This week brings two anniversaries — one you know and one you probably don’t know. They remind me that every new day brings opportunities for improvement, even when things might already seem perfect.
Sgt. Pepper: Nearly perfect
50 years ago today, the Beatles released Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, one of the best and most influential albums in the history of pop music. Of all the Beatles’ albums I think Sgt. Pepper is the most nearly perfect. Every track is strong. All of the ingredients, from instruments to vocals to harmonies, blend together just right.
Yet Giles Martin just completed a project in which he remixed the entire Sgt. Pepper album. In a brilliant interview by NPR’s Bob Boilen, the first question posed to Martin — the son of George Martin, who produced the Beatles’ original albums — was Why? Why would anyone change one of the greatest records ever?
Martin’s answer: in mixing the original album, his father devoted most of his attention to the mono version, not the stereo version — because stereo was relatively new at the time. In the interview, Martin describes how he took the original studio tapes, along with his father’s meticulous notes, and applied a 21st-century understanding of what works and what doesn’t work in stereo sound.
The result, as evidenced by several samples played during the interview, sounds undeniably better than the original. Giles Martin took perfection and improved on it.
My career: From good to better
This week also marks the anniversary of the day I began my first technical writing job. Though far from perfect, my work was pretty good — as evidenced by feedback from my managers and my peers, and by 3 promotions in my first 5 years.
Yet the work I did then pales in comparison to the work I do today. In the intervening years I’ve learned a tremendous amount about audience analysis, about user experience, about writing for my customers rather than my SMEs, and of course about using software and machines to publish content in different media.
My colleague Vincent Reh, describing his career journey from typewriters to modern tools, emphasizes the constant need to learn new skills: “Tools have become so complex and schedules so compressed that most employers can no longer tolerate any kind of a learning curve. Today’s writers are expected to hit the ground running with single-sourcing tools right out of the gate.”
Vincent is right. And it’s not just tools. In my progress from that good beginning to where I am today, I’ve constantly had to learn new skills and unlearn other things. Just to stay competitive.
I fully concur with the words of Alvin Toffler: The illiterate of the twenty-first century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn.
Progress made; progress still to come
It’s nice to observe anniversaries, not least because they remind us of the progress we’ve made. Inspired by the new Sgt. Pepper remix, I’m using this week’s anniversaries to set my sights on progress still to come.
Do you have a professional growth story? How does that story affect the way you view the future? What are you doing to go from good — or from nearly perfect — to something even better?