Life: In The Pursuit of Excellence with Jori Chisholm -

Life: In The Pursuit of Excellence with Jori Chisholm

Interview by James Laughin, Host of the Life on Purpose Podcast
Last Updated: April 1, 2024

Jori Chisholm and James Laughlin played together for many years in the Simon Fraser University Pipe Band in British Columbia, Canada.

They’ve enjoyed an enduring friendship and together they co-founded the World Online Piping & Drumming Championships.

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Video Transcript:  Jori Chisholm, a massive welcome to the Life on Purpose podcast, it’s so great to connect with you.

Hey James, how are you doing?

So good. Look guys, I want to let you know Jori has been a lifelong friend, we’ve known each other for I would say almost 20 years and we played music together with a band in Vancouver, Canada.

Jori has traveled the world, he has become a three-time world champion, and he’s an inventor, a creator, a father, businessman. He’s a quite incredible human. And I’m just so excited to share his wisdom with you guys.

So, Jori, what’s been happening in the last week or two in your life?

Great, James, thank you for the introduction. Yeah, so things are good here. We’re in Seattle, we’re just coming into summer. And, you know, still with the effects of the pandemic, most of the festivals and a lot of normal things that people are doing in the summer are not happening this year.

But the weather’s getting nice. My kids are out of school starting today was their last day of school. And so we’re going to be during you know, some small family vacations in the northwest here. And then they’ve got summer camps all summer. So it’s, you know, starting to feel a little bit more normal than it has been and it is a very welcome change.

That’s for sure. Well, that’s good to hear. And hey, hopefully you and I get the pleasure of connecting in Hawaii usually every year around April. So hopefully we can get to do that again and share some fun times with the families.

Yeah, absolutely. That’s the plan. I mean, people are traveling to Hawaii now within the United States and, I think, from some countries abroad.

So the plan is to be there in April 2022 after a two-year break. It’ll be a welcome sight to see the white sands and the blue sky for sure. A hundred percent, a hundred percent. Now, you’ve got so much to share, and I know that in today’s session we’re not going to be able to share half of what you know, but I want to talk a little bit about success because you and I have talked over the years a lot about excellence and working towards achieving excellence in everything that we do.

So when you look at success on a global scale, do you think success is just a matter of chance?

Wow, big question. Well, I’ll talk about my experience. So I’ve made my life’s work related to playing bagpipes and performing and competing at a high level, traveling around the world, playing individually and with bands and also teaching and innovating. Also developing products and being an inventor.

I have a few patents now for some of my inventions or bagpipe related products. And I feel like luck is sort of one of those things where it certainly has an impact meeting the right person, hitting something right with the timing of the release of a product where there was a need.

But to me, the way I think about luck, it’s a bit like talent. It’s something that just happens that’s out of your control. I think that’s maybe one way you could define talent as opposed to a skill that you build through hard work and great coaches and study.

Luck, I think you might define it as some good fortune that comes your way from no effort or deserving, you know, not deserving it. So to me, those things, I think, play an impact, but there’s not much you can do about them.

So I don’t worry too much about it, and I don’t spend too much time thinking about it. You know, what I try to do is do the best with the cards that I’m dealt, right? And so, I’ve spent my career trying to work hard, work smart, make the most of opportunities that come my way and try to make my own opportunities through trying to be clever, working hard and not missing opportunities that could easily slip past.

Totally, I love that. And you’ve really taken a hobby, which is the bagpipes, and turned it into a career. And for a lot of us, that’s a dream, right? When you take something that you just enjoy doing and you’re in a flow state when you are doing it and turn it into your career. So let’s rewind the clock a little bit.

Let’s go back to university years. So when you were at university, what were you studying? How did that segue into what you’re doing now?

I got started piping when I was a kid. I’d played a couple other musical instruments before the bagpipes, but the pipes was really the first thing that I found in my life that was something I just really, really wanted to do and was my passion. I didn’t need to be reminded to practice. It was just something that I wanted to do. I had piping heroes and these great bagpipers who I had met and who had heard about and I wanted to be like them.

I didn’t know what it took, but I knew that I loved the music and I aspired to be a great piper. So all the way through school, doing well in school was important to me, and our family puts a very high value on education.

If you would have met me when I was a teenager, I was absolutely certain what I would do with my life. I was going to go to medical school and I was going to be a medical doctor. I even had my specialty field and everything picked out.

So I do have a certain amount of understanding when I meet a young person who’s very certain of their life’s path. That’s a wonderful thing, and it was very motivating for me to do well in school to follow that path, but I also understand how things can change and change for the better as you evolve as a human being and as you get exposure to new things and you sort of figure yourself out.

So I went to university and I studied biology and chemistry and then I became a psychology major because I just was really interested in the courses that were offered in that psychology department. And that has continued to be something that I’m very interested in: human behavior, how we perceive music, how we learn, motivation, all these things, behavior change.

These are all things that I encountered for the first time in any sort of organized way at university. And I would say around the second or third year out of my four years there, I knew that I was not going to be going to medical school. I was talking to a friend who was a doctor and I said, “Well,” and then I decided I wasn’t going to go to medical school. And he said, “No, you got weeded out.” So fair enough, whether I got weeded out. It’s sort of a process both ways, which is that I knew that my life was going to take a different turn.

Now I didn’t know what that was going to be. I knew that bagpipes were the most important thing in my life apart from my family and my relationships. But in terms of the things that I wanted to achieve and strive towards and put my attention to it was bagpipes, but I didn’t know what that looked like. There wasn’t a path for a professional bagpiper or a way for becoming one, like there is for a medical doctor and many other professions. So I took a year right out of college, we call it college year, university, same thing.

I worked for a year in a “real job.” I wore a tie and a suit and worked for a year, and then I earned enough money for the following year to not take a whole year off, but take the year where I didn’t have a lot of financial pressure while still living a pretty frugal college student lifestyle at that point and try to figure out what I was going to do. One of the things that I did in that year was I started teaching bagpipes. then started to develop a vision for what that might look like. This was in the late 90s. So the internet was just starting to take off.

I certainly didn’t have any inkling of where the internet would be today, twenty years later. But I had an idea that this could be a way to connect with people and that there was possibly some sort of technological and cultural shift that was about to happen. I didn’t have any sort of foresight on what that would be, but I registered my website in 1999 and it was and it’s still my website. And I guess you could say that it is luck.

If I had been five years older and the internet wouldn’t have been a thing, and I wouldn’t have registered that website. And if I had been five years younger, somebody else would have grabbed that website. So I suppose that’s just lucky timing for me.

When I got out of university and was trying to figure out what I was going to do with my life. So that is one example of fortune. I moved up to Seattle where I live now with my wife and two sons and we’ve been here for 22 years. I’ve been doing full-time bagpipe teaching, performing, product development, inventing stuff, online content, and that’s what I’m doing all the time.

I think it’s just incredible. For those folks out there who don’t really know what bagpipes are, haven’t experienced them, it is a pretty unique instrument but also, you know, you may have heard it played pretty badly.

So I want you to, if you’re listening to this, take a moment and go to YouTube and type in Jori Chisholm and just listen to how bagpipes should sound. It’s phenomenal. And even better, just go over to his website and check it out.

But what you’ve done is you have created this pathway to serve others because you impact hundreds, I actually know you impact thousands of pipers around the world. And that’s sort of a really special gift.

So what are some of the challenges that have come with that? Because it is not easy to take the path less walked. It’s not easy, socially, sometimes it’s not easy to explain that to family and friends.

Sometimes it is easy financially, with ups and downs. But what have your challenges been to take that path and march to the beat of your own bagpipe?

Interesting. So, what I always tell people is that I love my job and I feel very fortunate and, I usually don’t use the term blessed, but people use that term. I mean, you know what it means. And I do feel blessed to be able to do something that I love to do and make a career doing it and help other people do it. But I would say it’s not for everybody. You know, it takes a certain amount of discipline, so I have a small team that works for me now, but that’s a relatively recent development.

So for a long, long time, it was truly a one -person business. So I’m home, I don’t have an office, I work from home. It’s me and my pipes and my laptop and teaching students here, teaching students online.

I was the first piper to offer bagpipe instruction on the internet going back to 2003. But it was just something that I was doing on my own. So, I understand that’s not for everybody, that sort of entrepreneurial thing, it’s absolutely for me.

And this idea of meaningful work is something that I love. I loved the challenge of trying to find new ways to make an impact in the world, whether that is through my one-on-one teaching or if it is through my online courses where I can teach large numbers of people through my products.

I love that challenge. And I also love the fact that it’s my business and it is something that I’ve built. Now I do have a small team and they are a big part of my continuing success. But looking back over a couple of decades, that’s a great source of pride for me.

I would say it doesn’t happen overnight. People are quite aware that in any sort of sports discipline or musical performance discipline, that there’s the “10,000 hours thing” and there is a lot of work and dedication, all that stuff. But that goes for other aspects of life too. And for my teaching. I’m so much more effective as a teacher than I was twenty years ago. I think if you’re doing things right, you are not just getting older, but you are learning from all those miles traveled.

And that’s something I have always been interested in: systems and processes and trying to refine my understanding and trying to find ways to communicate more effectively, finding tools and methods that are more effective.

If you look into any athletic discipline, especially a timed sport, like track and field or swimming, the records keep falling. And, you know we’re biologically, we are the same humans as we were decades ago, but they keep falling and why is that? Well, there’s improved training methods. We have tools available that we didn’t have. I mean, just the smartphone is just an incredibly powerful tool. It’s more than texting your friends and instant messages.

It is a camera, it’s a slow motion camera, it’s a high fidelity audio recording device that you can loop things and slow them down and analyze your playing. It’s a way to communicate, it’s connected to all the great libraries of the world.

It is connected to YouTube, which is more than entertainment. It is a vast repository of knowledge and inspiration. So all these tools are at our fingertips and that’s part of what I’m trying to do is find things that work for me, that work for my students and then try to scale that and help others as much as I can.

That’s epic. And you’re talking about helping others acquire new skills or new habits, new techniques. So let’s apply this to just anything. So whether someone wants to learn an instrument, they want to learn a new strategy for their business or get healthy.

How would you say, you know, from your experience, is the best way to shortcut that time between not knowing and knowing how to do something with confidence, like acquiring a new skill. Are there any strategies that you implement with yourself or with your students that help them to acquire new skills quicker?

I think the number one thing is you need to get in touch with somebody who knows what they’re talking about. You need a great coach, teacher, mentor, whatever it is. Your question sounds specifically about how to accelerate that process. There’s a certain amount of learning that you can do on your own with a book or with a book-on-tape or a YouTube video, but you’re going to have a much faster learning process if you are in touch directly with somebody who has traveled the path before.

There’s just so much that goes into certain things. I mean, I know a lot about bagpipes, but whatever the field is, it could be business, It could be some academic field. You need someone who you can trust, and not just the information that that person can transmit to you, but also the path. A lot of times getting from here to there is not about knowledge, it is about skill acquisition. I mean, honestly, a lot of what I do is help people avoid pitfalls. If you can avoid the common pitfalls because you’ve been warned about them, you’re just going to be so much further along.

If you can learn the most direct path without taking detours, it would be a superpower. And we all make mistakes and we learn things wrong and reform bad habits and then we need to retract or we take detours in life. And that’s normal. But if you’re interested in limiting that or reducing that as much as you can, I’d say you’ve got to find an expert and listen to what they tell you to do.

That’s great. I honestly, can I attest to that, as well, in my own life, whether it’s in drumming, my drumming life you know, getting a good teacher and mentor or in my business life getting a good coach, it’s made such a difference.

So what I took from that Jori as well was when you’re learning, it’s not just about learning what to do. It is actually about learning about what not to. Would that be fair?

Absolutely. Yeah, well, it is both. Do this, don’t do that. Because a lot of things certainly in music and sports, there are certain things that are innate. And to me, innateness is something that you do without any practice. And there are a lot of things that are innate that are wrong.

Right? So an example would be driving a car, you know, the sort of the death grip thing. Or certain types of distractions where you’re paying attention to something that seems like the right thing to pay attention to, but you learn from your teacher that no, no. That’s not what you focus on. This is what your focus is on and then you do that and all of a sudden things work better. So it’s not always trusting your instincts because sometimes the instincts are things that need to be overcome, you know, certain fears or just certain natural habits that we have.

And then in addition to what to do and what not to, there’s the question, which is what’s the right thing to do now? What’s right to do next? You can have a vision of where you want to be at the top of that mountain, but you’re a rookie, and you don’t know how to get there. You may think, “That’s the way I see it, that’s the way I get to the mountain top.” But someone who’s been there says, “Actually, that’s not the most direct way, it’s this way.”

So there’s a concept in education called the zone of proximal development. That means, what is the next thing that you should be working on? You can do this. This is your sphere of where you really know where you have mastery and you want to get out here, or you want a larger sphere. Or, what’s the next step? That’s something that a good coach or teacher will be able to help you with. Everyone’s an individual, but we also have large areas where we are similar.

So a good coach will be able to figure out what you need to work on next based on what and how you’re doing right now. And it’s a really big important part of what you get from a great mentor, which is, “I hear where you want go and I’m going get you there and I’m going to help you with my knowledge and expertise and my experience get you there in the most direct way, which might be different from where you think you need to go.”

Hmm, that’s powerful. And they really help to see your blind spots, right? Because your blind spot is your blind spot, you don’t see it.

Absolutely. From a practical standpoint, and also from an emotional and psychological standpoint, it’s very hard to see yourself the way you really are. I mean, that’s one of the things about being alive and being a subjective person. Every time I see myself on video or hear myself, on an audio recording, whether it’s speaking or performing or just walking across the room, there’s a little part of me that goes, “Really, that’s what I look like or sound like?”

That’s the reality of being human and just seeing yourself (not) out of your own eyes. So it’s extremely valuable and important to have that person that you can trust on the outside.

Absolutely. The best of the best. Roger Federer has coaches and trainers, absolutely. The best person at whatever thing they do in the world, they have a team around them. Certainly, they’ve had people around them helping them get there. You look at Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, both of those guys used a guy called Tim Grover, an amazing guy. And he was just all about helping them win. And they had to win, and it was about what do we need to do to get you from A to B?

What you just mentioned, what’s your “one next step.” To me, that was a powerful way of, he takes them from A to B, helps them see their blind spot. And when you think about that, you’ve done self critique, self reflection in your piping realm.

So you recorded yourself, you stepped out of yourself essentially, and watched the recording and critiqued yourself. How do you do that in your business?

That’s the challenge, right? So, now I have my small team that I talk about. I have people that are helping me with my marketing strategies, with writing content. It’s still my vision, my voice, my overall sort of the goal and the vision is mine. But having other people chime in and go, “Well, you know, let’s try this.” And I think that’s a part of trying to grow a small business. Or your personal or sports or musical goals, to take them to the next level, you get feedback from others.

You start to grow your team. I think part of that can be reading great books whether it’s literature or how-to books or books about habits or learning or motivation. Those ideas and those authors, those philosophers, those great minds, they have an effect on you. I read a lot of nonfiction, I read some fiction, but I’ve read a lot of non-fiction. I listen to podcasts, and I watch these great lectures on YouTube, and I try to take them in.

I want to know where I’m deficient. Now, it’s not always easy to hear that or it is not the most fun thing, but it is useful to know if you’re missing the target and why you are missing a target because then maybe you could do something about it and you can hit the targets more. If you care about reaching whatever goal you’ve set for yourself, it’s really useful to know why you’re not getting there. Are there things that you could do differently? I remember one of my mentors was the late great Pipe Major Alistair Gillis, and he talked about this. He was voted the greatest bagpiper of the 20th century. Fantastic player, a great guy, died far too young, sadly. But when I was taking lessons from him as a young man, I remember him telling me the importance of having someone who would tell you the truth. And he was talking specifically about piping.

And for him it was his father, who was his first teacher and continued to be one of his mentors through his life. He said that even to this day, after all the prizes and all the medals that he’d won (eclipsed far beyond what his father had ever achieved, competitively) he said, “my father was still telling the truth.”

And that is incredibly valuable. So I think if you have somebody who you trust, whose opinion you respect, and they will tell you the truth, hang on to that person. Because you might not always like what they say, but it’s very valuable.

100%. Yeah, it might only be two or three people in your life that you have. And it may be a coach or a mentor, and it may be a family member. I agree with you, just being able to be held accountable to who you say you are, and for people to call you out on that.

That’s golden. Yeah. And I think on the positive side, the encouragement. So if you have had somebody who’s been part of life for a long time, and they will be honest with you, but they also have a sense of who you are on a deeper level.

So those long-term relationships and long-term friendships are very important. Definitely. I interviewed an Irish sporting legend called Ronan O ‘Gara. So for those sporting people out there they’ll know Rona. He’s the highest ever point scorer for the Irish rugby team. And I was sitting having a cup of tea with him and talking about his life and his challenges. He said, “Look James, my dad was the guy for me.”

And says, “When I was at my lowest ebb, he was able to lift me up and remind me who I am and what I’m capable of.” He says but on the other side, “When I was too big for my boots and full of my own hot air, he was able to bring me right back down to earth and reminded me what I am about, who I am, and what to focus on.”

So often that person could be sitting quite close in proximity and sometimes we don’t like hearing some of the feedback they give us, but it’s the best medicine for us.

Yeah, I think you’re right there.

You bring up a good point which is that sometimes what you need in that moment might be a brief moment. Or it might be a longer period of time and what is needed is encouragement. You need to really remind yourself that what you’re trying to do is incredibly hard, and you should go easy on yourself. Or you should acknowledge that what you’re trying to do is really hard.

I had this realization recently that when you are a musician and you are really striving, you are trying to do something that’s impossible because what you have your sight set on is always just out of reach. So that can be frustrating, and I hear that from my students quite often. And they’ll say, “I’ve been really working on this. I just, I feel like I should be able to do it by now.”

And that’s always kind of an interesting comment and we need to figure out, “Well, could it be that there’s something that you’re doing in your practice that isn’t right, or it could be that it just takes more time?” So sometimes you need to acknowledge that it’s not for lack of effort. It’s for a lack of a good approach. Things just take time and what you are trying to do is actually really hard and you don’t appreciate that.

So there’s that side of it. And then on the other side of it, I think sometimes what you need is you need to be told by yourself or by others that you can do better. That you’re not doing enough, that you know deep down that you are going easy on yourself, or you taking an easy way out or that you are not being what you could be.

So it’s a mix there and I think maybe people have a different balance of those. They sort of have a natural balance where some people are maybe harder on themselves and they need a little bit more encouragement once in a while. But certainly there are people who could be vastly better than they are if they wanted to. And many circumstances come into that as well. But I’m always trying to find that balance there.

You know, there’s this idea of, you know I’ve been running on the treadmill, trying to get in shape the last few months. I’ve always been in reasonably good shape, but in the last two months I really had an organized exercise plan which has been great. And there is that moment on a treadmill where it’s like, it is painful, it is really painful. And I think there is this idea which is you want to listen to your body, don’t push yourself too hard and don’t’ injure yourself.

But there is also this voice in me which is, “You can do this. You can push through this.” And maybe that’s a metaphor for other aspects of life too, which is, when do you need to say that it’s okay? Let’s take a break, or you’ve done well, reward yourself.

Or when you say, no, that you’re capable of more if you’d give yourself a chance. So I think it is a balance. It really is. Can you think back to your time in your life, whether it’s recent or years gone past where you’ve had someone in your life who you love and respect and trust say, “Hey, you already, come on! You can do more, you can give a little more.” And it made you really reflect and then take action and get a better result.

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Oh, absolutely. I mean, as soon as I got that idea of what you’re talking about, I thought about my sixth grade teacher, Mrs. Johnson. She was very strict and very old school, even for those times. And she had a reputation for being brutally, let’s say brutally honest. I was a kid who could kind of get by using my natural, whatever, charm.

But I had never applied myself until I was in her class. So I was 11, 12 years old. And I remember on my first project, I got an F. That’s the worst you can do. I never even had letter grades before, but a big red F. And I remember I was shocked. And we had a conversation and, I don’t remember the exact conversation, but it was something along the lines of, “You can do better.” And, I ended up completing that project and I went from getting my first F, just like in the movies, a big red F, to my first A plus.

And that was truly a turning point for me, where I had my first experience sort of like a, you know, a shock. And then for the first time, I really, really applied myself and I thought I did a great job and then I was rewarded for it.

I wasn’t a straight A student from there on out. But that was the first time in an academic context where I really got the school of hard knocks where it was like, “Not so fast, wise guy.” And “You can do better.”

And I absolutely remember that and, you know, it was harsh, but that’s what I needed. So I have two young kids now. So it’s a similar balance, which is, when does a little rascal need to be told, “You know, it’s okay. Try again. One more time.” You know like, when do they need patience and encouragement? And when do they need to be told, “Okay, knock it off. Enough’s enough.” Right? So again, I think parents, we all have maybe a natural balance where we can go overboard in one direction or the other.

Finding the right balance is not something that you do once. I think it is something you can do continually from moment to moment. And that’s probably, you know, I’m trying to think if it’s the biggest challenge. Well, it certainly is one of the big challenges for me as a parent, which is to strike that balance of when do they need patience and kindness and understanding and forgiveness as the primary response? And when do they need, “Hey, come on. You know better than that.”

Right? And I do think it’s a balance. It certainly depends on the kid. It depends upon the moment. Sometimes you cut them a little bit of slack and sometimes you go, “Oh, come on.” You know, “Sit up, sit up straight,” or whatever it is you’re trying to do. So I think it is balanced with parenting. I think it is a balance that you need to strike. Now, I try to strike it with myself.

Yeah. That’s brilliant. And as I’m listening to that, the word persistence comes up and I’ll go back to something you said earlier about being a bagpiper. That’s one of those things that you can’t do overnight and you’re in a society now where we can download a lot of things instantly whether it’s on the app store or we go straight to YouTube or we buy a course or pay something by credit card but there are some things in life that cannot be hurried. Now a musical instrument is one of them and I do believe that every child should be encouraged or at least given the opportunity to learn a musical instrument because it teaches delayed gratification.

And so you’ve had to develop this persistence with this hobby across your life. And how have you seen that play out in your business? Because in business, it’s no different. You can’t just start a business today and tomorrow you make a million bucks. Like that’s not how business works generally. So how’ve you used that persistence and where have seen it show up in your business over the last 15, 20 years?

Yeah, so I absolutely think that there are parallels there. And I think your suggestion that every child should have an opportunity to learn a musical instrument, I think is absolutely spot on. A musical instrument, some sort of skill. I know kids play chess, they do sports, but, I think musical instruments are something that you have to stick with for months or years.

This is not a weekend thing, this is something you stick to. Certainly with the bagpipes, you are not making anything resembling a beautiful musical sound for a while. And I think that delayed gratification is part of it. And I think part of that is the idea of deliberate incremental progress.

And that’s really what life is. That absolutely comes into play in my business which is: things don’t happen overnight. You’re not going to download a course on, you know, the whiz bang newest trend in marketing and download it. It’s not a plugin that you put on your website, then your house is full of money. It just doesn’t work that way, regardless of what people promise. So it’s this idea of incremental progress and gradual improvement through various iterations.

So you come up with what you think is a good idea, you try to flesh it out, you run it by a couple other people that you trust, and you try to put it together, and then you see what happens. And then maybe you make some tweaks.

Maybe you need some marketing, maybe need to actually change the product, but it’s a process of continual improvement. That’s how I look at my inventions. I’ve developed these products for bagpipers, which have been quite successful and are used by many of the top players in our art form, and won awards and that sort of thing.

It always starts with an initial thought which is: this is a problem, or this is something that doesn’t work how it should. Or, this is too hard, or this is too complicated, or wouldn’t it be nice if we had a thing that did this?

So then I think, “Oh, yeah.” Then it’s a process of product development and tinkering with things. And then, it comes up with the version one. Then people start using it and it works great.

But right away, I’m already thinking there’s this thing that could be improved. And I think if you’re intimately familiar with the challenges that people face in whatever discipline, then who better to be the innovator?

I remember I was fascinated when I learned that Eddie Van Halen, the guitar player, the legendary guitar God who recently passed, I was so amazed when I learned that he had multiple patents for guitar pegheads and different guitar gear. Very, very technical gear.

And then after thinking about it for about five seconds, I thought, “Well, of course he’s the guy! Who else would know in the world, but a guy like Eddie Van Halen who knows everything about gear and he wants the very best and knows exactly what works and what doesn’t work and what bothers him.”

And that’s the first step, being intimately familiar with what’s going on in your discipline. Identifying what the problems are. And then the third step, which most people don’t do, which is thinking, “I think I have a solution.”

And I guess the fourth step would be actually trying to turn it into a product. Jerry Seinfeld said in an interview that he thinks comedians are exquisitely good at observing the world around them and being irritated by it. And he said, if he notices something and it bothers him, then to him that’s the seed of a joke. Because a lot of his jokes are like, hey, what’s with these things? And it’s universal humor because it seems so obvious once you hear him say it. But it wasn’t obvious because he’s the first guy who said it. And I mean, a lot of my products have come from that. Which is that I noticed something wasn’t right, or this doesn’t work. How should it work? Or thinking, “This is annoying.”

I know that (this is true) because I have been playing for all these years, and really trying to be good. Really trying to have everything work in the bagpipe is complicated, and it’s hard to play. Plus I’ve been teaching full time for 20 years so I see in my students.

Someone in my position should be the person who would figure out what the challenges are. And then the next step for me was to try to figure out a solution, and then go down the product development path and try to come up with something that will help people.

And you’ve done that, like, hundreds and hundreds of pipers that I’ve connected with over the years are using your products. And these are pipers that are just starting off. There are also pipers who are the world’s greatest and are using and embracing your innovative products. The one thing I wanted to touch on was you don’t only innovate in the product sphere, you also do it in an event sphere. So you’ve seen a challenge or a problem with competitions and people being able to get to those competitions.

So essentially, piper and drummers, for those who don’t know anything about what we do, we often compete and we get adjudicated. And we need to sometimes travel from Vancouver to Portland, or we need to travel from Christchurch, New Zealand to Glasgow, Scotland, right?

So you’ve seen a challenge and then you come up with a pretty amazing solution to that problem. Please talk us through that event, that special event that you created.

Great, yeah thank you. So like you said, competition is huge for pipers and drummers. You know we go to the Highland games, these Scottish festivals, they’re all around the world. It’s really a big part of how our community comes together, how we perform. And they are wonderful, but it’s not without its drawbacks.

As you mentioned, expense, travel, all that kind of stuff. So I had this idea 10 years ago now to do an online bagpipe competition. Now we’re doing everything online, but it just had never been done before.

So in a typical in-person competition, you register in advance, and then on the date you show up at the Highland Games, at a fairgrounds, at a stadium, or a beautiful little glen in rural Scotland somewhere, and you get your pipes out and play for a judge.

And then what the judge will award the placing, so whoever won the competition. And if you’re lucky, you’ll get some feedback from the judge. And that’s pipers, we love to do that. So anyway, I had this idea for this online competition.

I did a few of them back in 2011, 2012. James, you came on board and were the drumming chair for our events. And we branded it the “World Online Piping and Drumming Championships.” And we got hundreds of people and people loved it.

And (I think the participants enjoy) this idea of, wow, I can be a part of something global. I can challenge myself. I could work on my tunes and have this experience of a personal challenge and being part of something big, and I don’t have to travel.

I got busy with a few other things, had a couple of kids, developing some products, my business was expanding in other ways, but I always had this idea that we’d bring back this online competition. Then coronavirus, our most unfavored word around the world over the last year or two, happened last Spring and I just knew we had to bring it back.

So we brought back the online competition last Spring. There were 1,600 entries. Which has to be the world’s biggest piping and drumming competition of all time by some sort of factor. And the competitors were incredibly grateful to be part of something. When the whole calendar of so much of our lives was just completely wiped out, it was really important for people. They communicated that to us and the parents of a lot of the kids, they really loved it.

We had our world-class judges, pipers and drummers from all over the world, (all) judging (was done) from (the judges’) home, you know. And the way it would work is instead of playing live, you’d submit a video. So in a way, it’s simple.

But it was this concept that I basically invented, which was you register online, instead of playing live, you record your video at home, you upload it to YouTube, we send it to our judges, they do the placings.

The most important thing for a lot of our competitors is to get that feedback. So every one of our competitors gets a sheet of comments written by one of our world class judges. Something like 95% of the competitors say, that’s the number one reason they do it. There can only be so many winners, but everybody gets the feedback. So it has that educational component. I know that is important to you. And it’s a value that we share, which is not only pursuing excellence as players, but this idea of spreading the art form throughout the world, and this online competition has really proven to be a successful model for doing that and to scale it.

There’s only so many lessons that you and I can teach in a day. And because competition is such a big part of how pipers (improve), and we did three competitions last year. (We) just finished one up this Spring and have just announced a new one for the Summer and then the Fall this year.

But, you know, (there’s been) on the order of over 7,000 entries over (all of) the competition we’ve done, and it just seemed like the right thing to do. I’ve been playing bagpipes for basically my whole life since I was a kid, and I’ve benefited from all these organizations that have been around. You know, the various piping associations, the local Highland games that are all run by volunteers.

And we just take for granted that if we show up on the other side of the world on that date, that there’s going to be that event for us, and it’s all going to be there. So I felt when this pandemic hit, that it was really our responsibility to bring this back for this community and to use that experience that we had. You know, these online events, but just online stuff in general, and this applies to so many people. Like someone who’s listened to this (YouTube video) that’s in a different sphere. You know, if you’re not doing something like this, (then) there’s an opportunity. Whether you are a guitarist or whether you’re into ice skating, or whatever it might be, there is an opportunity if pandemics continue through our lifetime, to do things like this and to be innovative. So it’s really an inspiration, Jori. I would have to say, you know, because I know you very well, you’re an incredibly high performer.

And what I mean by high performer is that you perform above the standard norms across many, many areas of your life, but you don’t do it once. You do sustainably and you do over the long game. And whilst you are doing that, and this is what truly makes you a high performer, you do that whilst maintaining your well being and maintaining relationships.

And that’s powerful, because a lot of us want to have a big business, and all of us want to create products, but everything gets sacrificed. So how do you do that and maintain your well being and your relationships?

Well, I would say that everything good in my life that I have been the beneficiary of has come through people. Now, certainly there’s luck and there is hard work and that sort of stuff, and whatever personal grit and determination that I put into it, but really it comes down to people. Through having mentors who’ve guided me and inspired me, and given me technical expertise and know-how, to my wife and kids and my parents and extended family and friends. I count you in the group of my influential friends and supporters. So it’s through people. And I really try to encourage that in my own (family), to (my) sons who are nine and six, that many good things will come to you if you’re a good person to be around.

So be a good listener, be a good helper, be respectful. Nothing bad that can come from that. And if people want to be around you, and people want to teach you things, and show you the things, and help you along the way, it absolutely is good for everybody if that happens.

And it’s just so important, I think. And I’m naturally an extrovert. I love being around people. I can fly halfway across the world and be totally jet lagged, but (if) you put me in front of a room full of bagpipers, I’ll just, I can go for days, you know, and we’ve done that together.

I guess that’s also luck. But I get a tremendous amount from being around people, and I always have. I think that is part of it. You know I don’t want to sound immodest, but when it comes to that, we were talking earlier about the need to reward yourself versus being more strict and demanding of yourself, I would say I probably err on the side of being very demanding of myself.

It doesn’t get me down. I don’t beat myself up, but I’m always striving. I’ve always been a striver. Now that I have kids, I get a lot of inspiration from them. When my first son was born, I was expecting to feel the unconditional love that a parent would feel, and I did feel that, absolutely. But I felt something else that I wasn’t expecting, which is I feel incredibly motivated. Now, to me, that just seems like a natural thing that should happen to a new parent, but I just, it kind of surprised me in a good way.

So I think about my business as something to build, not just something in the short term, but that it’s something that can build (grow). And I also think about living my life in a way that models, you know, models life, how life should be lived as best as I can for my kids.

Another thing I think about, you know, not only the good things I should do, but what are some things that I know I shouldn’t do? And I think everybody has that list, (such as) you would really be better if you exercise a little bit more or, whatever it is. We all, whatever that might be, get a little more sleep, read some more books and look at less Netflix, or I really should eat a bit more vegetables and less hot dogs or whatever the thing is. We all have that list. So again, thinking about incremental progress.

To be sustainable, I think you need to find a way to do things gradually, in a way that is incremental. And if you’re getting one 10th of 1% moving in that direction, every day or every week over time, that’s going to be tremendously powerful. We’ve talked about the “New Year’s resolution thing.” And it’s not about making a massive overnight change. It is about just steering, that just steering just a little bit that way.

You know if you think about a comet or an asteroid in space, if it gets deflected just a 100th of a degree, over millions of miles, it totally changes course. So I think about that in terms of the good stuff that I know I should do more of, and some of the other stuff that I want to do a little bit less of. And, you know, just try to nudge it a bit in that direction.

That’s amazing. You’ve got a really high degree of self awareness. I see that in all the high performers that I connect with and that I’m fortunate enough to interview. Whether they’re prime ministers, whether they’re athletes, whether they’re innovators, musicians. The one thing that they all have in common, they have many things in common, but one of those traits is a high degree of self awareness.

You know what you’re up to, you know when you’re performing well, you know when you’re feeling overwhelmed. The most important thing (is), you’re inspired to take action to change course when required. So I love it.

So Jori, what you’re sharing is absolutely phenomenal and I want people that are listening or watching to be able to connect with you. What’s the best way for them to get connected with you?
Sure. So my website is You can also find me on Facebook:, Instagram and Twitter: BagpipeLessons. And, if you’re interested in something we’ve been talking about, feel free to send me an email. Even non bagpipe-related questions. All this stuff we’re talking about is, I think, fairly universal.

Absolutely. And that’s one thing for all you guys listening in. The one thing I treasure when I get to go to Hawaii and Jori and I have a lot of fun, and we put on an event there, but the one thing I cherish the most is in the evenings, sitting down with a drink and just chatting about psychology, about human behavior, our visions, dreams, our families.

You know, Jori’s a real wealth of knowledge. So please, you know if you’re not a bagpiper or a drummer, please do reach out to Jori because he has so much to offer in terms of building a business, becoming highly self aware, developing great habits. So feel free to connect with him.

But I have one last question I always ask all guests. So that is to you, what does living life on purpose really mean?

Great question. You know I think it’s the sort of thing that I didn’t think much about when I was younger. And I think more about it now that I have kids. And to me, the family is a really big part of it. And using my skills, using experience, using talents, using where I am in life to try to help others.

And I think if I can find something that feels like it’s the right thing for me personally, and also is the thing right for my family, and then thinking about my extended family and my community and then the world. And if something is good on all those different levels, to me, that’s a pretty good sign that that (it) should be a good thing to do.

But I do think specifically about my family, I think about building my business and living my life in a way that models for them the proper way to carry oneself. To do things honestly, to work hard, to try to help others, and leave the world a better place. I know that sounds cheesy, but I feel fortunate that my career is something that’s a hobby for most people. And I’m thinking about ways that can help individual pipers, but I’m also thinking about ways that I can help the broader world of bagpipers through my products, and my different innovations, and leave it a little bit better than it was when I came to it. And I feel the same way about the world.

That’s incredible. Well, Jori, you’re a constant source of inspiration for me. You’re one of those people in my life that I do reach out to. Jori’s one of those people I trust, that I can get honest feedback from in terms of, “hey, how do you think I am doing in this?” Or what advice would you have?

So, Jori, to have you on the show has been an absolute pleasure and I hope that all the listeners have enjoyed it as much as I have. Please go and follow Jori. Connect with him, and as I say, if you’re not a musician, you are still going to learn a lot and be inspired by him.

So Jori I want to wish you all of the very best for the year ahead and thank you so much for coming on this show.

Thanks James. Always great to catch up whether we’re being recorded and podcasting or just hanging out. Always great chatting and learning from you too, man.

Hey guys, if you enjoyed the content today, please smash that subscribe button below. And if you want to become part of my community, I’ve got an amazing free Facebook group. Please come and join us. The link is in the description below and if you’ve any questions about today’s session, I’d love to know.

Just comment below, and I’ll be sure to get back to you guys. Have the most amazing day.

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