Adam Westbrook // ideas on digital storytelling and publishing

What can next-generation journalists learn from Les Paul?

Posted in Journalism by Adam Westbrook on August 15, 2009

Les Paul

Les Paul

A music icon of the 20th century passed away this week. Aged 94, Les Paul was still playing weekly gigs in Manhattan right up to his death.

Not just a talented musician, Les Paul was an innovator, and hearing him speak you realise he had within him the skills the journalists of the future will need if they’re to innovate as much as he did.

Last year he spoke to the New York Times about his life, as part of the obituary segment called “The Last Word.

“I was playing one night and this guy comes up to me and says ‘hey, your guitar isn’t loud enough!’ So I thought to myself ‘how can I make my guitar louder?'”

Lesson: Les had a goal – a dream: something to aim for. It was as simple as making his guitar louder, but it set something on fire inside of him.

He attached his guitar strings to his mother’s radio: “and it made the most beautiful sound I ever heard.

“I went to work on wood, shaping it like a beautiful woman…and finally I got it – it took years and years and years of continued working on it.”

Lesson: innovation takes a hell of a lot of work – and a lot of time. But keep working, shaping, building, refining until you get it right.

“I took it to the manufacturers and they kept turning it down, saying it was a novelty.”

Lesson: there’ll be lots and lots of knock backs – but never, ever give up.

From guitarists to journalists to business people to web designers to sports stars: the same passion, dream, determination and perserverance runs through them all.