Weekly Thoughts

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Eleanor Rigby

Who needs piano lessons?

We have been listening to the McCartney: A Life in Lyrics series in which Paul McCartney explores the inspiration behind his songwriting with poet Paul Muldoon.  In the Eleanor Rigby episode, McCartney discusses going to a traditional piano teacher as a child and finding the lessons uninteresting: 

McCartney: It just killed me. I couldn’t do it…. I [would think] I’ve heard better stuff than this on the radio.  This is not great, but okay, I’m sure we have to start here… and then she said homework.  Go home and learn.. and come back. And I was like I’ve got homework from school.  I don’t need your homework. 

In the early years of the Beatles, McCartney gave piano lessons another try but again, he found the structure and minutiae of the traditional lessons tedious and quickly abandoned them.  As it turns out, McCartney was not alone in his disdain for traditional musical training.  From the podcast: 

McCartney: Everyone in my generation, all of us groups, John, George, Paul and Ringo, Mick, Charlie… etc.. I don’t think any of us can read music.  And now I will teach a kid how to play the piano how we learned it and I will show them a couple of chords to get started on.  And if they’re musical, they’re off.  You get C, D minor, E minor, F, G, A minor and right there, that’s like most of the Beatles songs.  That’s more than you need to know. 

We were pretty surprised to learn that many musical greats could not read music.  They did, however, deeply understand the basics and trusted their instincts to iterate.  Their genius was in making those basic concepts their own, unbound by formal concepts; traditional training would have hampered their ultimate creativity.  

We speak with a lot of people who are intrigued with the idea of getting into small business.  Some of them are fed up with corporate bureaucracy; others want to feel they are having more of an impact; others simply want to live in a specific geographic area and are trying to figure out how to make it work.  Most of these conversations are great.  At times, however, we have noticed that some people seriously overthink the SMB opportunity. 

In our world of small business, we believe that a bias for action is rewarded.  If the leader isn’t going to make a decision and move forward, things stagnate quickly and deteriorate shortly thereafter.  Iteration and momentum matter.  We don’t have money to hire consultants; we don’t have time to spend weeks dithering about the minutiae; we don’t have the patience to talk about 0.5% probabilities.  We combine back-of-the-envelope math with common sense to make sure we are heading in (roughly) the right direction and then we get after it.  

In the SMB world, knowing C, D minor, E minor, F, G, and A minor is probably akin to understanding how unit economics and working capital impact your business and going from there.  The reality is that you don’t need a fancy MBA to do this work.  This week was a good reminder that many of the best entrepreneurs (like musicians) lack formal training.  While we’re sure McKinsey would be horrified, if McCartney can build Eleanor Rigby from one chord (E minor), maybe we’ll be OK too. 

Have a great week,

Your Chenmark Team

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