The other week I had the privilege to participate in Benjamin Zander’s (homepage and bio) excellent presentation. Benjamin, or Ben, among other things is the conductor of the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra and has an extensive speaking career. He has, for example, appeared four times as a keynote speaker at the World Economic Forum in Davos. After witnessing his passion and talent, I cannot more highly recommend going to one of his keynotes (or concerts for that matter) if you get a chance.
What makes Ben’s message so inspiring and original is the way he uses his background in classical music to reflect on the topics of leadership, strategic management, creativity, and positive thinking. He truly takes the audience on an extremely interactive journey through stories and music. And even though most of us are not that much into classical music, he certainly is able to light a spark thereto.
You can get a glimpse of that in Ben’s TED presentation below (with only 20 minutes long, it is, however, only a brief scratch on the surface):
Ben’s key message is that everyone needs to think in terms of ‘Possibility’ – a joyful, enlightening, outward reaching creative state of mind. (He also has a book called The Art of Possibility.) In order to be a brilliant player, whatever the field, instead of always thinking and worrying about the next note, you have to think about your true goal and message you are trying to convey to yourself and others.
In everyday life, it’s so easy to get drawn into the “downward spirals” thinking. You start worrying about the big obstacle waiting for you the next day, start dwelling on that declining graph, constantly running yourself to death in small incremental steps. It is so important to be right, that in the end one might not say or try anything at all.
Instead, question the assumptions behind your (and your team’s/organization’s) thinking. And when facing a (temporary) failure, and your shoulders and whole bearing will start to sink, straighten your back, throw your arms up into the air and shout out, ‘how FASCINATING!’ It’s a new learning experience as Ben so inspringly reminds us. Taking control of your attitude creates a whole new world.
For leaders, especially, the most important quality is to awaken ‘possibility’ in others. Possibility is the opposite of the inward-looking downspiral. A leader has to erase all thoughts of a failure from his mind, and speak of a goal as if there is no doubt. A conductor makes no sound – he relies on the released passion, creativity and the desire of the orchestra to produce the sound.
One of Ben’s stories is especially important for all of us hard-working ants. It is a story of a minister having a meeting with a foreign counterpart at the government offices. Their discussion was interrupted with the minister’s assistant rushing into the room, very distressed and anxious to get the minister’s help. The minister simply replied: “Remember Rule Number Six.” The assistant calmed down, apologized, and left the room. Exactly same happed twice more with different assistants, “Remember Rule Number Six.” After the third time, the minister’s guest asked the minister bewilderedly, “May I ask, what is the Rule Number Six?” The minister replied, “Sure — it’s ‘Don’t take yourself so f***ing seriously.'” The guest wondered, “Hmm, ok. So what are the other rules?” The minister replied, “There aren’t any.”
Ben mentioned he does not define himself as a Motival Speaker – rather, a Transformational Speaker. And he was right. There truly wasn’t a single person not delighted, amused, inspired, and touched by his presentation and everybody will certainly remember that morning for a long time. We concluded with the whole room standing and singing Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy”. In German. Multiple times. Until the conductor was able to unleash the true passion in everyone.