Monday, 2 March 2015

Never discount the importance of slight changes

A fairly long time ago I studied musical composition. I remember my first lesson: my composition teacher looked at some of my work, thought for a while, looked at me and said, ‘You need to vary things a little more; start a few more phrases off the beat now and again.’

A little later I was writing a choral piece and the words I was setting demanded a sudden change from a heroic, heraldic sound to one that was soft and intimate. I struggled with this for some time and then made the smallest of changes: I asked singers to sing harmonies four notes apart during the heroic section and three notes apart during the softer, more intimate section that immediately followed it. It was a slight difference that made an immediate and effective change to the atmosphere of the music.

On one other occasion, I was listening to a brass band play a piece of music I had written for them. When they played the final climactic section, I felt that it did not sound quite right. After thinking about it for a while, I asked the conductor if he could take the section just a fraction slower. He did, and the section gained the rhythmic weight it needed to bring the piece to a satisfying conclusion.

Slight changes in music (whether they are rhythmic, harmonic or about varying the tempi) can make the difference between a piece of music that fails to engage and stimulate an audience and one that does.

Similarly, slightly varying the way we perceive and approach our challenges and problems can enhance our effectiveness in dealing with them (sometimes in unexpectedly significant ways).  

When addressing problems ask:
·       What insights you gain by looking at a problem from a slightly different angle (say from the viewpoint of a colleague, mentor or client)?
·       What advantages you gain by slightly changing your opinions about what a problem is and how it should be addressed?
·       What improvements you gain by slightly altering the way you are tackling a problem? For example, do you enhance your progress if you change the order of the tasks in front of you?
·       What advantages you gain by slightly altering the environment or context within which a problem exists?
·      What benefits you gain by slightly lengthening or slightly tightening deadlines?
If you occasionally do things a little differently, you may be delighted by the benefits you gain.

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