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Your friends and family told you not to give up your day job and you listened, much to their relief. You were never going to be the next Jimi Hendrix or Eric Clapton and reason prevailed.  That beautiful Les Paul you treasured was packed away, you broke up the garage band you’d been playing in, studied further and found yourself in a promising job.

But inside you still harbour the dream of playing guitar in front of an adoring crowd. Perhaps you should listen to that inner prompting, pick up that instrument and think about getting the band back together again. Not to say you will be playing Wembley Stadium anytime soon, but it could help you be more creative in your chosen day job. It can even make you smarter. Sounds like a pretty good reason to dust off your guitar and start practising the scales.

An October 2009 article in The Telegraph reported that new research suggested “playing an instrument changes the shape and power of the brain and may be used in therapy to improve cognitive skills”. The newspaper quoted Lutz Jancke, a psychologist at the University of Zurich, saying that learning to play a musical instrument had “definite benefits and can increase IQ by seven points, in both children and adults”.

The benefits of having a musical hobby are quite obvious if you work in a creative field, such as advertising. You’re tapping quite heavily into your right brain when you play an instrument. This allows your right half, the part that enables us to be creative, to run free. Spending even half an hour every day working out chords on a guitar is time well spent as you’re “exercising” the part of the brain that is going help you come up with that magic idea for an advertising or marketing campaign that will impress your boss and peers. But even if don’t work in an especially creative field, enjoying a hobby like music can help you approach problems in your office in novel ways.

Masters in a wide range of fields have recognised the value of playing an instrument. It can be a great form of relaxation, which automatically makes you more receptive to great ideas from your brain. It basically fires your imagination.

Warren Buffett has played the ukulele for decades. Google founder Larry Page played saxophone and also studied music growing up.

Warren Buffett playing a ukelele.
Warren Buffett loves his ukelele.

Bestselling writer Stephen King is a big rock music fan and has played in a band on the side. There are very few that would be able to rival King when it comes to imagination. Investment guru Warren Buffett also loves his music.  A December 2018 Business Insider article reported that Warren Buffett – who definitely is no slouch in the brain or investment department – has played the ukulele for decades. Google founder Larry Page – perhaps one of the most important figures in the digital revolution – played saxophone and also studied music growing up. In an interview with Fortune in November 2014, Page credits his musical background for some of the successful elements of Google.

“In some sense I feel like music training lead to the high-speed legacy of Google for me. In music you’re very cognisant of time. Time is like the primary thing,” he told Fortune.

Young man sitting on a bench while playing guitar.
Photo by Alekon pictures on Unsplash

And it’s not just music that can help you be more creative in the workplace. A study led by Ivy League college Dartmouth showed that the “brains of young adults reorganise as they learn to create visual art”. 

“The findings show that the art students became more creative via the reorganisation of their brain’s prefrontal white matter…,” said a Dartmouth press release published in July 2015.

So while your scribbles may never set the art world on fire, each time you open that sketch book or prepare to throw some paint on canvas, you’re actually helping your mind open up to that next great idea that could positively change your work environment in ways you can’t yet imagine. The key is to find a creative hobby that you love – be it playing guitar or piano, painting, writing poetry, making mosaics or pottery. And then go for it and open up your mind.

  • Do you play a musical instrument? Or do you have another hobby that inspires you and relieves stress?

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Show Notes: (3:52) The story behind Escape the City (6:02) Biggest challenges people face when desiring a career change (8:02) Generational attitudes to work and career (9:53) Common reasons for people to make career change (11:40) How to find meaning in work (16:01) Can you learn to be an entrepreneur, or is it something innate? … Continued