Here at Inc.com, we write a lot about billionaires. One billionaire who doesn't get a lot of coverage, however, is James L. Dolan, CEO of the Madison Square Garden Company, who is also known as the front man for his vanity garage band, J.D. and the Straight Shot (see video at end of post).

Regardless of what one might think of Dolan's "song stylings," he's not unusual among entrepreneurs, most of whom have some kind of hobby. That's been true of creative minds throughout history, according to author Steven Johnson, who writes in Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation that

Legendary innovators like Franklin, Snow, and Darwin all possess some common intellectual qualities--a certain quickness of mind, unbounded curiosity--but they also share one other defining attribute. They have a lot of hobbies.

Unfortunately, as a recent article in Slate pointed out, rather than hobbies, most people today tend to have side hustles. Side hustles, of course, are intended to make money and therefore fall into the general life narrative of "becoming successful." Hobbies, by contrast, aren't intended to make money. Quite the contrary, they cost money.

Despite this, so many successful people have hobbies that's it's hard not to make a connection between their success and the fact they have hobbies.  As I see it, having a hobby or two gives you two advantages:

  1. Breadth of experience. In the recently published Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World, author David Epstein explains that "in most fields--especially those that are complex and unpredictable--generalists, not specialists, are primed to excel. Generalists often find their path late, and they juggle many interests rather than focusing on one. They're also more creative, more agile, and able to make connections their more specialized peers can't see."
  2. Re-creation through recreation. Unlike passively watching television, hobbies require the development of skills and exercise parts of your brain that otherwise would remain dormant. As Psychology Today recently pointed out: "When we make, repair, or create things, we feel vital and effective. It isn't as much about reaching one's potential as doing something interesting--less about ambition and more about living. When we are dissolved in a deeply absorbing task, we lose self-consciousness and pass the time in a contented state."

While I'd hesitate to hold myself up as a role model, I've practiced dozens of hobbies, including calligraphy, pen-and-ink drawing, playing the recorder, learning the piano, amateur astronomy, building furniture, crafting an inlaid wooden chess board, learning electronic circuitry, embroidery, sketching with pencils, electronic music, architectural modeling, model rocketry, laser-cut metal models, designing computer games, collecting comics, collecting rare board games, collecting ancient coins, computer animation, and, yes, playing in a garage band only slightly less heinous than Dolan's.

I can't say that I regret any of the time and money I've spent on these hobbies. Quite the contrary, I'm convinced that the effort not only relaxed and refreshed my mind from work pressure, but that these hobbies have enormously improved the quality of my life. I frankly can't imagine a life without hobbies.

So while we might criticize Dolan for subjecting audiences to his hobby, we can't fault him for having one. The whole point of a hobby is that you're NOT required to become good at it; you do it purely for the joy of doing it. 

With that in mind, here's Dolan and his hobby:

Well, as the philosopher G.K. Chesterton once wrote: "Anything worth doing is worth doing badly."