What the Trinidadian Steel Pan Can Teach You About Entrepreneurship

The steel pan of Trinidad & Tobago is sometimes credited as being the only musical instrument to have been developed in the 20th century. The modern version of the steel pan emerged in Trinidad in the 1930s, when a variety of objects such as pots and pans, car parts, biscuit tins, dustbins, oil drums and other items were used as percussion instruments. During this time, innovative Trinidadians saw discarded oil drums as having great potential to become a musical instrument, and they started to experiment with creating a unique sound. These early ‘pannists’ were responsible for crafting a completely new art form from discarded oil drums. Today, the steel pan is highly regarded as a musical instrument par excellence, and the history of the Trinidadian steel pan has a number of lessons for entrepreneurs. Here are five things that the Trinidadian steel pan can teach you about entrepreneurship.

  1. Be creative

As a businessperson, there will be times when you may not have access to all of the resources you’d like. In times like these, you’ll need to be creative, and just like the Trinis of the 1930s, you’ll need to use the resources you have available to create something beautiful and unique.

  1. Be proud of your work

Many historians trace the roots of the steel pan to the impoverished communities of Trinidad & Tobago. The steel pan was considered to be a “street instrument” and it was quite some time before ‘pan’ was accepted and respected as a legitimate musical instrument. Despite its humble beginnings, the steel pan has been adopted as Trinidad & Tobago’s national instrument. Here’s an important lesson for entrepreneurs. Even if you come from humble beginnings, be proud of your work. 

Port of Spain, Trinidad - January 17, 2007: Group of local musicians playing steel drummers during carnival days.

Port of Spain, Trinidad – January 17, 2007: Group of local musicians playing steel drummers during carnival days.


  1. Have fun!

There’s no such thing as a sad pannist! If you’ve ever attended any event where the steel pan is being played, you’ll know that it is virtually impossible for a pannist to remain still while playing the pan. Chances are that just about every pannist in the band is moving to the groove of the music and having fun. And with good reason!  There is a growing body of research which suggests that happy people are healthier, more creative and more productive. Okay, so your workmates might find it odd if you suddenly started dancing and singing while in the workplace, but you can still take a cue from Trinidad’s pannists and enjoy your work! By the way, according to the World Happiness Report, Trinidad and Tobago is the Caribbean’s happiest country. Hmmm…maybe playing the steel pan has something to do with the happiness level of the country.

  1. The world is your market

The steel pan may have started in Trinidad & Tobago, but it’s now an instrument in demand all across the globe. Today, the steel pan has been used in just about every musical genre possible, from soca to reggae to jazz and hip-hop. Master pannists are also in high demand all over the world for their skills with the instrument. Today’s entrepreneurs live in a hyper-connected global village. It has never been easier to get your products and services into markets outside of your home turf. If you’ve got an innovative product or service, you owe it to yourself to investigate whether you can entice customers from other countries.

  1. Protect your Intellectual Property

The Trinidadian steel pan has been plagued by a number of intellectual property issues, many of which revolve around the filing of patents by persons residing outside of Trinidad & Tobago. The whole issue has gotten pretty contentious. You can read more about it in this online article from Trinidad’s Guardian newspaper. The lesson for entrepreneurs is clear. No matter how unique your product, there is always the possibility that other persons can find ways to claim sections of your work. Always be prepared to protect your intellectual property.