Martin Kohlstedt

Contradiction as a Drive – Interview with Pianist Martin Kohlstedt

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The pianist Martin Kohlstedt is artist and entrepreneur, musician, and at the same time boss of his own record label employing more than ten people. This was not anticipated, because he only started playing the piano at the age of twelve, however,  the native Thuringian has published three solo albums and performs at international festivals. In our conversation, he tells us how he balances the contradictory purposes of artistic freedom, musical-industrial necessity, and business administration concerns into a harmonious overall context.

The Artist

On stage Martin Kohlstedt experiments and lets his pieces react with one another. He dissolves them and creates something new every time. “My music is based on a very intuitive approach. In the beginning, it is more or less a game of boredom until it becomes a piece that flows on its own”. Hearing this statement, it is not difficult to imagine the twelve-year-old Martin playing for the first time on a detuned piano in his parents’ living room. Today, for Martin Kohlstedt, the concert and the discourse with the audience is the catalyst for creating something new. “I cannot sit down at home and pretend to do something new and make something out of it. Instead, I take it into the context of the audience in which this energy is also noticeable. There I can find a counterpart and resonance body. At home, doubt is too strong. The audience gives you a very high security. I also notice if a piece is working or not. The concert is the main essence of my work. Live I rather discuss the music. The moment an audience is there, I look at my own pieces from above and feed them electronically, making them bigger, smaller, break them, maybe I just reinforce them. It’s a completely different perspective. My live concert is a long way from the album. And so, I constantly develop my music on stage and keep it under negotiation, until I work out new things again which I then record on an album. The process takes place in reverse. That’s what sets me apart from many other artists. It’s not like I’m making an album, go on tour with this album, and then make new sketches for a year. What I do live is the actual process. The discourse is there, chaos is there.” For Martin Kohlstedt, this chaos is always a search for the creative potential of his own subconscious. “The subconscious has the potential to create a vocabulary,” he says. “It feels like a higher authority than your own human decision-making ability, to squeeze things into formats, lengths, or sets. One begins to adapt the music for the format. It’s also a creative process, of course, but the real artistic thing is this drilling and translating the deepest fears. Therein I see the greatest artistic potential. You become energetic, your hands get sweaty and you have the feeling that you should not continue. You are with yourself in a world that sometimes is not soothing. “And yet the artist sees no other way for himself. “The most authentic moment is the most public and I believe that I am the most myself in those 90 minutes. What I do at home – calculating and constructing – is always wrong. “

The Producer

After the tour, the pianist becomes the producer. A selection process begins and what he calls “conscious creative work”, in contrast to his stage experiences. “This is a long time of consideration and choice. I have this huge bank of live recordings from half a year on tour. Then I start to listen to all these ideas, collect them and put them in order, put them on shelves. I wonder what the essence of what I tried to improvise on stage is. If I like something, I go to the piano and trace it back to its origin, and at that moment it is also mostly the newly-conceived work which then gets the permission of my head to grow now. Then I start recording, and that’s also the beginning of a certain label thinking. I notice how I change. Based on the live sound, the final statement or other factors, I judge if a piece makes it to the album. These pieces will then be further developed. You have to decide what length is the right one for the album, how many pieces should be on the album when the statement is made. The creative process moves to the background because it’s about making choices for a product.” A product which, and this circumstance doesn’t make his job any easier, is he himself.

The Entrepreneur

As free as Martin Kohlstedt acts on stage, as straightforward and stringent he is when it comes to leading his company, “because surprise could take away my freedom, at least from an organizational point of view. I like being reliably prepared to the point that I can be free. It is also very difficult for me to delegate tasks. Certain things I keep very close to me. In administration, I am almost obsessed with control and in the arts, I let go. There is a strong ambivalence between the improvisation in the performance itself and the organization of the surroundings.” Entrepreneurship, for Martin Kohlstedt, means creating a stable foundation on which artistic freedom can unfold. “Freedom is a central concept for me. After all, that is one of the reasons why you start your own business. All this is still a niche, but it has to be, so it can continue to be free. I could have gone to a big label two years ago and my attitude would have developed accordingly. But this freedom is what I permanently strive for. At the same time, however, one is subject to certain structures in the prison of the music business. But the idea of ​​freedom triggers everything, all of the energy springs from it.” It is very helpful to Kohlstedt the entrepreneur that 13 very close, trusted people, and friends ‘on eye level’ belong to his label.

“I want to continue to work that way. And because it’s so complex to communicate, I cannot hire anyone for it. This means that I need a team that has known me for a long time, with whom I grew up, a family, … “. The 13 people are the team, are the company”. When a release comes, these people really care about the album as a product. All of a sudden there is a different headline, and PR agencies need just that. I’m just the guy at the piano and the team makes sure that the album sells and that I get performances. […] Because the emotional attachment is higher than the economic one, it causes me to mediate between these 13 people. My job is mainly to communicate permanently. I have to hold the team. “

Forming a team, leading a company, recognizing the conditions of the market and representing them in one’s actions, artistically developing self-esteem and self-confidence, developing creative potential, making decisions and overcoming fears – there is a whole lot that we encounter in conversation with Martin Kohlstedt. It’s good to know that his life is not a straight line. “On the one hand I want to allow myself to keep things simple but then notice how the left half of the brain turns on and still wants to gain control. This dispute between right and left brain is my source of energy. That’s why the contradiction is likely to be a big incentive as well as the doubt. “Balancing opposites, meandering between the poles to get a little closer to his ultimately unattainable ideal of freedom.” The pursuit of freedom is always there, but in the end, all of these other conditions are contradictory. The goal is unattainable.” To strive for perfection with all available means. Even though one’s own experience teaches that by nature this is not possible at all? Perhaps this is also one of the central insights that make a concert by Martin Kohlstedt a very personal experience and a communal ceremony for the audience.

Read the full interview here (German Only).


Interview by Dirk Dobiéy and Katja Stenzel, Blog by Dirk Dobiéy, Translation Rodrigo Morales, Stephanie Barnes
Picture and Video Source: Martin Kohlstedt and Open Source

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Hélène Picard

It is also a way to communicate with other people – Interview with Painter and Sculptor Hélène Picard

Dirk Dobiéy Insights, Interview Leave a Comment

“My work is mainly about emotions” answered Hélène Picard, when asked about her inspirations. The French Painter and Sculptor, who studied visual and Fine Arts at Beaux-Arts Paris, materializes in her artworks her way of feeling and perceiving people, atmosphere of an environment, etc. “Whatever I see, I can receive very strongly and deeply […] Even if you see a landscape. For me a landscape represents some inner emotions. It is a way of constructing a bridge between both, the external elements and what we have inside of us”.

Her path to becoming the artist she is today has not been easy as she underwent a 3-year crisis about balancing financial needs and self-expression: “I was so obsessed by living from my art, selling paintings, making money, that I arrived at a certain point where I was doing paintings only for selling them, and not for my satisfaction or for searching and finding, such as finding new ways of expression”.

To some extent, it is her need to put out to the world what she perceives that helped to overcome this difficult period, and decide once and for all that “[she] couldn’t be anything else than an artist: Surely, because it is a question of self-expression, and having too much inside of me. In another way, it is also a way to communicate with other people. Not with words, but with colors in my case.”

Hélène Picard – La blouse dorée

When it comes to expressing herself creatively, Picard explains that if the process is complex, it is partly due to our heritage: “If you try to create something, you create it from something that already exists as you are not the only one in the world. You have some references and some inspirations about it”. From her perspective, what makes an artwork unique lies in reality in how the artist will shape it: “You have inspirations, but the shape at the end is unique”.

This quest for uniqueness is a key component of any creative process, but Picard explains that it can also be a source of anxiety especially during exhibitions, as it means confronting herself with the fear of being rejected by the audience, and expose herself to negative feedback on her artworks. Over time, this anxiety weakens: “once you gain some recognition of what you did, this is different. You feel more comfortable”. As we discuss, a parallel with situations in business settings unveils. Often, employees are holding back when it comes to sharing ideas, especially if those are not in-line with the majority, due to the fear of seeing their ideas being rejected. This behavior impacts any workplace negatively in the long-run due to the depletion of novel or out-of-the box ideas.

As a result, when talking about how organizations could maintain the motivation of their employees and keep job satisfaction up, one of the key components is to create an environment where employees are encouraged to try and go beyond their boundaries: “You could see that if you allow people to express themselves, and you convince them to just try it […] It leads to great engagement”. On another level, it comes down to employees’ own-self esteem, self-confidence, and their ability to acknowledge self-progression: “if you want to be satisfied with yourself, you have to trust yourself and to be confident in your capabilities. You have to acknowledge that you do good things, even though some people might not see it that way, that you do what you can and you try to improve. Every day, we do a few very small steps, which are not a lot, but it is still very important to notice them. This is a way of being satisfied with your work.”

Please read the full interview here.


Interview and Blog post by Julia Kierdorf and Thomas Castéran
Picture Source: Hélène Picard

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Vanessa Notley

“I like not knowing, I like being surprised” – Interview with Sculptor Vanessa Notley

Dirk Dobiéy Insights, Interview Leave a Comment

“You got to have time in your life when you doubt what you are doing.” One thing that Vanessa Notley did not doubt is the fact that she wanted to be an artist from her early years. For the rest, the Scottish Drawer and Sculptor based in Sètes (Southern France), constantly looks at challenging herself and doubting what she does.

It all started when facing the choice as a teenager to go either to University or Art College. Notley chose the former as she thought that University would be more challenging for her. It’s only later, when she actually became an artist, that she figured it out: “[Becoming an Artist] was actually more difficult [than going to University] and it was even more satisfying. Being a student and going to academia […] wasn’t something that I had to confront myself with, whereas being an artist means always looking for difficulties.”

The Scottish artist explains how searching for answers and being uncertain keeps her engaged in her work: “Everybody gets bored, and the only thing I don’t get bored with is this! […] I like sort of having that troubled feeling: “How can I do this?” If I did not have that, if I were just a teacher, I don’t think I would have that difficulty and I like that difficulty. I like not knowing, I like being surprised.”

Vanessa Notley – Indiscret

Although she considers that her working and thought processes remain the same along the years, starting off with drawings, notes and cutting elements that will later come together to represent her vision, Notley notes that “there is always a discovery” that emerges from the repetition in her work and process. “I need to spend a lot of time almost doing the same gesture. By doing that, I learn so many new things every single time. I also get more aware of the touch, of the qualities the material has, but also the visual qualities, and the sound that it makes. The time that I spend doing this, also awakes a reason for it to exist.”

From her perspective, the real contrast between Art and Business lies in the fact that there is an obligation “to have a result at the end of the day” in Business. As she puts it, “in the end, art is a concrete result, but there is a lot of time, where there isn’t anything”.

That is where Notley emphasizes the importance of doubt and uncertainty along the process: “I think doubt is important. You got to have time in your life when you doubt what you are doing. That bit of uncertainty. There is a time where you don’t do anything, physically or tangibly. Things are being worked out, but there is no concrete result”.

Vanessa Notley – Chateau Bosc

Such stages are critical for her and are well integrated into her working process leading to her artworks, whereas it is difficult to conceptualize a company allocating time and resources without certainty on end results. If some companies successfully implemented a side-project culture, where their employees can allocate a bit of their time to think or develop side ideas, this practice is not widespread: “It would be incredible to think that you could actually have a business environment where people would be able to just “see what happens”.

Please read the full interview with Vanessa Notley here.


Interview and Blog Post by Thomas Castéran and Julia Kierdorf

Picture Source: Vanessa Notley

 

 

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Bernd Rosslenbroich

Act Autonomously to Create Playfully. – Interview with Evolutionary Biologist Bernd Rosslenbroich

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Bernd Rosslenbroich is the head of the Institution for Evolutionary Biology at the private university, Witten/Herdecke. In his book “On the Origin of Autonomy”, Rosslenbroich considers the big changes where evolution is not only the adaption of environmental conditions, but an interaction and exchange between organism and environment.

This point of view promised to be an especially fascinating talk, because Rosslenbroich considers playful procedures to be an important component for flexibility  and autonomy. To him it is consistent and obvious that higher developed organisms begin to play: “An evolutionary research that concentrates on adaption can hardly explain such a circumstance as evolution because playing doesn’t have any evolutionary value. At this point we can only observe the games humans play and find that they play excessively and children play markedly more so. If that thought is being continued, a certain creativity is made visible. Flexible acts are being practised and not a precise behaviour, a variety of behavioral possibilities are being rehearsed.

Flexibility itself is being learned and that’s creativity. This characterises the human eminently. We have degrees of freedom that we train while playing. That’s why the game is very valuable in our society and especially for our children. “What characterizes children and their play is mainly curiosity and the urge to try new things. A natural process that perhaps grown-ups would call an experiment or trial and error. Because in the end the experiment is a playful way to explore or create something new.”

Accordingly, Rosslenbroich understands experimentation as taking up and pursuing the biological possibilities to improve the ability to perform culturally. Still we shouldn’t mix culture and biology in an unacceptable way, and “draw it down into a cheap biologism.” But yet our biological organization gives the humans their requirements. “Here I mean the variety of the behavioral possibilities, including the movement abilities to then capture it culturally, to transform it and to carry it on into something independent.”

It’s those two pages: biology and culture that are related. In this context another aspect is quite important to Rosslenbroich: “the coherence between brain and body is much stronger than we think. The brain doesn’t only direct the body, but their cohesion creates our behavioural possibilities. If the highly flexible gets summarized, the game gains meaning, especially the cohesion of brain, game, and body. (…) If we want to plan intellectual games then we need these premises which cannot only be learned intellectually but also due to movement. Figuratively that’s why we say that we have to ‘play something through’. If we take this topic of development seriously, we have to say that mental creativity emerges due to movement games.”  

The biologist also thinks that within evolution, autonomy increases steadily. Like other scientists, he rejects mere deterministic attempts of explanation: “for a long time I had the suspicion that genes could be handled much more flexibly. The neurological determinism would be determined in our neurons because of the molecular processes is interpreted and not true. (…) A determinism is also being constructed, we are adapted to the situation of the Ice Age. Because of what? Evolution has gone on since then, we are people capable of culture, why should we be limited to something backward? All those determinisms can be dissolved with the idea of autonomy”, he explained. He sees the connection between autonomy and adaptation as follows: “autonomy here means, that organisms can develop more and more independence and can control themselves better and better. So development is sort of a dialogue between organism and environment and an alternation between autonomy and passive adaptation. Every organism therefore forms a different degree of autonomy. Normally, a distinct autonomy can be ascertained within flexible and intelligent organisms because they have a stronger exchange with their environment. Therefore, they develop a much more intense perception.”

We don’t have difficulties recognizing parallels between the statements of the biologist and the artistic creative process, because it’s exactly those perceptions that make the difference in (playful) creative processes. Admittedly Rosslenbroich would never expand his perceptions under scientific standards onto the organisational context. But he can also see some parallels: he knows strict hierarchies and power games as classic suppression instruments of autonomy in scientific organizational structures. In his time as a researcher in the United States, he experienced collaboration in scientific institutions completely differently, it was a “cooperation on the same level, while in Germany there exists still more of a hierarchy, that can block many things.” A positive way also for the economy could look like this: “I imagine various individuals in a company that possess autonomy, the individuals now stand there with their own personal autonomy, but are also included in company affairs. The question occurs if employees are able to live a certain amount of autonomy or if they have to fit into the regulations of the institution completely. Also you can’t only be autonomous. If that would happen everybody would do whatever they wanted and that doesn’t work either. A little adaptation is necessary. That’s exactly what we see in biology. Living only works between autonomy and adaptation. It’s all about balance. Living can only have a relative autonomy. Now, is a firm able to use the relative autonomy of its employees or does it expect the complete adjustment? Of course, there are several individual differences, but surely it would be mostly suggestive if the different autonomies could be acted out to a certain extent. A certain respect for the autonomy of the other is important too. Psychology nowadays knows that people suffer under heteronomy that is too strong and can even get sick. I assume, that this will even increase, because people more and more develop personal autonomy. The modern world of work will have to deal with that, but not as a burden, but as a potential.”

What Rosslenbroich says about the organism and for the individual could, one supposes, therefore apply for whole groups as well: The more complex challenges are, and the more dynamic an environment that develops, the more autonomy is desirable. Without  room for maneuvering, on the other hand, the individual and the entire organization are under pressure. “If I imagine a firm, that from one year to another only appreciates the increasing sales figures and therefore doesn’t have any playful relation to these numbers they would probably not figure out that it won’t continue like that forever. In biology we see that a steady increase leads to a tumor. So, if one focuses on sales figures only, one will lose the sight of the results. Developing a playful relationship and being able to let loose, to even observe it from a higher perspective, one could maybe even be more successful in the long term. To a biologist it sounds very weird, if it’s talked about as a steady increase and that holds for the whole economy. I would really like to get that explained from an economist once, why our economy is meant for steady increase only. Steady increase leads to a tumor, to a collision. And we are already heading towards a collision, if one looks at the ecological catastrophe, that is actually happening at the moment and is very severe. Climate change and environmental pollution should be considered in the financials as well, otherwise it’s heading to a collision. To get a playful relation towards the increase and to believe in something else would be a nice concept for once.”

Please access the full interview here (German only).

Interview: Dirk Dobiéy
Blog Post: Adina Asbeck
Picture Source: Bernd Rosslenbroich

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Stephanie Barnes

How a Creative Mindset can be Adopted in our Organizations

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This is an excerpt from the book Knowledge Management Matters, chapter excerpt: Innovation by Age of Artists member Stephanie Barnes.

A creative mindset is comprised of the items that we can learn from da Vinci or Van Gogh as well as the practice of innumerable other artists. All of these items have been summarized and put into a framework developed by Age of Artists, a consultancy, education provider, and research institute based in Germany.

Their framework, pictured elsewhere in this section, works from the outside in towards the middle, using artistic practices and attitudes to transform traditional responses. In the model, the organizational situation appears on the left-hand side, while the artistic practices and attitudes are on the right. Transformational activities, such as leadership, personal development, consulting, coaching and collaboration, separate the two sides and allow the artistic activities to act upon the situations on the left side.

Situations like dealing with a market that are complex, change quickly, that are uncertain, or volatile are all considered. The traditional response in these situations might be to try to simplify things, in the case of complexity; slow them down, in the case of speed; control them, when they are uncertain; or deal with the situation on an exception basis in the case of volatility. However, by using artistic practices and attitudes in a transformational approach we can move our organizations eventually to an alternative response which will provide a more balanced, engaged result. We will have diversity instead of simplicity; a sense of purpose instead of deceleration; autonomy in the place of control; and agility rather than resistance or strength, in the case of volatility.  

Age of Artists Framework 2017 Version

 

In adapting a creative mindset, and applying artistic practices to an organizational situation, we start by understanding the situation, then we decide which practice we want to start with: perceiving, reflecting, creating, or performing. We can start with any of the activities and move through the others as part of the process of arriving at the response/resolution of a problem for instance.

In arriving at a resolution, we are best served if we adopt artistic attitudes, like curiosity (like asking why five times, or challenging assumptions), being passionate about what we are working on, being confident that there is a solution, and being resilient enough to bounce back when we experience failures or set-backs. It is the persistence that develops through these activities that is the key to finding a solution. It is in this transformational phase that knowledge management activities, like peer assists or communities of practice, to name two, can help. Also, the critical thinking that underlies so much of knowledge management is important here. The awareness of the need to ask questions, challenge assumptions, and look at things differently is one of the reasons why bringing people in from outside can be really helpful, and it is one of the reasons why artist-in-residence programs have been successful.

Artists look at things differently, they have different backgrounds and different expectations than most of the people typically hired into our organizations. Xerox ran an artist-in-residence program for 6 years (five years longer than planned) due to the success of matching artists with the scientists in their research and development facility and the innovations that resulted from this matching.

Age of Artists also works with organizations to facilitate solutions that are not possible using existing thinking. As an example, an SVP of Procurement in an organization they worked with wanted to identify the root causes of process inefficiencies and opportunities in order to create a harmonious work experience for procurement operations employees. Age of Artists used their framework to complete ethnographic on-site research. The research identified five key issues that were affecting the productivity and satisfaction of staff both inside the procurement team and elsewhere in the organization. Age of Artists then worked closely with the executive team to create empathy for the day to day challenges that were impeding business progress and this in turn led to 35 actionable recommendations for the organization.

Another example of a project completed using the sensibilities of artists applied to an organizational problem is the case of an internal department responsible for processes and applications. The organization already had a team of designers in place but was still challenged by low adoption of their solutions. It was difficult for the internal designers to convince senior stakeholders and internal clients to recognize the criticality of this problem. A pilot ethnographic study was conducted which revealed significant hidden issues that were not discovered through the traditional requirements and design process. A decision was made to embed user researchers into the individual departments within the organization. Through examples and early results all members of the organization understood the value of user research and the positive impact it brings to tackling complex tasks. The team developed and rolled out an integrated approach bringing together business, technology, design and research skills to work together collaboratively with improved means of understanding.

 

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Stephen Nachmanovitch

“There are no dots. What is there is the connection” – Interview with Improvisation Violinist, Educator and Author Stephen Nachmanovitch

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On a sunny friday afternoon I find myself in a lively street in the center part of Prenzlauer Berg in Berlin. The Dutch musician Rik Spann and today’s interview partner Stephen Nachmanovitch are at my side. Stephen came here to give one of his popular improvisation workshops. Rik and I are two of the participants. None of us know that area of Berlin so we decide to go to an Italian restaurant just a few steps away; artists need to eat as well.

Between pots and pans, and his workshop, Stephen navigates the path into the arts, explaining, “Noticing that you can say things, that you can do things, that you can play, has an effect on the world. The more you discover and surrender to the fact that the world is interconnected and the senses are all interconnected and that creativity is not just a matter of having an idea where some material object went into your brain and then squeezing it through a pen or a computer but realizing that we are in a state of continuous interaction with the world, that is the pathway into the arts. The arts are the trace. Visible art or the recording of music is the trace of some of the sensory evidence of this awareness that we all have.”

Lucky Lemon – Impression from Stephen Nachmanovitch’s Berlin Workshop

Stephen Nachmanovitch is the living proof of the importance of connections. He is a musician, author, computer artist, and educator who began his career as a psychologist. Therefore, one could suggest that he is a master in connecting all these different dots. For Stephen this thought would be the wrong conclusion, “connecting the dots” is a misguided metaphor because that implies that there are separate dots, that the dots exist. But, there are no dots, what there is, is connection”, he says. And for this reason, there is no final product for him. “There is no output, there is no outcome. I mean yes, there is a book that you can hold which is a material object, but it’s all a process.”

So what is the purpose of the process, if it’s not about the result? Is it maybe to create a balance? He points to the busy waiter who just brought us a Pizza and responds, “Equilibrium is constantly moving. If you think equilibrium is a point then you can say: “Here is the zero point where inflows match outflows.” But he is moving, he is a human body who is in constant motion and if he stopped at any of those points the plates would fall.”

Loose Ends – Impression from the Berlin Workshop

During our talk he pursues this idea: “Every technical field has experiential learning about titrating opposites. You operate a camera and you have light and shadow, a range of apertures and speeds and so on. And all those tradeoffs are built into the physical world and they are built into the mathematics so we need to learn those tradeoffs. Now even a field like accounting is a manifestation of those trade-offs in the physical world. (…) You cannot eliminate these tensions and contradictions, rather we have to participate in them as gracefully as we can. That is where the artistic approach meets the world of business.”

The secret of improvisation is, for Stephen Nachmanovitch, to deal with any information that hits us in a certain moment, at a certain place, and by inclusion in of all our senses. “Improvisation is playing music that is less than five minutes old”, he told us. “I’m improvising a piece of music and I have no template, or pattern, or plan. My body, my mind, the environment, and the people that I’m with are the template, the pattern and the plan. The parts of the pattern have been integrated from all time.”

Musician Frédérique Trunk at the Berlin Workshop

But how do you deal with inevitable contradictions then? “Let’s stipulate that you cannot eliminate tensions and contradictions, rather we have to participate in them as gracefully as we can.”, Stephen says. “People have to know something about the experience of another person. If there is a purpose to art it’s to enable people to understand that you are not going to have 99.9% of the human experience but you can be included in other people’s experience through stories, through films, and through art.”

Coming to the world of business we would like to know what he recommends in order to enable improvisation on a corporate level. He leaves us with three pieces of advice, which probably sound simpler to implement than they actually are, “The first thing is: take a very deep breath and allow yourself some time. And the second thing is to allow people into a physical space that is free where they can talk to each other. And third thing is to allow them space in general so that when they go home. They go home and have their independent lives.“

Read the complete interview here.

Interview: Dirk Dobiéy, Transcription: Benjamin Stromberg, Blog: Dirk Dobiéy, Benjamin Stromberg, Stephanie Barnes
Picture Source: Dirk Dobiéy
Stephen Nachmanovitch’s workshop was organized by Yoga Rebellion Berlin. Thank you!

 

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Michael Spener in Action

Party, Art, and Communication – Violinist Michael Spencer about a slightly different Meaning of Music

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Michael Spencer played for 14 years with the London Symphony Orchestra, before he decided to give up his career as a professional musician and become an education director at the Royal Opera House. In this job, he started to look at how he could give children a better understanding of arts, or the artistic processes. Nowadays, as a coach and consultant, he is basically doing the same thing. The difference being that he shares his experience primarily with adults in organizations and he has created a close connection to Japan and the people living there.

From Party to Crisis

The first seven years as a musician at the London Symphony Orchestra “were great, like a big party. A fantastic experience”, says Michael Spencer while adding simultaneously: “Life in the orchestra was all embracing and it took you away from real life in many ways. But after a while, as one year started to replicate the next, I started to question if this really was the life I wanted. It was always going to be the same with little chance of things changing,” he decided. He realized, that his job made him increasingly dissatisfied.

What goes on offstage is not very nice – the knife in the back thing etc. There was a piece of research produced by the Federation of Entertainment Unions a few years ago, ‘Creating without Conflict’, which involved about 4000 people in the creative industries, and it showed that almost 75% of musicians surveyed reported being bullied at work. Quite a sad comment on what is considered to be a creative organization.” But what could the escape look like, for a musician in one of the most prestigious orchestras in the world?

From Crisis to Art

Just in that moment Spencer was offered the opportunity to work as a music educator. He started first with some independent projects and became an education director at the Royal Opera House. “We started looking at how we could better engage with children and this really meant how to stimulate their curiosity. In brief, we did this by creating a methodology whereby we enabled them to make their own music. But we gave this additional focus by basing it on the musical building blocks which make up a particular piece of music.  In this way, the children had to deal with the same challenges faced by the composer.” Another project shows the challenges that the artists were faced with by working with children: “We set up a project for children with Asperger’s syndrome. Every summer we selected twelve children and worked really intensively with them in a multimedia-based social context. But before we started the project we invited specialists to run a training program for the performers taking part, exploring the realities of autism and how they might adapt their personal practice to this new environment. It was about how to merge together artistic skill with sound educational methodology and good facilitation practice. It’s an incredibly dynamic situation and you have to know how to deal with its parameters.”

From Art to Communication

“For me, the idea of taking the arts into business has suffered from being overly naive.  For example, ‘Oh, let’s bring musicians in. They know about listening and working together!’ There is a ‘Yes’ to this, but there is also a huge ‘No’. It’s an over simplistic approach which somehow trivializes the experience, and wraps it in a cloak of mystery, which is bewildering for people who often have different tastes and levels of knowledge. There is a whole world of difference in what we mean by listening, and how it plays into the bigger picture of communication.

For me, music is really a form of social technology, which helps to promote and sustain interrelationships. When I first started to grapple with this it was on a creativity program for potential leaders. I was working with a range of different business people and I invited them to talk about a piece of music of their choice. It was fascinating to hear how they all talked about their selected piece in the same way: They talked about it emotionally. It’s wonderful to do so, but if you only talk about music from an emotional standpoint it’s difficult for others to empathize in the same way because it stems from your own intimate and personal experiences. Other people will have different feelings.

When you look at music from the perspective of process it adds a new dimension: How do the parts work together? What are the fundamental elements? What is the structure? How do the players maintain an unspoken negotiation? It’s a totally different way of assessing the experience.

Whenever I work with groups we bring out the essence of this by ‘building something’. But in order to do this you have to have a sense of what the materials are with which you are working, and how you can use them to make something compelling.”

On his many stays in Japan, Michael Spencer recognized that arts have the unique property of acting like a lens showing cultural differences. “Why does music exist in the first place? What purpose does it serve in different social groupings? What are the differences and what are the similarities? The history of music is fundamentally that of generating and supporting the identity of independent social and cultural groups.” Therefore, Spencer wants to use music as a catalyst in order to engender curiosity, choices, commitments and social relationships. “And generally speaking, I think there is now, huge potential for the arts where, in the middle of massive technological advance, we can reintroduce the value of creating authentic human to human exchange and genuine connections. Everyone talks about communication technology and how it’s linking us together better. I would dispute that – it’s not. It’s confusing the hell out of people. It has actually been manipulated into a divisive tool which stimulates discord.” That’s why the cultivation and maintenance of good judgement processes lies in the core of Spencer’s work.

Similar to the work as a musician in an orchestra, Spencer’s workshops always end in a performance. But to perform, the people first have to understand the processes which underpin it. “We provide the components and they take the decisions.  Performance is part of the outcome, but of equal importance is the process of creation and rehearsal. This involves many things including risk taking, which brings into play trust and permission. These sit alongside curiosity, making choices, and relationships.

People rarely see the orchestral rehearsal process and that’s where a lot of things happen at many different levels. In performance, once the orchestra starts rolling, the conductor more often than not has to go with them.” (laughing)

Read the full interview here.

 

Interview: Marija Skobe-Pilley and Dirk Dobiéy,
Transcription:Benjamin Stromberg
Blog: Lucas Heinke
Editing: Stephanie Barnes

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Lubnan Baalbaki

Trust is the main point of good leadership – Conductor Lubnan Baalbaki about Learning, Life and Leadership

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“I never thought of doing something else than music”. Truly passionate about music and raised in an artistic environment, Lubnan Baalbaki started by studying violin at the national conservatory of Lebanon, before pursuing musicology studies in Lebanon at the Saint-Esprit Université with the aim to become a conductor.

The opportunity to reach his goal appeared when he travelled to Romania and met Petre Sbârcea, a maestro who would be his first teacher and mentor. “Everyone asked me, ‘Why did you choose Romania?’ and I always answered, ‘I did not choose her, she chose me actually’ […] I don’t know if we can believe in destiny… But I think it was my way to do it. I mean, that was the best way to do it, because he is a fantastic teacher and he had a huge experience in this domain.”

Conscious about his strengths and past achievements, the conductor sees life with humility and considers experiences as learning opportunities. “Different experiences are always richness for any artist.” Although it “sometimes doesn’t have such a direct influence in your life”, it helps to shift and shape perspectives. “It is like you go to the school and you study mathematics and sometimes you ask yourself ‘why am I studying this much mathematics, I will not use it in my whole life!’ but no, you use it: your way of thinking changes.”

Thus, Baalbakis encounters with famous conductors, such as Kurt Masur, have often been an eye-opener as he experienced another way of conducting. “I took a huge lesson in my life seeing Kurt Masur doing absolutely nothing and it sounded like a heaven of music. He just trusted his musicians and he led them in some key points from time to time. But at the same time the music was full of his presence and his knowledge.” Last but not least this experience inspired Baalbaki to make mutual trust a core component of his work with the orchestra. ”I think it is the main point of good leadership: how to make yourself trustworthy and trust the people who are working for you. That is the main thing.” (…) “I trust musicians. I believe that each one of them has his own intuition and his own vision of music. He is a musician and he could have an honest intuition about a sound. That is why I leave them to contribute as well. Many times, I ask the orchestra ‘Please, play your own interpretation, your own feeling’, because I want to see what they have. It is not only me who has ideas. Sometimes I have a kind of an imagination of an idea and they make it a reality for me. This is part of leadership: trusting your group. After all, they are doing the job. If you go there with the confidence that they can do it great, let them do it! Let them try to do it great. Sometimes you just lead the way, but they do it actually. They do the thing.”

Trust is important. And so is accountability. For instance when Baalbaki prepares a piece meticulously and long before he meets the orchestra for the first time.  Baalbaki uses his time to prepare to develop a perspective of the piece or a commitment of the piece. Yet, when the work with orchestra succeeds, his imagination is outperformed by the result.

I believe that there is one true version of what an orchestra with a conductor can play for one piece for example. Working the same symphony, the whole week, there is one true version that will be, and I prefer to keep this for the concert. That is why during the rehearsals I work in a really practical or pragmatic way. Then in the concert, I let them and I let myself serve the music from our different point of view.” Maybe there is no better way to explain a modern leadership style. An attitude that transcends the self to serve a work of art. ”..music expresses itself. We, musicians, just serve the music. (…) we serve the music and we try to do it as loyal as we can, to be loyal to the composer and to the music, which is written. I believe sometimes a composer writes down things that he couldn’t imagine before. It is also the same thing with a conductor. Sometimes on stage I do things that I could never imagine. It is always a different experience but it is about serving the music as loyal as we can.

Read the full interview with Lubnan Baalbaki here.

 

Interview: Dirk Dobiéy, Transkription and Blog: Thomas Castéran, Dirk Dobiéy
Picture Source: Lubnan Baalbaki

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Verena Wald The Artistic Process (detail)

Age of Artists – Our Year in Retrospective

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For the first time, over ten members of our network have been involved in projects and events in very different contexts this year. Examples are the German Society for International Cooperation (GIZ), the German Statutory Accident Insurance (DGUV), IT companies Comparex and Incadea, the Association of German Business Engineers (VWI) and the German railway network (Deutsche Bahn).

Our ideas on cultural education were featured in a publication by the Association of Arts and Culture of the German Economy at the Federation of German Industries e.V., while the Werte-Index, an institution mapping how and in which context societal values are discussed on the internet, published an interview with us. Artist Verena Wald has translated our findings from over 100 interviews into a series of etchings. An example is depicted along with this post,  will share more about them next year.

There is now a German version of our website. Additionally, as has been done in previous years, many interviews with artists, researchers and other interesting people have been uploaded to the site during the year.

We were inside the time capsule with musician SAFI and learned about empathy and movement from dancer Lucia Mikas. Wolf Jenschonnek, founder of Berlin’s Fab Lab, also talked to us about movement. He is convinced that one has to leave one’s niche position in order to find great solutions. Artist Sharon Molloy has practical experience in this field. Her colleague Sebastian Heiner taught us how to act out oneself, and graffiti artist Bomber One aka Helge Steinmann how to contribute to the world we live in.

Author Michael Atavar is of the opinion that sub-consciousness is at the root of creativity, and composer Ludger Brümmer thinks that a moment of surprise is always attached to creativity. The latter statement is close the findings of scientific historian Hans-Jörg Rheinberger, whom we interviewed about the nature of the experiment.

For the first time, we talked to artists from China this year. Zhang Wei reported that artists need to express themselves and Dai Chenlian explained to us that art for him provided a reason to live. Researcher and professor for innovation and information technology at the Ivey Business School in Canada Robert D. Austin reported that art can be a reason, but is not unconditional, as artists share the same world with everyone else. A world where an increase in information is not paralleled with an increase in vocabulary according to artist, author and Beuys-Pupil Johannes Stüttgen.

Moreover, we started another research project, in which we met companies that are artistic masterpieces according to our definition, meaning they are characterized by diversity, purpose, autonomy and elasticity. To name but a few, we had the pleasure of interviewing Sonnentor, Otto, Beurer, Vaude and Zotter. In the new year, we will report on how these and many other companies are already paving the way for better business.

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