guitarist so well that he could step into his shoes and play as he would have played--even if everything inside Jason screamed, no play another way.

The cool thing was that Jason didn't pick guitarist like himself or ones that he'd admired as a kid. Instead, he picked great guitarists who were as different from him as night is from day; he learned to transform his day to night, and vice versa.

The Other Me
Although I saw how powerful Jason's approach was, I never fully embraced it while at school. I had too many voices in my head telling to spend time on other activities that were "more important", such as studying for class, working on assigned projects and doing homework. Nonetheless, the impact of Jason's approach on his ability to play stuck with me.

Years later, when I first became a manager, I found that all the stuff that had worked for me as a technical team-leader just didn't cut it in management. My style had been more of player-coach (heavy on the player side) than coach-manager and I foundered. I knew I had to change my approach, but nothing I did seemed to work.

One day I remembered Jason and his guitarist-emulation model. I thought, "Hmm... I wonder if that will work with management?"

I thought of managers who were well respected and well rated, and then picked the one who seemed least like me. I went in to talk to William (not Bill) about what I had in mind. There we sat in his office, me in my jeans and t-shirt, hair down my back, him in his Brookes Brothers navy power-suit, with white button-down oxford shirt, Gerry Garcia tie, and wingtips. William looked at me dubiously as if I were up to something or playing a joke. After a few moments, he relaxed back into seat, exhaled deeply, and said, "OK, what do you want to know?"

I asked him question after question, everything from what he did in specific situations to what books he read and what television shows he watched. Promising not to say or ask anything, I asked if I might attend some of his team meetings to observe him leading. I asked who his mentors were and where he bought his clothes.

At first his answers were measured and doled out slowly, but the more I asked, the more he got into it. I decided to learn William the way Jason had learned Jimi. Sitting in a meeting, I'd slow my responses and ask myself, "Okay, how would William respond to this? Why would he respond that way?"

And then, even if everything inside me were screaming, "No, don't do it!", I'd do what I'd guessed William would have done.

You know what? It worked.

Your Other You
So, as I considered Sree's comments this morning, I thought of Jason and William and how cool it can be to not only recognize the validity in approaches that are opposite yours, but to learn them in a way that you become equally comfortable with either.

What do you think?

Happy Monday,

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