Sunday, 26 March 2017

The daily habits of highly collaborative people: 2. 'It's her choice.'

(This post draws heavily upon the work of Paul Macalindin as described in his book Upbeat, which describes his inspiring work with the National Youth Orchestra of Iraq.)

"'It's her choice.'
What, was it really? How much choice did a 17-year-old Iraqi pianist from Baghdad really have? She was being led straight off a plane from Baghdad onto a media band wagon and given one of the top venues in London to platform her cause, but obliged to play while being filmed with virtually no rehearsal. These sounded like unreasonable demands to me."

From Upbeat: the Story of the National Youth Orchestra of Iraq by Paul Macalindin

Above, Paul is describing the reaction of the director of a reality television show in response to his concerns about the demands being placed on Zuhul Sultan, the young woman who played the central role in founding the NYOI. The director thought that what she was asking Zuhal to do was reasonable; Paul thought that her demands were unreasonable. 

When people with different priorities, agendas and needs work together there can, of course, be tensions. When power dynamics are not equal within a collaboration, these tensions can quickly escalate into conflicts or solidify into barriers that put distance between people.   

Most damaging, however, is when there are different priorities, agendas and needs at play and the differing power dynamics between people are not perceived, especially by those holding the most power.

In the example above, Zuhal, through her musical talent and strength of will, was able to cope well with what was asked (or demanded) of her. As a result, the performances and interviews she gave at the Wigmore Hall, London's premiere chamber music venue, were successful.  

But think for a moment: what if those possessing the power associated with a high profile reality TV series made the same requests or demands of Zuhul day after day after day? What if they not only repeatedly ignored Zuhul's differing priorities, agenda and needs but also continually discounted the significance of the differing power dynamics between themselves and Zuhul? What if they consistently made the untested assumption that meeting their 'reasonable requests' was always and unequivocally 'her choice' when, in fact, Zuhal felt she was complying with 'non-negotiable demands' under ever-increasing duress?

Sooner or later something somewhere would likely blow-up and fail spectacularly and all involved, including the most powerful, would suffer the consequences.    

This is a scenario which can easily occur within long-running collaborations between partners possessing differing levels of power. If the more powerful always assume that those with less power always freely choose to meet their 'reasonable requests', and if the less powerful always assume that they must always meet the 'unreasonable demands' of the more powerful, then acrimony and recrimination will inevitably result.

This will then be followed by the less powerful retreating, exiting or even rebelling, and the more powerful standing baffled amongst the ruins of a failed collaboration. 

So, keep in mind that one partner's reasonable request could be another partner's unreasonable demand. When you catch yourself justifying the requests you are making of your partners by saying 'It is their choice.', ask yourself how you know this for sure. When a partner tells you 'It is your choice.' to carry out a request do you agree with them? Are they correct? Checking out these assumptions straight away, as soon as they are made, will help you avoid significant, collaboration threatening problems down the line.

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

The daily habits of highly collaborative people: 1. keep the camera rolling

(This post draws heavily upon the work of Paul Macalindin as described in his book Upbeat, which describes his inspiring work with the National Youth Orchestra of Iraq.)

'Since 2010 Gill's presence had been constant. In making her documentary, she was following the golden rule: just keep it rolling. With enough patience, one never knew what one could capture.'

From Upbeat: the Story of the National Youth Orchestra of Iraq by Paul Macalindin

Gill Parry was the documentary maker who was making a film about the development, experiences and achievements of the National Youth Orchestra of Iraq. Paul is describing her 'keeping the camera rolling' whilst the orchestra, exhausted after a long trip from Iraq to Edinburgh', is making the final coach trip from Edinburgh Airport to the college that would be their base for the majority of their 2012 UK tour.

Keeping the camera rolling not only increased Gill's chance of capturing an unexpected insight or happening but also contributed to the developing chronicle of the NYOI, which Paul and others were constantly updating and sharing through the traditional written word, websites and blogs and social media.

Maintaining such a chronicle, especially through the above diverse mix of media, obviously helped the orchestra publicise its aspirations and achievements and raise its profile. It also served another arguably even more important purpose: it helped the diverse mix of partners who were maintaining and developing the orchestra to capture and act upon comments, opinions, feelings and incidents that might otherwise have gone by unnoticed, enabling timely advantage to be taken of valuable insights and opportunities.

For example Paul, early on during his work with the NYOI, was careful to capture the ideas, opinions, hopes, dreams and desires of his young players. These were used as the foundations of an initial strategy which gave direction to the development of the orchestra and a focus for its ongoing story: it would be not only a safe place to learn about and perform music but also a vehicle to demonstrate the hopes and ambitions of its young people and their commitment to integrating Iraq firmly into the modern global community. 

This clear statement of intent, the core meaning gained from the mouths and minds of the players themselves and captured by diverse media, played a not insignificant part in defining what was unique about the NYOI and demonstrating why it merited a place alongside other more established and accomplished youth orchestras at prestigious music festivals. Festival and concert organisers took note and the NYOI was duly invited to perform at Beethovenfest in Germany and at a series of prestigious concerts by leading European national youth orchestras at the Grand Theatre de Provence. The Scottish Government were also persuaded to 'put their money where their mouth was' and fund an NYOI trip to Edinburgh.

If the players words had been spoken but unrecorded and unchronicled the passions and motivations of the players and the unique purpose of the NYOI would have lain latent and undiscovered; NYOI's invitations would have gone elsewhere.

So, make sure you keep a detailed, ongoing chronicle of the development and achievements of your collaboration; make notes and gather information as if preparing to write a book. Do not forget to gather and record the values, beliefs, dreams and desires that are driving and motivating your partners as they seek to develop and achieve; make these the preface to your chronicle. Then use the insights and opportunities you gain to realise your collaboration's potential.

Paul Macalindin did exactly this. The notes he made about his work with the NYOI and the huge amount of correspondence and other records he gathered and kept formed the basis of 'Upbeat', his definitive chronicle of the NYOI. They also enabled him to recognise and take advantage of insights and opportunities quickly, at the times and places they would have best impact.


Wednesday, 7 September 2016

Lessons from Wagner about innovation: 1. let others name it

The term 'leitmotiv' describes a theme or motif, either melodic or harmonic, which is associated with a particular character, feeling or event within a Wagner music drama. Interestingly and significantly, this term was not promoted by Wagner but primarily by one of his supporters, Hans von Wolzogen.

Wolzogen's contribution was small but not insignificant. He has been remembered over the centuries for this one influential word, which has enabled Wagner's music and ideas to poke through into people's everyday language: 'leitmotiv' has become a widely used term for describing anything of significance that recognisably recurs over time.

When people can take hold of an idea, analyse it and then give names to the things they find there, they begin to gain some feeling of investment in and ownership of it, which motivates them to explain, champion and support it using their own words, labels and terminology. This enables them to communicate their meaning in a committed, clear, accurate and understandable way: a way that those on the receiving end can easily appreciate and assimilate into their thinking and practice.

So, allow others to analyse your idea on their own terms and use their own terms to describe what they find. 

And watch your idea recur, spread and develop amongst them.

Monday, 1 August 2016

Lessons from Wagner about innovation: 13. encourage people to identify with the vision and motivations of the innovator

Previously, I described how transforming Wagner's music from a perceived life-threatening toxin into an invigorating tonic encouraged people to listen to and support it. 

The success of this transformation owed much to the fact that people were encouraged to get to know the creator of the tonic and personally identify with him: a case of trust and admire the man and trust and admire the music.

This was achieved through the written word. Wagner wrote about not only his own works but also his wider vision for the future of art and music. (Click here to see a list of Wagner's writings.)

From today's perspective, some of the things he has to say are at best dubious and at worst racist. At the time they where written, however, their overall effect was to encourage curiosity which led to interest which, for some, gradually became an identification with and attraction to the man himself.

This effect was very marked within late 19th century America, where many aspiring business leaders began to see Wagner as 'the embodiment of the American Dream' and therefore a person to identify with and emulate within their own spheres of influence.

More recently, Steve Jobs created a similar effect with his globally broadcast and distributed Apple presentations. During these presentations Steve Jobs not only talked about his company's innovations and inventions but also shared his personal vision for the future of technology and the impact it should have upon the world.

Many aspiring business leaders, seeing Steve Jobs up close and somewhat personal through his widely available videos, began to identify with and be inspired by the man, and this encouraged ever-increasing support for Apple's innovations and inventions: as with Wagner, it was a case of trust and admire the man and trust and admire the innovations. 

So, like Wagner and Steve Jobs, make a point of writing and talking not only about your innovations but also more widely about the personal visions, beliefs and values which drive you on and influence your wider thinking and actions.

Give people the opportunity to identify with the motivations of the innovator and watch it make the popularity of the innovation grow.

Thursday, 28 July 2016

Lessons from Wagner about innovation: 12. personally, physically and directly pass the ownership of your unique knowledge and insights to others eager to take it

The 19th century conductor Leopold Damrosch was an ardent supporter and promoter of Wagner's works. He invested his entire professional life into developing a deep and practical knowledge of Wagner's music and how to conduct it.

Then, as he was struck down by pneumonia and his life was fading away, he used his remaining strength and last breaths to pass on the personal, and at the time unrecordable, details of his approach to conducting Wagner's works.

Like the steps of a ballet, the moment to moment movement and techniques of Damrosch's conducting could not be completely captured by written words or sketches. If they were to be taken and owned by someone else Damrosch would have to pass them on personally, physically and directly.

More than this, they would have to be passed on to someone eager to receive and use them.

Walter Damrosch, Leopold's son and also a conductor committed to Wagner's works, fitted the bill. During the last days of his father's life Walter sat by his father's bedside and eagerly took ownership of the personal knowledge and insights gained from a life time of being up close and personal with Wagner's music.     
Ideas and innovations cannot stand alone; they do not have an independent, self-sufficient life. They need people to understand and support them in countless subtle, often not easy to capture or define ways. If these people and their support become scarce or disappear so too will the idea or innovation.

During our lives most of us will gather and own uniquely valuable knowledge and insights which help us get to grips with and sometimes support new ideas, innovations and ways of doing things. Often, our most valuable insights are the most difficult to capture or record formally.

If we feel it is important for new ideas and innovations to survive and thrive, we must be willing to sacrifice ownership of our unique insights and knowledge about them. We must also realise that our most valuable insights and knowledge, because they are often difficult to capture or record, can be the most difficult and challenging to give away. They require that we make a determined effort to pass them on personally, physically and directly to those whom we feel are most eager to take and use them.          


Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Lessons from Wagner about innovation: 11. eine handlung!

Wagner did not call his music drama Tristan und Isolde an opera: he called it 'eine handlung', which is German for a drama, a plot or, most significantly, an action.

This straightforward, practical choice of words provides us with a glimpse of how Wagner viewed the creative process. To him, being creative was about not merely thinking and reflecting but also making and testing: creating a physical impact upon the world (or at least his audience), looking at the results and making changes and refinements.

He wanted to change musical and dramatic practice so built a theatre, Bayreuth, within which he modelled, tried and tested his ideas. He wanted to write a major work based on the story of Tristan and Isolde so composed fully realised and performable songs, the Wesendonck Lieder, to capture and refine his thoughts.

So, like Wagner, remember that innovation is about not only thinking and reflecting but also doing, trying, testing and refining.

It is 'eine handlung': an action