Approach everything as though you were a jazz player

December 23, 2007 | By | Reply More

I’m a newcomer to an extremely popular website called Lifehack.  The site specializes in “hacks, tips and tricks that get things done quickly by automating, increase productivity and organizing.” 

There is obviously a lot to consider at  One might wonder, though, how much time one should spend on productivity lest one’s productivity sags.  Despite this self-limiting concern, Lifehacks marches on relentlessly, reporting on hundreds of ideas, big and small, that claim to enhance productivity. 

I really enjoyed a post called:  “Everything I Need to Know About Productivity I learned from Charles Mingus.”  Mingus was a highly respected bass player, composer and band leader. 

I’ve played a fair share of jazz guitar over the years (I’ve long been inspired by the music of Wes Montgomery).  that experience often has me wondering how much of those jazz techniques transferred over to other activities.  In particular, is jazz playing merely good subliminal therapy, mental chiropractic, or do some of those jazz skills have clear relevance to other domains?

The author of this Mingus post, Dustin Wax, was inspired by Mingus’ autobiography, Beneath the Underdog, arguing that some jazz techniques do indeed transfer to other walks of life.  To me, Wax’s arguments make intuitive sense.  His article is succinct and well-crafted.  Here’s a sample:

You don’t play alone: Too many people think about the great Jazz geniuses as exemplars of individualism: free minds striving for greatness. Here’s what Mingus would do when a soloist thought too highly of his own genius — he’d direct the band to stop playing, leaving the soloist hanging without any backup, looking like a fool. Improvisation is as much about the relationships between people as it is about our own self-expression; work with the input of those around you instead of trying to stand out against it.

Here are some of Mingus’ jazz rules Dustin Wax found to be useful beyond jazz playing.  I found myself nodding agreement to each of these:

Go with the flow

Learn the rules so you can break them

Play by ear

Embrace limits (Infinite choice is paralyzing)

When you make a mistake, keep playing


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Category: music, Psychology Cognition, Web Site

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

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