Lessons From Taylor Guitars

Today’s post is actually semi-serious, which is rare for me. Yesterday I took a drive to San Diego to visit the Taylor Guitar Company, and I took their free factory tour. With the gas to get to San Diego and back, plus food on the way and coffee on the way back, plus the two t-shirts, that free tour got pretty expensive. But that’s OK.

Besides seeing some great, world-class guitars being built, and buying some cool T-shirts, I was inspired. Since I spend a lot of time with people who serve in various leadership capacities, and since I’ve been known to step into “leadership” myself occasionally, and since I actually have a degree in “Organizational Leadership,” this kind of stuff really stands out to me.

Anyway, here are some things I noticed…

Staying Connected to the Vision… As we walked throughout the factory where there were people sawing, drilling, sanding, bending wood, etc., I noticed there was an occasional guitar hanging on the wall. I asked the guide about it, and he said that every major work area in the factory had a guitar hanging there, because most of the workers played the guitar and if they wanted to take a break and play it anytime, they could do it. But even more important, since most of these people were usually only involved in a small part of the guitar building process (sanding, working only on necks, etc.), seeing and playing a complete Taylor guitar occasionally helped to remind them of why they did what they did. It helped them remember they were part of something much greater than just sanding that small block of wood that would eventually get connected to another piece of wood. It was a way to stay connected to the vision. That’s a fancy way of saying “remembering why you’re doing what you’re doing.”

Staying Inspired by Staying Staying Hands-On... I ran into Bob Taylor, the founder/president. We didn’t talk or anything, but he did look at me and nod, and I looked at him and nodded, which was good enough for me. He was wearing cool plaid shorts and a t-shirt and flip-flops, which already makes him cooler than most CEO’s I’ve met (I’ve only met a couple, but so far he’s the coolest). Anyway, I found out that he actually comes to work every day (when he’s not out buying trees or forests or whatever to get more wood), and puts in a full day. He has his own private workshop there at the factory, just to literally keep his hands into things and to stay in touch with why he began to build guitars in the first place as a teenager in the early 1970’s. Leaders have to keep their hands in the process – not so much that they get in the way of those they’ve brought in to do the work, but enough so that they stay inspired.

Permission to Be Creative – A few years ago, Taylor got into the electric guitar market, having only made acoustics for most of their 30-year history. After their first successful electric guitar had been out for a year or two, one of their engineers was working on a new type of pickup to use in that guitar (for non guitarists, the “pickups” are the electronic, microphone-like things that turn string vibrations into amplified sound). His new idea was seen by all the Taylor big guys, including Bob, and they all loved it.  But then Bob said he didn’t want to use the thing in their existing electric guitar; instead, he said “Let’s design an entirely new guitar around the idea of this pickup.” So they did, and those guitars are amazing. Somehow they’ve found the balance between maintaining what’s already working well. (their electric guitar at the time), and the freedom and permission to try something entirely new.

I hope someone from  Taylor reads this. If so, my t-shirt size is LARGE. Thank you.

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One Response to Lessons From Taylor Guitars

  1. joannmski says:

    Wow, that is a pretty cool place. And an impressive relationship you have with the CEO.

    Tagged you for 6 quirky things! See details upon my blog.

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