The Art of Listening

I met Dame Evelyn Glennie recently at an event I was invited to at The Bank of England. A remarkable dialogue took place about the gentle art and discipline of listening, expertly organised by Andy Haldane, Chief Economist at BoE.

Evelyn Glennie has been deaf since her teenage years, yet she developed as a percussionist and ‘feels’ sound through her body.  She opened the 2012 Olympics using the Aluphone:

Why then would The Bank of England have someone from such a different world come to address an invited audience?

Glennie talked passionately about the art of listening. All businesses could improve their abilities in this area, especially as the speed / rhythm of business continues to increase and that decreases the spaces for meaningful conversation. I have experienced this at first hand through my work with Dr Andrew Sentance, former Monetary Policy Committee member at the Bank of England, himself a musician, and via 25 years of consulting with a huge range of businesses and organisations.

Much business conversation is really discussion, based on the root form of percussion or “to beat around”.  Whereas physicist David Bohm talks of the need for dialogue, where there is a genuine enquiry.  Complex business issues demand dialogue more than discussion and yet most businesses are time limited so issues tend to be beaten around rather than relying on more skilful inquiry.  I call such issues “wicked problems” and they require high level listening, collaboration and complex problem solving skills.

Music, simply stated, is applied physics. Banks run on mathematics and science but the gap between music and mathematics is mostly an imaginary one, installed at an early age when we are judged to be more arty or scientific. At the highest levels art and science are often indistinguishable. Our job as leaders is to “improve the signal : noise ratio” in business.  This of course can be done badly by shutting down conversation or improving our abilities to hear … this, itself opens up a much wider dialogue …

Thus business could learn a thing or two from music and vice versa.  Hats off to The Bank of England for hosting such an engaging event as part of their outreach series.  Here’s a TED talk from Evelyn Glennie, where she elucidates further on the gentle art of listening:

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Peter Cook leads The Academy of Rock – Speaking and Conference facilitation and Human Dynamics – Business and Organisation Development. Check his books out on Amazon:

Transferable lessons for business from music

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Three top Rock’n’Roll business tips – From Abba to Queen and Bananarama

As part of an occasional series of blogs, I will bring you some great tips on business, extrapolated from the lyrics of great rock and pop songs, sometimes wildy so!  There are many more examples in the book ‘Sex, Leadership and Rock’n’Roll’, acclaimed by Tom Peters.  Today’s Rock’n’Roll Business tips focus on the area of interpersonal relationships.

Rock'n'Roll Wisdom mixed with top business thinking

Let’s start with 70’s Swedish glam classicists Abba with their song ‘Knowing me, knowing you aha’.

In my Rock’n’Roll world, this innocent phrase is an allusion to the concept of ‘emotional intelligence’, as Daniel Goleman puts it.  I’d put EI more plainly as:

‘Living inside your own head AND outside it’

Great leaders / musicians are able to do BOTH i.e. they exhibit personal mastery whilst maintaning a connection with those around them.  Bad leaders / musicians often live inside their own heads, not noticing their impact on others.  Let’s have your thoughts in the comments on ways in which you can develop the systematic habit of inner and outer awareness?

From Freddie Mercury, we get the evergreen hit ‘The Great Pretender’.  What business wisdom can we read into these three words?  Well, it reminds me of the issues of leadership style and authenticity.  Leadership requires us to be a master of style.  Dictator, salesperson, facilitator, confidant, comedian, entertainer, counsellor and so on.  Importantly, you should know your own range so that you don’t have to end up ‘faking it’.  Lou Reed wisely observed “I do me better than anyone else” on the question of authenticity.  What do you consider the practical business implications of Mercury’s cover to be?

Finally, in the world of interpersonal relationships, the ‘how’ is often much more important than the ‘what’.  In other words, the journey is more important than the destination.  It’s what Bananarama sang about in their hit ‘It ain’t what you do, it’s the way that you do it (that’s what gets results)’.  A seemingly trivial point, but one with massive impact if you need to get results through others or influence people to change.   Please share your tips on how you place value on the ‘how’ when working with others in the comments to this blog.

For fun, what might be the ‘hidden business message’ in this song by Abba?

Share your answers on the blog comments and I will award a copy of Sex, Leadership and Rock’n’Roll to the most strange and wonderful one.  Entries close on 31 July 2011.

For more Rock’n’Roll tips visit The Academy of Rock website and click on ‘ROCK WISDOM’ on the front page.  Join the blog to receive regular updates on business mixed with ideas from the world of music.