Why Does Playing the Guitar Contribute to My Day-To-Day Life as a Consultant?
During 2019 I had the pleasure of working as an intern at The Artian, a consulting and training company that focuses on building creative organizations with a unique approach: applying an art mindset in business environments. As the company credo states, “art is not an object, art is a mindset”. At the core of their work, the company uses the transformative power of art to shift mindset and develop skills that can help organizations to become more original and creative, and as a result, more innovative.
After my time at The Artian, I became a strategy consultant at Matrix Consulting, where I co-imagine alongside my clients the strategic future of their organizations. I am also an amateur guitarist: I am passionate about flamenco guitar, and I spend my free time getting lost in the mystery of its strings. However, the consulting and guitar spheres are not separate worlds to my eyes: having faced a variety of challenges alongside my clients, I would like to share 3 ways that playing guitar contributes to my day-to-day life as a consultant.
1. Developing a language beyond words
Playing the guitar allows me to live sublime experiences: getting lost in a piece of music, pacing the voice with the strumming of the strings, and raising my spirit beyond everyday life are experiences that transcend the borders of language. A word describes this feeling: “ineffable”, that which cannot be described in words. Music allows me to navigate waters where words inevitably sink. In the consulting industry, where we are in the business of co-creating ideas, transmitting them to others, and seeking to generate a change from them, being aware of the limitations of language has been great teaching when it comes to generating a positive impact.
When we try to generate a change in people or organizations, 5 barriers usually prevent it: (1) the need to add more information or data to convince others, (2) attachment to the past, (3) leaving the comfort zone, (4) feeling obliged to do something and (5) uncertainty. The simple use of language, however, is usually an effective strategy only in the face of the first barrier: words are useful to corroborate evidence and transmit it to others, but they can be useless to help people overcome the fear of getting out of their comfort zone. To achieve this, it is useful to devise alternative strategies that go beyond language, and the experience of playing an instrument is a reminder that there is an entire universe where words have a limit.
Léon Pallière in His Room at the Villa Medici, Rome – Jean Alaux, 1817
2. Exploring alternative identities
Given the amount of time we dedicate to work, our identity constructions are usually determined to a large extent by our profession. The stereotype of a consultant, for example, usually includes some of the following ingredients: data-driven, executive communicator, structured thinking, efficient. Sometimes, however, the degree to which we cling to our identity constructions prevents us from seeing the world from a different perspective and connecting with others.
During 2020, for example, I had the pleasure of working as a consultant for ANDI — a business association that accounts for 55% of Colombia’s GDP—, which involved establishing relationships with people from more than 12 regions and 35 sectors of the Colombian economy. On the same day, I could have meetings with representatives of the mining and energy sector to representatives of the digital sector and tour the country from north to south. Such a degree of diversity soon made me realize that presenting myself with a fixed and immutable identity upon different stakeholders— following the classic stereotype of a consultant, for instance—would be ineffective. To connect with others, I had to explore alternative identities, I had to adapt and flexibly modify my conception of self.
Surprisingly, the guitar offers me an ideal platform for letting go of my identity constructions. After a day’s work, as I strum the strings, the guitar reminds me that there is an identity beyond the “consulting self”: as I play, I discover a sensitive, poetic, and artistic Sergio. In fact, when I play guitar, I usually visualize myself in an alternative universe: in that universe, I am a Gipsy Kings guitarist, or I am in a gypsy cave in southern Spain playing Bulerías. In that universe, I let go of the aspects that should define me— data-driven, executive communicator, etc — and I have a window to reimagine myself. The guitar, in short, helps me remembering the mutability of my identity, allowing me to see and experience the world from different perspectives.
Gitana y torero con el Guadalquivir al fondo – Gonzalo Bilbao, 1920
3. Entering a state of flow
The state of flow refers to a physical and mental state where all aspects of performance reach their peak, the sense of time is completely distorted, proprioception fades, and where action and consciousness intermingle. It is, therefore, a state to which we should aspire, regardless of our craft.
Of course, when I play guitar there are times when I manage to enter this state: my mind clears, time passes in the blink of an eye and a feeling of well-being floods me. Now, I’ve found that spending a few minutes on the guitar before I start work sets my mind for idea generation and problem-solving. It is as if the sensory feast and magic that floods me when I strum the strings stays in my body even when I change of activity, and that feeling creates inertia that pushes me to be more creative and focused. Music, with its magic, makes it easier for me to enter the mythical state of flow.
There is scientific evidence that corroborates some of the ideas that I have outlined: For instance, playing an instrument has been shown to increase the ability to recognize patterns, a key ingredient in creativity and an inducer of the state of flow. Why? Playing music activates all parts of the brain at the same time, making it easy to connect seemingly unrelated ideas or information. For instance, playing an instrument requires both mathematical precision (to follow a rhythm, for example) and interpretive precision (to translate sounds into emotions, for example), thereby engaging both hemispheres of the brain. The biological reasons abound, but for me, the role guitar plays in promoting focus and creativity can be summarized in a sentence: music brings magic to the workplace, making it easier for me to enter the mythical state of flow.
As a son of an engineer and an artist, I was raised in the intersection of two worlds: one of numbers and quantitative reasoning and the other full of ineffable and sensible experiences. Having experienced how both can intermingle and create benefits even in a business context, I invite all readers to follow what has become my life maxim:
“A Renaissance thinker is a person who has the brain of scientists but the sensibilities of poets”
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