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  • Matthew Davies

Django's Fingers

When talk about the most influential guitarists throughout history, names like Clapton, Hendrix, Page, Gilmour, May, Richards and Beck regularly feature. As do virtuosos like Satriani and Vai. Then for the metalheads, names like Iommi, Rhoads, Dimebag, van Halen, Mustaine and King are added to the list. Fans of other genres will have their equivalent list to thrash out. It's a contentious issue and you need to come prepared if you raise it in the wrong group!


A theme I've found, however, is that the names which are raised by music fans, generally tend to start with those guitarists who came to prominence from the mid 1960s onwards, when the idea of an axe-wielding icon really started to be a thing. But every now and then, particularly when in conversation with guitarists who have studied their craft, the field opens up and we start to discuss who influenced those guitarists. And that's when the subject of today's blog starts to turn up - Django Reinhardt!


Django Reinhardt, born in Belgium in 1910, was a Romani-French jazz guitarist and composer who was active for about a quarter of a century from the late 1920s. Watching videos of him play, even today, his technique, sound, speed and approach to the instrument are remarkable. It's been said that every guitarist since, owes a debt of gratitude to Reinhardt, but specifically some huge names list him as a key influence. Willie Nelson,


What makes Django even more remarkable, however, is the fact that he only used two fingers on his left hand to fret the strings! Typically guitarists will use all four fingers on their fretting hand, and some players like Jimi Hendrix even wrapped their thumb over the top of the neck to allow fretting of notes in the lower register and open their index finger up to do different things. Django, however, suffered an injury when he knocked over a candle in the caravan he lived in and was almost killed in the resulting blaze, ultimately losing the use of the fourth and fifth fingers on his left hand. Wach the video again - see for yourself! Becoming an incredibly quick, dextrous and innovative guitarist is extremely hard. To do it without the use of those two fingers? Almost unthinkable.


The final piece of work I delivered, before I left financial services to set up Matt Davies Leadership Ltd (and when I say FINAL, I literally delivered the last session on the morning of my final day!) was an incredibly interesting piece of work we'd designed around the Beautiful Constraint principle, based on the ideas contained within this book. In essence, what we were asking the participants to do was to consider how to turn something that's an external constraint, outwith you control, into a benefit. Rather than letting constraints derail us, or finding ways simply to mitigate them, we were looking to turn them into an outright advantage!


Django Reinhardt's life and work offer us a perfect example of this. Rather than quitting guitar, or simply attempting to play in a traditional style but less effectively, he developed his own style. Playing chords in a traditional way with only two fingers was out of the question, so he developed a system of three note chords which hadn't been done on guitar before. he used a lot of arpeggios utilising two notes per string and regularly moved a fixed chord shape quickly up and down the neck to create unique sounds, which simply hadn't occurred to guitarists operating outwith Django's constraints.


Constraints exist for all of us. In our work, in our families, in our diaries, in our homes. Location, time, money, people, skills, talent. And when we look at these, our response can effectively drop us into one of three buckets:

Victim: Someone who lowers their ambition when faced with a constraint

Neutraliser: Someone who refuses to lower their ambition, but finds a different way to deliver the ambition instead

Transformer: Someone who finds a way to use a constraint as an opportunity, possibly even increasing their ambition along the way


The bucket you fall into will be a function of a lot of things; your upbringing, prior experiences, how optimistic you are, etc. But by recognising that these other buckets exist, and that you CAN overcome constraints with remarkable results, you give yourself a fighting chance to be a Transformer, much like my old chum Optimus Prime!


One useful tool in this situation is called a CAN IF Map. Now this is a bit of a simplification, and if you find yourself intrigued, I'd definitely recommend the book which is both really interesting and beautifully put together, but this map is created by looking at the problem you're trying to solve, along side the constraint or constraints, and starting your response with the phrase "We CAN solve this problem, IF we..." That keeps the focus on what is possible and the importance of finding a solution, rather than grousing about the constraints.


A further consideration that you might want to make, is to find places where you might impose constraints on yourself, rather than working with those which are already there! Perhaps, because of the way you currently think of constraints, that might seem like a cruel and unusual punishment - but bear with me! It's a coaching approach, when you're working with a client who has a clear understanding of where they want to get to and a good idea of how to get there, to create an artificial constraint in order to stimulate their creativity. For example:

Client: I want to pay off my mortgage by the time I'm fifty. I'm currently saving £x per month into a stocks and shares ISA with a conservative annual return of y%, meaning that I'll have a balance of £z by my fiftieth birthday which will be enough to clear the balance or my mortgage

Coach: It sounds like you have a clear outcome in mind and a plan to get there! How could you pay off your mortgage by the time you're 47?

The idea is not to tell the client that they're not being ambitious enough or that their dreams are wrong - simply to stimulate and challenge their thinking by using time as an artificial constraint.


Where are you facing constraints, and how are you approaching these? What about the plans and goals you have laid out for yourself - where could an artificial constraint help you achieve even greater outcomes? What would Django do?

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