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Posted by on May 24, 2011

How the Music Affects the Wood

Readers of this blog know I like to play the electric guitar (I turn it up to 11), and I like Arlington Fretworks.

Proprietor and craftsman Daniel Carbone repairs and builds guitars there. I have written previously about his standards of excellence being off the charts. (One client wrote that he would trust him to work on his kids’ teeth.)

Daniel’s website notes that an interesting question has arisen in the music and physics world of whether a wood-based instrument improves the more you play it.

Sounds pretty virtuous if it’s true. According to a New York Times story, Dr. David G. Hunt of the School of Engineering Systems and Design at South Bank University in London believes it is. He says vibrations aimed at the instrument subtly alter the physics of the wood in a way that empirically increases sustain (the Holy Grail of guitar players), and more subjectively improves the sound.

So what leadership lesson can we apply from world of musical instruments and physics?

Every time you do something positive, constructive, helpful, engaging, uplifting, inspiring, motivating or other-centered (music), I believe you change yourself (wood).

By actually doing whatever you have learned and think might work better than whatever you were doing, you behaviorally rewrite some of your operating system source code; you rearrange the molecules in the wood.

There is actually a neuroscientific explanation for this, as you change behavior, you lay down new neural pathways in your malleable brain; it is about plasticity. It is how habits – good or bad – get formed. One phrase is, “what fires, wires.” Synaptic connections become the new reality.

You can also pick up good vibes by associating with people who operate at a high level. By observing, maybe by  osmosis, you are influenced in a positive way — but you still have to act on what you are noticing.

Keep in mind that overnight, radical development usually doesn’t last. It takes time.

I once worked with a woman in Atlanta in a leadership position in a federal agency. She said in workshop that one thing she does now is really listen to employees. She also said she could not do this several years ago. (Actually, she could have at any time; she just chose to start trying it at some point.) Her comment was that it still requires some effort, but it is much easier now than it used to be.

Her molecules got rearranged. Without belaboring the point about the very significant benefits of true listening, we can say she is somehow different as a result of all the times she was ready to jump in with The Expert Opinion, but chose to hold back and listen longer. I would lay a heavy bet her employees appreciated this.

The opposite way to think about this is the old phrase, “To know and not do is to not know.”

A final point: The author of the study mentioned above said in an interview that “People don’t understand entirely the structure of wood, even after using it and studying it for centuries.”

So there’s something a mystery in this (but not enough to prevent guitar players from keeping their axes by their speakers). Think about it: We have some real gaps in our knowledge of wood.

How about our knowledge of people and relationships?

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