Music and Business: Finding the Measure

While I was enjoying the networking portion of a ribbon-cutting ceremony for Shutterfly’s new facility in Fort Mill, SC last week, I had an interesting conversation with someone. Her area of expertise includes bringing together professionals from the fields of education and business to create new possibilities and new opportunities for the students.

As we were discussing the similarities and differences in the two industries, she asked me what precisely was my instructional field prior to becoming a CPA.

“Music!” I replied.

She said regretfully, “Oh, well, that doesn’t have much to do with business…muzak, maybe.”

I said, “I’ve actually used a lot of my underlying musical knowledge in business, just without the music itself. There are small things that make a big difference.” She looked curious so I illustrated.

Picture yourself in a choir rehearsal. The conductor stops everyone and says, “Let’s go back and practice this section again. Please begin on measure 2, in the third system, on page 5.”

Now everyone has to hold these three pieces of information in their heads and employ additional processing to spit it back out in the reverse order. When you’re acting on the information, you have to find the page, then the system, then the measure. And by the time you get to looking for the measure, half the choir has forgotten it. The flow of the rehearsal is lost as pages are being flipped and re-flipped, the conductor is reduced to repeating the instructions instead of giving the downbeat, and choir members are asking each other , “What system?” “What measure?” instead of singing.

Why make the brain work so hard? Any good choral, band, or orchestral conductor will tell you that effective instructions are conveyed in the same order that they will be processed by brains of the listeners: “Page 5, system 3, measure 2.” Notice the use of “measure 2” over “second measure.” Same idea.

So how does this show up in a business context?

Take a quarterly meeting between a CPA and business owner who is new to the idea of reviewing the company financial statements.

CPA: “Look at that 25K.”
Business owner: [scans documents for 25K, feeling out of sorts and somewhat addled with all of these columns and columns of numbers] CPA: “Yeah, the 25K, in Office Expense, on the P&L.”
Business owner: [Holds information mentally, processes it to act on it in the reverse order…] “Which amount? Where?”

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The business owner should be leaving these meetings empowered and with clarity in what to do next. Instead his experience of himself is “schmuck,” his experience of financial statements is “inaccessible” and his experience of the CPA is “unrelatable.” He loses out on the valuable business intelligence contained within those financial statements and decides that he’s better off with the “gut” technique. Actually, instinct is the most effective when it is powered by actual facts.

Instead, how about:
CPA: “Let’s have a look at the P&L to see the results of operations this quarter.”
Business owner: [Turns to the P&L.] CPA: “In the Operating Expenses section, about halfway down, is Office Expense. Check out the third column – there’s a 25K increase over last quarter. Tell me the story.”
Business owner: “We created new marketing collateral for an upcoming expo. It’s classy and really shares the opportunity of working with us!”
CPA: Oh, the Chamber expo next month? Sounds exciting! Have your bookkeeper move these expenditures to Marketing Expense instead. Let’s talk about what you’d like to have in place to be able to measure your return on your investment in the expo.”

All because of the order in which information is presented.

“Wow,” said my networking partner. “Musical techniques apply more than I’d realized!”

In which other types business conversations do you imagine that this technique facilitate an amazing and profitable result? 

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