What I Learned From B.B. King By Steve Fales

The recent passing of B.B. King reminded me of a valuable life lesson I experienced after watching the music great perform live. I wrote about it in my book Three Years Of Tuesday Mornings: 156 E-Mails About Business And Life. Here’s the chapter.

Simplicity is hard work.

Many years ago, a friend invited me to join him in seeing blues guitar legend B.B. King in concert. We jumped in his classic Cutlass convertible and took off, making sure to get there early because of the open seating policy, which turned out to be open standing. The venue was small, and we found a spot right up front.

B. B. was great, of course. And being so close, plus being a long-time guitar player myself, I recognized all of his chord progressions. By the end of the night I had them memorized and was convinced that I could play the blues, pretty much just like King.

When I got home, I grabbed my guitar, started with a barred G 7th, and went on from there. But to my surprise, it didn’t sound anything like what I’d heard earlier. I was shocked. It looked so easy when I was watching B. B. King. What was wrong?

We’ve all heard the cliché that experts make things look easy. And that night after seeing one of the greatest blues guitarist who ever lived, I truly understood what that meant.

What was the big difference between B. B. King and me? Certainly there’s an element of raw talent involved (he has more than I do), but we were both forming the same chords on similar instruments. Why did his sound so much better?

The answer can be found in the tens of thousands of hours that B. B. has spent perfecting what he does. Tiny improvements, but hundreds of them, until arriving at a sound so incredible that he’s famous all over the world. That’s the hard work that makes it look simple.

The greatest proof that anything you or I produce is excellent, and as good as it can be, is that we’ve made it look simple. That can only be accomplished by thinking, revising, taking a stern look, digging deeper, making more improvements, tearing a project apart and restarting from scratch, exposing our drafts to scrutiny, humbly accepting constructive criticism, and more.

When we’ve endured all the agony and arrived at a final product, somebody who barely knows anything about our area of expertise will look at what we’ve done and think “I could do that. It looks easy.” And he’ll really believe it – until he goes home and picks up his guitar.

Three Years Of Tuesday Mornings: 156 E-Mails About Business And Life is available on Amazon.com.

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