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The Guy Who Made Prince’s Last Guitar

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You may be a fan of Prince or may never have liked him much, but today is not just about music and not only about playing guitar, either. This post is an invitation to think about two questions: what is the future of your work? And how do you really measure your own productivity? The answers could surprise you.

Scene 1: Enter the Superstar

Here’s a little secret which everyone suspects to be true. If you ask and talk about it long enough, most bosses and employees have a superstar ideal in their heads.
Bosses want to be super-bosses, and want their employees to be superstar-employees. Managers organize competitions for an “employee of the month” and dream of one day being celebrated as this mega-awesome manager who made an incredible difference.
Training sessions, performance schemes, job advertisements…they all revolve around this concept. On the face of it, most people will want you to be a superstar – and most people would at some point dream of becoming one.
In a workplace ruled by this ideal, it’s easy to believe that a rat race is the default state, and that every meeting is really a talent show. It’s easy to see why people do horrible things to one another, and why they would refuse to make sensible decisions, choosing instead to pursue their own agendas. Such extremes are unlikely, but if you take the Superstar principle to its logical conclusion, this is what you have: a congregation of people focused exclusively on their individual objectives, trying to be the best at what they do and aiming to make each task their own “Greatest Hit.”
Was Prince like this? Probably not. Is your boss like this? Hopefully, not all the time.
Are workplaces built to reward this? Quite often.

Scene 2: The Guy Who Made Prince’s Last Guitar

[trx_video url=”https://youtu.be/262WcmU9aPQ” ratio=”16:9″ autoplay=”off”]

You can watch the video by clicking this link. It only takes three minutes and is worth seeing.
Think about it for a second. This is not about blindly surrendering to some random superstar’s whim. This is a person who loves making guitars, creating something for a person who loves playing guitars.
The stardom, the fame, the glamour – it’s all there, all given. It’s maybe what stops Prince from finding the time to talk to the guy, face-to-face. Even if not, it’s not the main reason.
Imagine being the guy who makes Prince’s guitar. Imagine knowing enough about helping art happen.
You’re doing the work, not just for the money, but also because you understand art. You create something which will not broadcast your name to everyone – but something which will make you better at what you know, whilst at the same time helping other people make better art.
You’re taking your time, because you know art will happen anyway. You’re not expecting this to work, because everyone involved has plenty of other options. If you get it right, you’re the best choice. If not, everyone learns something still.
Then Prince gets your guitar, and plays it and loves it enough to want another one.

Scene 3: Yours

We’re all probably between Scenes 1 and 2.
There are moments which are ours, and in which the things we do put us in the spotlight. These are our Superstar moments. If they happen, it means that someone relies on our expertise to make something great happen. There are Superstar managers, and superstar waiters, and superstar teachers. They all have their moments, and watching a superstar do her work makes you believe that her art is real. When you do your work right, people believe in it. Hopefully. 🙂
But there are also moments in which we’re the guy who makes Prince’s guitar. We’re helping, supporting, giving others a choice, an instrument. If we get it right, they choose with confidence and their work gets better. If we get no credit, we will still make another contribution.
The trick, I think, is to know which moment you’re in.


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