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Solving a Problem? Don’t Play the Same Old Song

January 11, 2021


I’ve been a musician for decades. It all started when I saw old footage of Elvis Presley. At that time, I felt like something was missing from my hands—it was a guitar. For years I wrote songs, formed bands, performed live and recorded albums.

Despite my background, to this day, nothing makes me more uncomfortable than “jamming." I am a self-taught guitarist, who started writing songs from a chord chart, followed guitar tabs to learn cover songs. As such, I became a structure dependent musician. I needed to know the road map from beginning to end, then learn one part at a time (verse, chorus, bridge and so on).

I needed the structure to get comfortable.

Today, after years of doing this, I should be able to trust my experience or at least be comfortable attempting something that might not work. However, there is so much improvisation in jamming that contradicts the framework set in my mind. When jamming, I try a few things, get stuck in a safe place or contribute almost nothing.

This causes me to question if this thinking pattern is appearing in other areas of my life. Certainly, the professional environment. In a job we are tasked with certain responsibilities, expected to achieve particular outcomes and report within a hierarchy. It’s order and structure that allow for clarity.

At a high level that works for me, but what about problem solving within that structure? I had always considered myself an innovative problem solver (and I’m glad no one ever called me on it!) but my skills were very unrefined. A few quick wins driven by curiosity gave me the impression that my skills were fully developed. These experiences were a good start but without trying different things, the patterns got locked in. It’s like the third album by a popular artist—you are a big fan and you’ve awaited this release, but when you give it a first listen, something seems off. You feel it’s a little stale. You start to feel like these songs were written in the mirror of a past hit and not quite as good. This is a tell-tale sign that the artist should have experimented with different sounds or structures.

Problem solving in your business is the same thing. Eventually your solutions start to sound like the third iteration of an old number one song. Predictable but not as impactful as the original.

What do you need?

  1. Get a band together.

This, in part, is a diversity issue. Like writing songs in isolation, you will solve problems according to the patterns that got you results in the past. Once you get a group together, you start to appreciate what collaboration really sounds like.

  1. Pick your instrument.

Every arrangement doesn’t need you beating the same old drum, so try changing your approach. Ask yourself, “What would it look like if I did the complete opposite from usual?” Does this problem require a ballad or an anthem? In other words, is it time for a bold solution or a gentle approach?

  1. Plug and play.

Don’t be afraid to fail. Not every solution will work out so just plug in and make some noise. You won’t write your next hit solution if you’re staring at your guitar on the stand in the corner of the room.

-Ryan Ramsdale

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