Street performing for tips ("busking") continues to provide me with insights on life and business.
I played the street decades ago but recently took it up again on weekends, initially so I could earn a few bucks as I learn to play slide guitar. But it’s become the gift that keeps on giving.
Here are a few more realizations I’ve had—in addition to lessons I’ve posted here and here. These aren’t quite blinding epiphanies, but notions I’ve previously considered that have been resoundingly confirmed.
1. Perseverance, resilience, stick-to-itiveness is a habit or trait that’s woefully underappreciated. (“Grit” is the trendy term for it.) We all know the value of talent. But talent can be developed and enhanced over time, and perseverance is the key. You gotta keep at it.
Most evenings when I start playing, it feels like I’m wasting my time for the first 45 minutes. Nobody stops, makes eye contact, or contributes a nickel. I almost quit a half dozen times. But I stubbornly press on and keep to my plan (to play for two hours, to cover my expenses, and to get a little better at my craft). Eventually the flood gates open. A few folks stop to listen, other folks notice a small crowd is forming so they stop, and suddenly I have a sizable audience and sizable tips. Most importantly, by performing week after week my skill level has significantly improved.
Such grittiness is valuable in any field and certainly in business. If you’re in sales, for instance, and you’re not signing up customers, you know if you make enough calls and appointments the sales spigot is likely to open. You can’t afford to stop and quit because you're having a bad hour, day, or week. You. Keep. Going.
2. When you’re interacting with an audience you have to connect with INDIVIDUALS, one person at a time. If you try to relate to a group as a whole you’re likely to not connect with anyone. In a way, there is no “audience,” just a collection of individuals who are relating to you in different ways. Start with one person and go from there.
When a group of people walk by me on the street, I try to connect with one person first and build from there. Often I get the attention of young children (the first to make eye contact with me) who slow down to make sense of this strange man making music with a silver bar on his finger, sliding over some strings. If they stop, then their parents have to stop and—bang!—I’ve got them. I also encounter many dog walkers, whom I engage by connecting with their dogs first, who manage to plant themselves in front of me and refuse to budge, forcing their owners to stop.
Most of us in business have to "present ourselves" to others in some way—whether selling products to customers or offering ideas in meetings with coworkers. The same principle applies: connect with individuals, one by one. Perhaps your colleagues aren’t children or animals, but if they act like they are, the above especially applies.
3. If you’re in it just for the bucks, you’re less likely to succeed. In fact, having money as your primary long-term motivator is a recipe for suffering. (There's a minimum level of income that most people need—to meet personal or family needs—in order to be satisfied, but studies show that income beyond a certain level is a weak motivator.) Money IS a useful measure, however, in determining whether you’re providing value for others.
I have a certain minimum income I need to earn on the street to pay expenses (gas, parking, guitar strings, amplifier batteries) and to buy dinner (my usual salmonella salad at Chipotle). I’m fortunate to make a living from my day gig—management consulting—which is also something I don’t do primarily for money. I get a kick out of making a good haul in tips from busking (when it happens), but nothing compares to having an appreciative audience (especially kids jumping around) and seeing the day-to-day improvement in my craft.
Every successful business leader I know has a higher goal than maximizing profits and shareholder values. As John Mackey of Whole Foods Market says:
Profits are a byproduct of other things—having a deeper purpose, having great products and services that people want, customer satisfaction…and social and environmental responsibility. If those are pursued diligently, profits will be the result.
In other words, if you provide value you’ll be rewarded, including financially. True in street singing; true in business.