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Four Observations on How to Adapt to Change

This year my business, Contemporary Music Center, enters its 28th year and, while that’s young by some standards, I am aware that I have beaten some of the odds in business statistics. According to several sources the overall consensus is:

• 75% of small businesses fail in their first ten years. • 50% fail after five years.

So making it to 28 years indicates we have overcome some typical challenges. In that period of time, I have witnessed many shifts and trend changes – actually more than I could possibly list, but a few of these will likely humor you.

Although it was only 28 years ago when I decided to open my business’ door, at that time there was no official Internet. When Contemporary Music Center opened, no one had ever heard the terms “Skype,” “Cloud,” or “Dropbox.” How could anyone have possibly prepared for such changes? Of course, we all know the truth: no one can.

We can, however, be quick to react and incorporate new paradigms and embrace major changes; or like some people, we could deny them and say the automobile will never replace the horse and carriage, but by now, I think it’s fair to say, “Never say never.” Honestly, how do we embrace different thinking and try to take advantage of major shifts in business and align with new ways of conducting business?

We can begin by embracing the pain of growth

That will most likely mean expanding your comfort zone and original skill sets. When I opened CMC, I had already developed certain skill sets, and I still incorporate many of them to this day. But what has enabled me to sustain success in my career is accepting the fact that I will continually always need to expand the very skills with which I began. Success means we continually need to embrace having an open mind, and we need to strive to seek new and fresh ways of accessing and solving nagging problems that cost our businesses opportunities to grow.

Admission is a productive new skill set

Granted we all miss some of the timing of new trends, but a well­-run business doesn’t shrink from admitting the truth of when we are wrong or behind on a trend. To paraphrase a quote from Quincy Jones: It’s usually the cash register that indicates that it’s time to check our ego at the door. Our fundamental skill sets usually check off the first box of how to get things done. They are the ones of craftsmanship and foundation. But what about the other boxes or quadrants? For example, the box of growth. What is the best tool or skill set to accomplish that?

If we only grow in the original box that we start in, sooner or later we will reach capacity. So we must learn to embrace the pain of growth, and that means accepting new and perhaps different ways thinking and entering into what I would call, “the gap,” which connects us to the next level or quadrant. We will often hear musicians and artists refer to the term, “the gap.” However, their reference is in a different context. Stealing a term from Buddy Rich, they refer to “the gap” as a space where the “creativity hatches.” There is also a gap between creative levels, so I will apply the term here in a few ways.

To get into “the gap” you have to be willing to leave the comfort zone of your current creativity level. Years ago, I heard an analogy that has always stuck with me. In essence, it was the idea that you can’t swim to the other side of a pool if you’re holding on to the side you’re on. The truth is that in order to advance and embrace growth, we have to let go of being comfortable. Crazier yet, we have to embrace that our discomfort is an indication that we are heading in a new and exciting direction, and there’s a good bet that the more un­comfortable we are, the more creative our experience will be. One fact we must also embrace is that growth certainly takes fresh thinking and an open mind.

Reasons we fail

 We fail because we embrace fear, and we fail because we embrace lack, and, therefore, we doubt that we have the gifts to achieve the next creative level. We don’t spend enough time investing in ourselves thus creatively blocking “the gap” and the opportunity to move into the next creative zone. We morph back into our business application and don’t apply the concept of bridging the gap between where we are now in our business development and where we think we would like to be. We unintentionally postpone striving to get to the next quadrant creatively.

But when we embrace the pain of growth...

We realize complacency must die. And we realize that expressions like, “That’s the way we’ve always done it” must also die. The music retail business is as upside­-down as the rest of the music business. Nothing is safe, nothing is dependable, and certainly nothing will remain the same going forward. So if you are quivering in the corner, sweating, and feeling scared to death, but still showing up and reviewing possible solutions: congratulations! You are bridging the gap and heading into quadrant 2 and your next creative box.

Final thoughts

Embracing the pain of growth is not comfortable, convenient or easy, but as the stakes gets higher and higher, it will be the path that enables you to stay in the game. In the end, it truly is how you play the game that matters because that will determine your final score.

Menzie Pittman is the owner and director of education at Contemporary Music Center in Virginia (CMC). Following a performance and teaching career spanning more than 32 years, he founded CMC in 1989 and continues to perform, teach, and oversee daily operations. He has 50 years of musical experience as a drummer and drum instructor. Menzie is a frequent speaker at NAMM’s Idea Center, and a freelance writer for MMR’s “Small Business Matters” column. He served on NAMM’s Board of Directors from 2012 through 2015 and currently oversees the curriculum for CMC’s performance venue @4410. In 2016 NAMM awarded Contemporary Music Center the “Dealer of the Year” award, the “Music Matters” award, and the “Best Sales and Promotion” award.



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