The orchestral conductor, Benjamin Zander, is a frequent business speaker and famous for his TED talk. now viewed by more than eight million people.  Conductors are sometimes viewed as the last of the great dictators.  Zander is different.  He had an epiphany some years ago when he realized that the conductor of an orchestra plays a different role.

The insight transformed his conducting and his orchestral musicians immediately noticed the difference.  Now he’s a leader who asks for input in the form of written comments at every rehearsal.  He understands that the musicians’ skills and experience enhance his own.

His gifts as a teacher are remarkable too and they are now shared through masterclasses for all of us on YouTube.  The students perform with technical brilliance before he enters in with a consistent message –  it is time to relax and let go of the kind of competitive excellence their preparatory training has provided and instead relate to their audience.  Transformation happens before our own shining eyes.  (This sample and others are well worth watching now or at a later time. To enjoy it to advantage if your time or tolerance is limited, listen a bit to the beginning and move the arrow to 9:00 minutes and watch some hair pulling – not a conventional teaching technique – but see how effectively it works in creating a totally different kind of performer).

Zander’s passion is for introducing classical music to those unfamiliar with it and he does so with incredible skill and experience in making audiences and performers connect.  It’s a worthwhile example of how a leader inspires and transforms performance.


I was sitting in my favorite coffee shop this morning preparing to write something about framing when a woman outside caught my eye.  She was motionless on the sidewalk of a busy street below where streetcars and heavy traffic move constantly.  The scene looked something like this:

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My camera shots don’t show everything close by –  the woman crossing the street was almost run over by a passing car, a streetcar or two passed, and a bike nearly ran into the woman on the sidewalk.  Her world was framed by a device that measures about 2.5 x 5.5 inches.  As you can see, she was totally absorbed in it.

We are shrinking our frameworks – and ironically expanding them at the same time.  Our phones allow us to go anywhere in the digital universe.  The question is whether the digital framework will affect our sense of possibility in the real one.

Most of us have been exposed to the  diagram puzzle below where we are asked to connect the dots using only four lines without lifting the pen/pencil from the page.

The square is a shape that we know all too well and the shape suggests a straight-forward solution – except that it takes five lines instead of four.  The real solution requires us to move outside the frame.

We can observe that we first focused on numbers and measurement in trying to find the solution.  But what we have to do is place the image in a much larger box to see more possibilities


The new frame doesn’t necessarily have to be square.  It could be a rectangle or ciccle.  It just has to be bigger.

When we  look for new possibilities, thinking quantitatively will not always work.  Other elements also come into play in  real transformation.  Moving from one frame to another can depend upon  seeing relationships – sometimes with people,  but also relationships in a universe filled with “joy, grace, awe,  wholeness, passion and compassion” as the writer of The Art of Possibility says. When we expand the frame,  it opens up more than we can initially ask or imagine.



Possibility revisited

When I started this blog – which followed one created many years earlier – the tagline was suggested by a book by Rosamund and Benjamin Zander – entitled The Art of Possibility.  I first met Ben Zander on a TedTalk, where he introduced a bunch of techies to classical music.  The Talk has still maintained one of the highest ratings ever – over two million views. Their earlier book showed how both he and his wife have inspired many to bring out the best possibilities latent within themselves.

The new book, Pathways to Possibility, is even more explicit. Written by Rosamund Stone Zander, a family systems therapist, it resonates with another of my favorites in the field – Ed Friedman.  She unpacks the reality that most of our negative aspects arises from our own experiences as children, and unless we recognize and re-frame such experiences, they play into everything that we do as adults.  We can either recast them as memories – things in our past that no longer have control over us – or see them as part of our continuing story and growing maturity.  Her message is simple but profound.  I have seen this in action when another practitioner in the field helped a woman re-write a negative story and it changed her whole attitude in an instant.

Reading this book – and watching Ben Zander coach his music students on YouTube are excellent lessons for anyone who wants to initiate change – as another wise colleague has said – we have to be the change that we want to see happen.  Try these!



Today marks the end of a long business association that I have enjoyed for 18 years.  I have every respect for the company but they are regrouping in terms of how they work and my own life and needs are going in a different direction.  It will seem strange to let it go.  At the same time it makes space for something completely different and new.  It’s interesting and somewhat scary not to even know what it is.

What Works – and What Doesn’t

I sat in a meeting yesterday and heard an interesting presentation from a person who is trying to build a new church community in a suburb – without a building, and the hope that a gathered community would have enough strength to move toward one some time in the future.  His target audience is families with young children – people quite like himself – and he is trying to do this by meeting the people where he knows they are – probably on public transport where they spend large portions of their lives. Because he also has a technology background he has created an app to make contact with them.  He calls the app, “Redeem the Commute”.  His target group is also described as “unchurched” – in other words, those who have no experience of or context for the kind of community that he is trying to create.

It’s a new way to try to combine local with global – and what was engaging was the honesty of his reporting.  How many of us get real about how things work – or don’t.  – in the worlds of social media and mobile apps.

His idea was to offer online mini- courses – parenting, marriage preparation and relgion 101.  I immediately found myself questioning the first one here – did he have the necessary credentials to offer a course on parenting – especially as a new parent himself?  While I have decades of parenting experience I’d be inclined to recognize my views as opinion rather than credentials.  Marriage prep and Religion 101 were fine. These are churchy things and related to the business he is in.  There were hopes that participants would group themselves around topics and form discussion groups.  There were also invitations to come to real meetings in a real location  Here are some of the things that happened.

Clear measurements took place over a 60 day period. There were a fair number of downloads of the app and quite a few visits to the website. But there was very little interest in the parenting or marriage course; there was better response to religion 101. The online communities never formed.  There were a very small number of visits to the local website.  Turning up for local events was sparse. Some local initiatives worked so much better.  An outdoor movie night attracted 400.  A Christmas party brought out 40 parents and children.

What do these things say to any of us who write for blogs or websites or posts for social media? We may be fooling ourselves quite a  lot of the time.  I had the same experience writing for a local community grouping in downtown Toronto over a three year period.  There were interested subscribers from all over the world – even a reporter from the Washington Post checked in – but local interest was sparse at best.

My Facebook friends are people whom I would recognize if I met them on the street – and some of them live a plane ride away – but the truth is we have common contexts for being digital acquaintances – and let’s face it, we are not all friends in a real sense but more often colleagues, classmates, and acquaintances.  It’s extremely difficult to develop relationships unless people have something of substance  in common – and what the targeted group had in common here was actually defined – no knowledge of the enterprise that was trying to recruit them. Social media is now based on the economic hope that what we “like” will be adopted by our “friends”.  Such friendship will come at a price and it doesn’t really build human bonding.

What did work was what the movie and Christmas party have in common.  They were local events where real people could actually meet and interact with other people.  When I think back to Howard Rheingold’s lovely book, The Virtual Community, Homesteading on the Electronic Frontier”, which I first read in the early 90’s, I realize how much things have changed.  Local combined with digital was possible then – to have a local community like the Bay area “Well” where people could meet online and share theirv real life experience.  But they also shared the context of San Francisco.  What there is to share in the sense of a new suburban commiunity is a a bit hard to say. There often is no sense of history or common experience and sometimes even landmarks are hard to spot.  Apps, on the other hand, are almost by definition, global.

So this honest presentation raised far more questions for me than it answered.  The presenter suggested that he might go in an app direction or a local relationship building direction or possibly a combination.  What did seem necessary was to make a choice – because the strengths and limitations of both were clear.  And I found myself leaning toward building relationships.


Good ideas

I wish I could draw like the folks at RSA – but at least I can forward their messages. A tip of the hat to colleague Dave Robinson for recently posting this. He notes – not new but worth a look.

Christmas Greetings

At the time of year when Christmas is celebrated, it’s good to remember one of the most enduring traditions. And for anyone who thinks that success is totally predictable, this story follows its long and winding road. Worth watching!