Unleash the demos

Yesterday I finished a several day “spiritual” retreat in Sedona with Deepak Chopra (I’ll pause while you conjure up your cynical comment).

One of the things Deepak talks about is “the field of infinite possibilities” (insert second cynical comment here. I’ll wait some more. Time is, after all, merely an illusion).

Anyway, in his view we are all born inherently creative beings, but as we grow up our experiences and conditioning lead us to impose limitations on our capabilities. Many of us are left seeing the world narrowly and often being ruled by fear. Over time, we come to believe that our possibilities–our choices–are rather finite.

So after the seminar ends I’m driving toward Phoenix and I begin exploring the radio stations on my rental car. After a few minutes I discover the XM Billy Joel channel. The very first tune I hear is an early demo for his classic “Piano Man”–a song I’ve heard hundreds, if not thousands, of times. I quickly notice that many of the familiar lyrics are there, but a number are quite different. The bridge evokes the memory of the final product, but definitely doesn’t sound quite right. The arrangement also seems off and the song is much shorter than the publicly released version we’ve grown to love.

After the “Piano Man” demo ends I’m reminded of the story Paul McCartney tells about how The Beatles would start their creative process by inserting meaningless lyrics while they worked out a new song. The most famous is probably the original lyrics for “Yesterday”: “Scrambled eggs, oh my darling how I love your legs.”

My guess is that few of us are surprised that the creation and refinement of demos is inherent to the music making process. It’s not the least bit shocking to learn that successful artists often go through dozens of variations–tweaking, adding, destroying, reworking–before the polished version is ready to ship.

Yet despite the obvious benefit of this creative process, few of us apply the same or similar notion to our lives or our work. We let our fear keep us from exposing a rough cut to the world. We let our perfection control us. We tell ourselves “I’ll show it to someone when it’s ready.” And then it’s never ready.

Maybe you are one of those people who can totally work out an idea in your head.

Maybe your concept wouldn’t benefit from exposure to peer review, market testing or your own version of a hack-a-thon.


But for the rest of us, unleash the demos!



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