The music paradigm

By Felix Salmon
May 20, 2009

I went along to an event featuring Roger Nierenberg today, despite the fact that I’m constitutionally allergic to anybody who comes out with managementspeak like this:

The Music Paradigm will benefit organizations dealing with a period of exceptional challenge or change. The most typical issues include: restructuring or reorganizing, change initiatives, cultural transformation, innovation and creativity, globalization, new leadership, merger or consolidation, cross-functional teamwork, new mission or strategy, and high performance.

Nierenberg’s shtick is that he takes 75-100 “leaders” and seats them next to members of a chamber orchestra he’s conducting. He then draws unconvincing parallels between sections of an orchestra and business-world teams, or between an orchestra’s conductor and a company’s executives.

That said, it’s quite an experience, all the same, sitting between the cellos and the first violins (in my case), experiencing first hand what it’s like to be inside the music-making machine that is an orchestra. How that can possibly translate into book form I have no idea, but many thanks all the same to Penguin Portfolio for inviting me along to this event.

I was struck by one thing Nierenberg said: that both musicians and conductors are rare examples of people who get instant and obvious results from what they do. That’s one of the most addictive things about blogging, too: press the button, and it’s up, immediately, for all the world to see. And I think that’s one of the great attractions of Twitter: not only do you get the instant gratification of seeing your tweet in public, but you also get responses incredibly quickly from the people who are following you. The world is getting faster, and more immediate, and, in that sense, more like an orchestra. Which doesn’t mean that Nierenberg’s “Music Paradigm” is a great buy. But if your company invites you to attend one of these things, do go — it’s a pretty unique experience.


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felix, as a former orchestral musician who is now a corporate compliance officer, Nierenberg’s point is immediately clear to me: in both an orchestra and a corporation the participants must be on the same page, working at the same tempo, with their instruments tuned to the same frequencies, or the result is utter chaos.

The challenge in the corporate world is that, unlike music which provides immediate feedback, in the corporate world there is a lag time between playing the notes and hearing the music – a lag time that occurs mostly because there are too many conductors of dubious worth in the corporate world…

Posted by Eric Dewey | Report as abusive

Players on the PGA tour get instant feedback too…shoot a pair of 75′s on the feedback is either “go home, try again next week” or “hey, don’t you belong in a pro shop”.

A dead hook-left shot is instant feedback that you’re next lie is bound for the brushes or the pond.

Posted by Griff | Report as abusive

Sounds like an attempt to capitalize on the staggering success of Ben Zander, who has been drawing the links between music and leadership for years. Zander’s performances are incredibly inspiring — the kind of thing that Davos participants talk about years later. I’m not sure, however, that people take much away from these kinds of events other than a temporary high.

The comparison to Ben Zander is understandable but inappropriate in my view. True, they do both make connections between classical music and business/leadership, but to sit inside a professional orchestra and hear those examples come to life around you is a completely different animal than simply having one man with a mic tell you about them. I’ve run into a few people who have been in Roger Nierenberg’s presentations and they had really positive things to say about how he addressed their companies’ issues. (one of them went to their first orchestra concert as a result of their experience) I’m an amateur pianist with a business degree and applaud anyone’s efforts to get rid of the mindset that classical music is only for a select few or is only for entertainment. And if that means helping out in the business sector too, all the better.

Posted by Kris Hartley | Report as abusive