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  • Paul Thienes

Be Inspired: In Chaotic Times, HOW you work with what you have makes all the difference

Updated: Mar 2

Tim Hartford's recent TED discussion on how chaos can lead through breakthroughs is so relevant today.

Image copyright EMI Records

Keith Jarrett's Köln Concert is one of my favorite piano albums of all time, and maybe it's yours too. It wasn't supposed to be.


Asked to play to a sellout crowd of 1,400 in Cologne Germany in 1975, a 30-year-old Mr. Jarrett - a true virtuoso and perfectionist - arrived and was shown his concert instrument - an upright, broken down rehearsal piano. Jarrett angrily refused to play, and left only to sit in his car to be taken back to his hotel.


After two very short hours of others scrambling to 'fix & tune' the piano to a somewhat playable state, Jarrett reluctantly agreed to play.


The rest is history.


The Köln Concert album, 40+ years later, continues to be the best-selling jazz album of all time.


Although I discovered Mr. Jarrett's talents from my dearly departed sister, Mary, when I was a kid, I later came across the Köln Concert album while crashing at my friend's pad in Bologna, Italy right after college graduation. After 30+ years, I still listen to this album with awe.


Besides the incredible talent manifested, what also amazes me is that Mr. Jarrett did the best he could with what he had to work with at the time. In the four movements played in just over an hour, he avoids stuck keys, bad pedals, and many poor-sounding upper register keys. For years, I thought his audible moaning and groaning during his playing was because he was so into it emotionally. As it turns out, the moaning was Jarrett complaining on the limitations this piano presented him to express himself fully. Wow - that must have sucked being him at the time.


Regardless, the audience was absolutely mesmerized, and the recorded material was published as an album. To this day, I'm astonished to find after continued listening to this album over and over, I still tear up during parts of his movements where the emotion he pours into his playing crashes from highs to lows, only to be resolved with escalating flight to the heavens again with brilliant key transpositions - all without the full availability of piano keys, and all impromptu & non-rehearsed - not even once. Absolutely. Incredible.


You may ask, what does this have to do with what I do, which is creating wine sales software? For me, it's about being back in 1998 when I was 30 years old with a mortgage on my newly purchased house in Calistoga and no job. I had my prior education & work experience (undergraduate in Computer Science & Masters in Business, plus 8 years of corporate technology sales), along with my old trusty computer I brought from Minnesota to the Napa Valley just one year prior. For self-preservation, I had to work directly with local Napa-based winemakers to build eCellar, so they could market and sell their wine online.


For those of you who have stuck with your profession like I have for the last 20+ years in this industry of wine, you'll understand when I say that it never gets any easier - you just get better. And most of the time, the getting better part isn't really visible to us, the creators - but rather to the observers.


I continue to be inspired to create with what I have, guided with feedback from my observers. They help me to continuously improve my product and service level. Hopefully, it's the same for you with what you create every day.


If you find yourself in a chaotic day/week/month/year/life and you need just a bit of inspiration, just listen to Jarrett's Köln Concert masterpiece on Apple or Spotify - I promise you that it'll be one of the best things you've done for yourself in a long time. And remember - we are all in this together.


Let's use what we have well. Be inspired.


See you out there.


-- Paul

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