In the movie and now TV series Limitless, the hero is given NZT-48, a drug which opens the full possibility of his brain and gives him perfect recall of everything he has ever read, heard, or seen. Who wouldn’t love to be able to learn, recall, and analyze at a superhuman rate?
Any founding member of a start-up will tell you that brain power is a must. Whether it’s a new way to market a product, crafting the perfect pitch, or just designing a logo, creative thinking is the primary way for any entrepreneur to get an edge. Michael O. Cooper goes so far to say that “in the not-too-distant future, creatives will rule the world”.
Being a co-founder in my own Start-up, GreenPal, a never ending supply of ideas would be nice but since NZT-48 is fictional, I thought I was out of luck. That was until I found the answer had been there all along.
I had been playing piano on and off for all my life and I really am bad at it. Maybe if my teacher had sold me on the idea that “chicks love musicians” I would have been more apt to stick with it. So all my life this keyboard, along with dozens of How-To books, have been tucked away under my bed going to waste.
Last year, I moved into a new place and thought about donating this fine Yamaha keyboard; but instead, I figured I would give it one more shot since it was a present from my late grandmother. Being that my 15 hour work days are not fun-filled enough, I thought why not just hammer my brain at the end of the night with another chore.
I told myself that I would search out a “hip” music teacher that would not make me work on music theory but would instead teach me songs so that I could impress people at a party. If after six months I was not really enjoying it, I would quit and close the chapter on my musical endeavor. That was December 2014.
After about a month of lessons, things with the piano started to click. It’s not rocket science, music is just basic math. With just a little bit of music knowledge, 90% of the songs you hear can be played. My teacher would incorporate songs I wanted to learn into the fundamentals of music theory. Very sneaky but smart on his part.
So what does this have to do with NZT-48 and my startup? We’ll get there, I promise.
But first, a quick anatomy lesson: the brain has two hemispheres, left and right. The left brain or digital side, controls reading, writing, calculation, and logical thinking. The right brain, or analog side, controls three-dimensional sense, creativity, and artistic senses. The corpus callosum is the tissue that connects the two halves of the brain.
Neuroscientists have studied the effects of playing an instrument on the brain in real time with Function Magnetic Resonance Imaging machines. Anita Collins explains in the short animation from TED-Ed, “How Playing An Instrument Benefits Your Brain”, that those studies found playing an instrument engages the visual, auditory, and motor cortices all at once. If the brain were a muscle then playing music is like a full body workout. According to research by psychologists Michele and Robert Root-Bernstein, “almost all Nobel laureates in the sciences actively engage in arts as adults” and are four times as likely to be a musician as the average person. (Source)
So playing music allows you to strengthen your mind and apply that strength to all other mental areas, including creative problem solving. And that’s the perfect drug when you’re involved in a Start-up. Let me illustrate:
My startup, GreenPal, connects homeowners with pre-screened local lawn professionals and provides our lawn pros with an easy way to find new customers, schedule appointments, and get paid after each cut. It’s like Uber for lawn care.
Signing homeowners up for this service is the easy part. The hard part is getting them to talk about our company after their lawn is cut. As you know, lawn care is not the sexiest industry and usually only gets brought up only when mowing is necessary.
I struggled with this issue for months until one night when I was practicing the Circle of 5ths on my keyboard, the idea to target our customers’ pets came to me. We already knew whether or not they had pets, so why not use that information to get them talking about us. After buying $100 worth of dog bones and cat nip, we started sending these out to our customers, thanking them for their business and directing them to our Yelp link. After a few trips to the post office, we saw the emails and Yelp reviews skyrocket. People were thanking us for going the extra mile and saying how they can’t wait to tell their friends about our service. Mission accomplished! And they will never think about lawn care service again without thinking of us first. Powerful word-of-mouth advertising at a very minimal cost.
Donna Cutting, author of “501 To Roll Out The Red Carpet For Your Customer” believes that there is no greater positive surprise for a customer than when you do something to let them know you are simply paying attention. This idea did just that and it worked.
While I was on the whole “Word-of-Mouth” kick, I started trying to find a way for us to stay on our customers’ mind. In my research, I learned that the strongest trigger of memory is scent. Since smell is the only sense directed to the brains limbic system (the system that houses emotions and memories) then why not spray all of our Thank You cards with freshly cut grass perfume. I found the Demeter Fragrance Company and they have an entire menu of unique scents including freshly cut grass.
Companies have been doing this for years because they know that certain scents can trigger an instant emotional reaction from customers. Nike has claimed that they can increase their intent to purchase by 80% through the introduction of a certain scent into their stores. Cinnabon has been the king of scent marketing for years. The ovens are strategically placed in the front of the store so the smells can spread throughout the malls or airports where the stores are usually located. Starbucks, Lush cosmetics and Panera Bread are just a few more of the companies that have mastered scent marketing. Sarah Nassauer, in her Wall Street Journal article on scent, put it this way: “The smell of success, for many stores, is now an actual smell.” (source)
I cannot confirm that my creative marketing ideas came from learning how to play an instrument or if it was just a coincidence, but I will say that my mind has been sharper performing my day-to-day tasks, ideas seem to come to me easier and I have less stress since I started playing the keyboard again. I believe so strongly in the correlation that I am now beginning to learn the guitar.
I’m not saying that if you start playing you will instantly be able to solve your Start-up product market fit problems but anything that can improve the most important muscle of all is a plus in my book. Besides, if things go south you could always play for tips.
So the next time you seem to be in a creative rut, don’t look for a magic NZT-48 pill. Instead, take a peak under your bed, dust off that instrument and play. It just may be the catalyst that makes you limitless.