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How Teaching Myself Drums Made Me A Better CEO

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Drawing on a passion for percussion, this leader shares four lessons he learned from his years behind the kit.

I began playing drums in sixth grade because I loved the book Who Is Bugs Potter? It’s the story of an amazing teenage drummer who sneaks into rock clubs to play with his favorite bands, helping a shy kid come out of his shell along the way.

It lit a spark in me. I spent hours behind the kit practicing, learning to understand and emulate the beats behind the Blink-182 and Green Day songs omnipresent on the radio.

I jammed throughout junior high and high school. And by the time I finished college, I was facing a choice: chase the rockstar dream full time or pivot toward tech and startups.

Ultimately, I chose tech and founded Beam Benefits in 2012. But I’ve drawn on my passion for percussion, and what I learned from it, throughout my career. Here’s how teaching myself drums made me a better CEO.

1. Learning by doing

I’ve always loved learning by doing–diving in to explore something myself rather than being told about it. So I taught myself drums. I didn’t have a teacher. No one assigned me exercises to practice. I still don’t know how to read sheet music or drum annotations.

Instead, I relied on my ear to figure out the techniques Travis Barker incorporated from his days in marching band into Blink-182’s pop rock anthems. And I had to feel my way into John Bonham’s deceptively simple, thunderous groove throughout “When the Levee Breaks.”

A similar approach has powered my career. There’s no one way to lead a company. And there’s always a new challenge. I approach work the same way I learned drums: keeping both ears open for what’s working, and never shying from opportunities to try a new approach.

2. Embracing my role

As an introvert, playing drums helped me become comfortable being on stage. And it led me to dive deeper into the joys I find through collaboration.

Drums power much of the music I love–offering guitarists, bassists, keyboard players and singers the foundations on which they can build and intertwine intricate melodies.

Likewise, as CEO, I not only set the rhythm for Beam’s team, I’m on stage (literally and figuratively)—engaging with internal and external stakeholders and promoting our brand’s benefits products.

At their most fundamental level, the more companies grow, the more their success depends on how employees collaborate to build on top of what the founder creates. And now, rather than being one part of a small group—a duo, three-piece or five-piece band—I get to realize the benefits of how all of Beam’s employees work together.

3. Adapting through different stages of growth

At the end of the day, adaptability is one of the building blocks of a successful business—and a key trait of leadership at all levels.

A CEO’s progression—from head of sales, to building teams, to championing a public visio—is driven by their company’s success. The best bands never rest on their previous successes. They push forward: Green Day debuts with the indie produced LP Kerplunk! only to bring American Idiot to Broadway; Radiohead takes only two albums to move from the straightforward Pablo Honey to the genre-bending OK Computer.

Likewise, the most influential CEOs not only know the benefits of adaptability—they relish their role in pushing their company to continually innovate. And they know, too, that their businesses, like the best musical groups, aren’t constrained by the sizes of the stages they play on. In fact, they’re often looking to step onto larger stages, in larger rooms.

4. Playing drums helped me find our company’s rhythm

Like most musicians, it took me a minute to find my musical footing. But I really enjoyed practicing, working on a new fill or back beat just for the sake of challenging myself to become the best drummer possible. And when I got the chance to play music collaboratively, I loved how my bandmates and I helped each other become the best musicians we could be.

As CEO at Beam, I benefit from both the individual and collaborative joys I discovered as a drummer. Drumming set me up for professional success.  And now, I bring that dedicated practice to work every day to help keep the beat for our brand.


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