Syzygy #8: your rhythm, losing time to save time, & an idea
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Syzygy #8: your rhythm, losing time to save time, & an idea

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Playing to your rhythm

"Mick Jagger can't sing - and it doesn't matter one bit." That was a comment my dad made many, many years ago when we were talking about music, and I was reminded of it this week watching a Metallica concert.

The drummer, Lars Ulrich, has always taken a beating (haha! great pun Simon) in the drum community. Many judge him to be a poor drummer, but they forget that that's only part of the package when it comes to making something special.

In my teens I enjoyed attempting to play guitar and drums (saying I played them is pushing it a bit...).

I began to read about the artists I liked, listening to the experts in magazines who advised what tunes to listen to and which artists to follow.

Oftentimes they would deride other artists - often popular ones - for their lack of perceived technical ability.

Meanwhile, they'd hail an obscure musician who is able to to simultaneously play two guitars or beat at drum 300 times per minute as geniuses.

I had a good friend at university who was a fantastic guitarist. The problem was, he was just like the experts.

He loved obscure guitarists who looked as if they stepped out of a time machine from the 1980s. And he ridiculed new bands, often because the tunes were technically not perfect.

He was technically right, of course. But he was wrong about this being a major shortcoming.

Computers can be perfect. They can play anything note perfect with timing no human could possibly emulate. But what makes great music great is the feel, and the same goes for many areas of work.

Human metrics

If you are technically the best at something, good for you. That does mean a lot.

But if, like most people, you're not, there are a million different ways you can make whatever it is you do unique. Technical metrics are just one of the many ways to measure something (and a rather dull one at that).

Technically good drummer Mike Portnoy has this to say about Lars Ulrich:

"I'd rather be entertained and go to a show and watch a drummer and have somebody that makes me actually smile. So I don't judge drummers based on their technical ability; I judge them based on the overall package and what they bring to the music they're part of. And what Lars brings to the music of Metallica is absolutely invaluable. So I could care less if his meter might be slightly up and down, or if his fills are slightly sloppy; I don't care about that. To me, there's way more to being a good drummer than precision and technique."

My dad was saying the same thing about Mick Jagger after I said I could never perform in a band.

He wasn't saying he wasn't a great artist, he was making the point that technically he couldn't sing if measured by traditional metrics. But he brought so much to the table in terms of performance, attitude and hip swinging. He was unique, world class.

A primer on feel

Metallica wouldn't be Metallica with Ulrich. The Rolling Stones wouldn't be The Rolling Stones without Jagger.

The history of their craft relies more on feel and less on formal technique. As music producer Michael Beinhorn explains in this great post, every form of modern popular music carries a derivation of African music.

The interesting thing about African music, he says, is its general adherence to timing. Perhaps because most ethnic music wasn't based around notation, the concept of timing was much less formal (unlike classical music where timing is very strict).

"Instead of there being a specific down beat where everyone lands simultaneously, there is a loose (yet general) idea of where down beats are relative to each player (and to each instrument sound).When instruments are played together in this way, a remarkable and unique sensation of movement which is generated. All the instruments are perceived as working together, but they are neither dependent upon one another, nor are they particularly independent. They can be said to be performing together interdependently."

This creates an 'invisible latticework' of sound. It's all together, but also always unique, always personal.

This doesn't mean you can just turn up with a drum kit at your next party without a moment of practice. You will not be popular.

But it does mean that you can start learning a craft and begin to start playing to your own rhythm, so to speak.

It also means you shouldn't worry about the perfect pros over there practising speed drumming for 12 hours a day (what's the point?!). Focus on your your own unique ability, practice, and let a bit of your come out.

Let's leave the last word to Lars Ulrich:

"I'm not a particularly accomplished drummer but I am very, very, very good at understanding the role of the drums next to James Hetfield's rhythm guitar. I guarantee you I'm the best guy in the world for that, and that's enough for me!"

Little big ideas: The Clan 🌎

OK, so this is cheating a bit and I'm a bit nervous but here goes...

I've got an idea which for now I'm code naming 'The Clan'. That could well be a stupid name, I dunno.  

It's a place for communicators to learn and grow, using tools that are actually helpful. No more endless Googling for things are are 30% right.

Here's my pitch deck - tell me what you think. Be honest. Huge thanks in advance.

Losing time to save time

I've created a new system that will save me around 18,000 mouse clicks over the next five years. That sounds pretty good, doesn't it?

Put another way: I've just spent one and half hours figuring out how to create a button on my computer to automatically connect my bluetooth headphones. That sounds very dull, doesn't it?

Over the last couple of months I've had a low-level frustration with connecting my headphones with multiple clicks throughout the day.

I always thought there must be a better way. But, I put it off. It is such a tiny inconvenience, it could wait, I thought.

For some reason, this morning I decided to look into it.

You know those times when you think 'I'll just have a quick search on Google' and hours later you're ready to pull your computer apart because the easy sounding instructions online don't appear to work in real life?

Before I knew it, I was cutting and pasting code I did't understand, creating automations I'd never used before, and downloading apps I didn't know. And each time something didn't work, a voice told me 'this is a waste of time'.

Finally, with a lot of trial and error (and going down Reddit-thread rabbit holes), I figured it out.

I don't feel triumphant. I feel quite stressed in fact because I planned to write an article this morning and already a lot of time has passed.

But, after telling myself to calm down, I've realised that investing some time into something small but repetitive will compound into real savings in the future.

The 80/20 rule

Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto demonstrated way back in 1896 that approximately 80% of the land in Italy was owned by 20% of the population. Since then, the Pareto Principle, or 80/20 rule, has shown itself to be remarkably relevant to a host of fields outside of economics.

In sales, it's often said that 80% of profits come from 20% of the clients.

In computing, Microsoft found that fixing the top 20% most reported bugs fixed 80% of system errors.

In health, 20% of patients use 80% of resources. In crime, 80% of crimes are committed by 20% of criminals.

You get the idea but might be wondering why I'm banging on about this.

Well, the 80/20 rule can also be applied to how you handle your time.

In theory, we should be spending around 20% of our time making systems to handle what we're doing 80% of the time.

Think about that for a minute.

During a week, one day should be spent just looking at your routine, every-day tasks, and exploring ways to make them more efficient.

It sounds like a crazy amount of time. But if you consider your time is your most valuable asset, perhaps it does make sense?

XKCD has this great little guide, below.

The table shows, for instance, that you can spend 12 hours creating a system that would save you spending five seconds on something five times a day. Over five years, you'll make back that investment.

Small things, like an illuminated 'Connect' button on my Mac, can make a small big difference.

As frustrating and trivial as it seems to dedicate time to such things, you're investing in earning time in the future. Plus, it inspired me to write this article. I did have time after all.

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