The pandemic has given millions of us permission to make lifestyle changes and adjustments,  dump longstanding and painful obligations that no longer served us well, and abandon -- once and for all -- certain projects that weren't ever going to happen. As I've noted, it also presented an opportunity to forgive, but not necessarily forget, friends, family, and fellow workers for things they said or did in the midst of the crisis (and the elections) that in the overall scheme of life and death things were pretty minor.

But I was decidedly wrong when I suggested that maybe the pandemic wasn't the right time to try to learn a new skill or to play a new instrument, since none of us knew how long the crisis would actually last. We had dawdled and let time go by without really getting around to doing many things on our wish list, so maybe trying something new when there was a lot required just to get ourselves back to some kind of new normal wasn't a great idea.

As it happens, about 16 million people, or 7% of the population, disagreed with me. That's about twice the margin of President Biden's election victory, where millions of rational and non-deluded people proudly voted for him and totally crushed the other guy. But I digress. The fact is that, according to some new research by YouGov, 16 million people took up the guitar during the last 16 months. That's quite a story, but more importantly there are a few lessons for every business in this musical tale.

The newbies are a little younger than you might have expected. More than 70% of them are between 13 and 34. Great news for the next crop of guitar heroes. About 40% of the group identified as Latiné. And they're more serious about their music than you might imagine. Right now, most are spending a couple of hours a week playing their new instruments. But when asked, they said that "to get good at guitar" probably takes four hours of practice each week for a year or two. This is an old story worth retailing: You've got to be willing to do the work. If you do, then you're likely to get what you work for, not what you may have wished for.

Many of these new guitarists said that COVID-19 was an important reason behind their decision to learn how to play, in no small part because it allowed them to practice more than they would otherwise have been able to do. Two thirds of them have full-time careers and they chose the guitar as a hobby and for self-improvement and self-expression rather than for fame and fortune. Having said that, let's be clear that a little acknowledgment and appreciation goes a long way, and no amateur is gonna turn that down. Sadly, most people die with their music still locked up inside of them. Yet even the professionals will tell you that, in troubled times, music is a great salve. Elton John said repeatedly that "when I was at my worst, I still clung to music." When words sometimes fail, music speaks.

These music students are very resource hungry. As digital natives (not digital immigrants like us old guys), they believe that the web is the source of all knowledge and they're constantly looking for instructions, lessons, examples, and all kinds of musical content. A majority of the beginners said that they use TikTok weekly or even more frequently and almost 70% look specifically for and study video guitar content every week. This content is always available, casual, non-judgmental, and peer-to-peer in many cases. It's constantly repeatable and never gets tired, and, of course, it's free.

But the content is a mixed quality bag for now, although I expect to see the major guitar makers like Fender (who's launching its Beginner's Hub this week) moving aggressively into this wide-open space to provide more and more high-value and high-quality assets, resources, training and other material for this huge new population. Right now, listening to most music over your computer speakers is still like taking a bath with your socks on, but with increasingly available 5G and constantly better fidelity from the phones and tablets, I expect things to rapidly improve and the demand to continually grow.

Music making aside, it seems to me that the survey results suggest a couple of trends that are important for every business to be aware of as they welcome back their customers and their workforce. The smartest ones, like Fender, will be there waiting with open arms and plenty of tools, content and support.

(1)  Many of your customers will be looking for, and expecting, high-quality video content to independently and asynchronously assist them in using your products and services. Ad hoc everything. Whenever they need it, wherever they are, on demand, and multi-lingual. No one wants to wait to talk to someone sitting in a call center in some foreign country or anywhere else.

(2)  Many of your employees, both recent and old, will have new skills, interests, family demands and issues. You're going to need to develop ways to quickly audit and inventory these new assets and resources (rather than assuming that you know what's going on) so that you can apply and assign them meaningfully for both your business and the employees in question. Otherwise, you'll just be the latest victim of the great resignation and lose a lot of talented and valuable team members. Microsoft and the City of Chicago just announced Accelerate Chicago, a digital skills training program for 300,000 people thru LinkedIn, to give them the basic computer skills they will need for new job requirements in the construction trades and other service industries.

(3)  Expect that the demographics of your customer base and your work force will have changed in material ways, which again will require examination, evaluation and rapid responses suited to the new groups. There may be changes across multiple dimensions and interaction points. That includes communication methods, payment schemes, required response times, and ease and ubiquity of access.  

Bottom line: It may seem to you to be the same old song, but it's got a very different beat.