Friday, 28 June 2013

Think first and act a little later

The composer Benjamin Britten was renowned for working on his pieces intensely and completing them quickly. His ‘Cantata Misericordium’ was due to be performed at the centenary celebrations of the Red Cross on the 1st of September 1963, and Britten composed it in May that year. This was very fast going for a major and complex piece of music.

Britten had, however, received the request for the piece at least eighteen months previously. He was very grateful for this because it enabled him to work in his preferred way, which was to give plenty of time to thinking and reflecting upon his approach before actually putting pencil to manuscript.

This period of contemplation and reflection enabled him to compose fluently and quickly because, as he sat down to write, he already had a clear idea of the overall feel and form of the piece and the key effects he wanted to achieve.

Frequently when problem solving we can confuse activity with effectiveness. We can dive headlong into problem solving without first taking a few steps back and pausing to reflect upon the overall nature of the problem, its context, its interrelated aspects and the various options and techniques available for solving it. When we do this we do not allow our more intuitive, big picture thinking to have the space it needs to influence and guide our actions.

Most of us are very unlikely to have the amount of advance notice of our problems that Britten had for his commission. We should not, however, discount the importance of allocating a meaningful amount of the time that we do have to thinking and reflecting rather than activity and action.

Time spent in contemplation and reflection is time well spent, as it enhances our overall understanding of our problems, clarifies our options for addressing them and can help guide our decisions about the activities and actions we eventually undertake.

If you think first and act a little later you may be pleasantly surprised by how intensely you can work and how quickly and effectively you can address the problems before you.

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Dissect your thought-worms

A while back a BBC Radio 3 presenter explored the concept of ear-worms. These are melodies and fragments of music that despite our best endeavours play in our minds over and over again, like an auditory itch that cannot be scratched. 

The melodies that become ear-worms vary from person to person. Some of my own ear-worms are the Imperial March from the film Star Wars and the opening of Elgar’s 1st Symphony. Sometimes I just cannot get these tunes out of my head! What ear-worms do you have? 

We suffer from thought-worms in a similar way. These are ideas, questions and intuitive feelings that burrow away noisily within our minds. 

The reason we become so distracted by both ear and thought-worms is their insistent, repetitive and unchanging nature. Over and over again we hear and experience the same things and the more we try not to hear or think about them the louder and more persistent they become. 

The Radio 3 presenter encouraged her listeners to embrace and celebrate their ear-worms: to find out more about them, to examine their characteristics and place them within the broader context of the music as a whole. 

You can do similar with your thought-worms. Rather than becoming trapped within a repeating loop of thoughts and feelings you can interrupt the process.
Dissect your thought-worms and examine them. From where did they originate? What makes them so fascinating and insistent? What is the bigger picture or context that surrounds them? What important feelings or messages underpin them? What new directions could they point out and what discoveries could they help you unearth? 

By uncovering the mysterious attractions of your thought-worms you will discover their true meanings and the resulting insights you gain will shake your thoughts out of their repetitive loops and help steer them in new and stimulating directions.

Friday, 14 June 2013

Using music to turn conflict into manageable and helpful paradoxes

The complex issues, problems and paradoxes at the heart of modern life cannot be solved without effective collaboration, and the musical world is very good at it!

Visualise a symphony orchestra. Now imagine the complex collaboration needed to form, maintain and develop it. Think about the additional and intense collaboration needed during its performances.

Now consider how much more difficult it would be to achieve all of this within an environment of extreme uncertainty, conflict and attrition.

Surely the lessons learnt whilst achieving this would be of immense value to all of us, whatever our walk of life.

My interests in music, creativity and collaborative working do not often come together so obviously and dramatically as they did when I viewed this short presentation by Paul MacAlindin, Music Director of the National Youth Orchestra of Iraq:

Paul MacAlindin youtube presentation

He talks about his collaboration with others to form and develop the National Youth Orchestra of Iraq. At the heart of his talk is an exploration of the ability of musical collaboration to take conflicts and turn them into paradoxes that can be managed to create positive and valuable results.

It has given me plenty to reflect upon as I continue to develop my understanding of creativity and the complex world of collaborative working. I hope it does the same for you.

Stop press!

The National Youth Orchestra of Iraq is shortly to tour the USA! For more information and to find out how you can help click here: