heliotrope learning

better skills, brighter future

Playing my part

A couple of years ago, I was asked if I’d complete a questionnaire to help a colleague with his dissertation for a Masters in Music. The title was Benefits Beyond Music: Transferable skills for adult life. He had been invited to join ‘a Conference Board webcast on “Arts Education and the Innovative Workforce”, which seemed to have the underlying assumption that businesses should target graduates in the creative and performing arts as the best source of innovation and creativity.’ He wondered whether all of them would offer such skills and be able to transfer them effectively to the workplace.

So, he interviewed 37 people who had been involved extensively in music during their school years and remained ‘musically active’ but who were not working in the music profession as a career. He wanted us to identify what skills were transferable from music and how that transfer came about. I found completion of the survey fascinating because I don’t think I’d realised how much I’d learnt from my involvement in music. I was in choirs, wind bands, an orchestra and even a swing band. Music rehearsals of one sort or another or individual lessons took up every lunchtime and most after-school club slots. I played percussion, clarinet, saxophone and voice! Even outside school I was a bell ringer of both church bells and hand bells.

We were asked to select (from a list of 32) skills or attributes that we felt were transferable from music. These included:

  • Understanding own role in delivering something bigger
  • Listening skills
  • Concentration, attentiveness
  • Sense of responsibility to others, respect for others
  • High standards, commitment to a quality product
  • Balanced view of own strengths and weaknesses
  • Being prepared to ‘busk it’, improvise, take risks
  • Resilience, can handle success and disappointment
  • Breaking challenges down into manageable chunks

As you can see, a wide list. And I’m not sure I’d necessarily have appreciated the range of skills without the prompt.

The second stage was to narrow these 32 down to the five that we considered most useful to us in adult life – and this was almost more interesting, because we had to choose. In my case, much top-of-pencil chewing and brow-creasing ensued! The top scoring skills across all respondents were:

  1. Discipline – putting in the work
  2. Self confidence
  3. Commitment to a common goal
  4. Perseverance through setbacks/challenges
  5. Thoroughness, attention to detail
  6. Connecting with the spiritual, something beyond oneself

And, having given the survey a lot of thought, it was gratifying to receive a summary report containing the combined results and comments from other respondents and compare notes (no pun intended).

It transpires that a lot of my, often voluntary, musical involvement has translated into how I operate today. I’m a collaborative, team player, who pays attention to the little things that add up to a quality product. It’s so much more enjoyable working with others towards a common goal or deadline – it gives me a real buzz. And I always want to contribute to the full, to play my part and give of my all, rather than say I’m part of a team and let others take the strain.

Admittedly, you don’t want every musician to blast away on his or her instrument to the exclusion of everyone else. That’s why written music has a code all of its own with precise instructions, in many cases, about how it should be performed: speed, dynamic, emotion – all of these need to be taken into account. It is also why a conductor is so important because s/he is listening to the overall sound and adjusting it in the moment to ensure that what comes over his/her head is what the composer intended.

There are so many parallels between music performance and teamwork/leadership development. I just wish they were exploited more in business today – sport, unfortunately, seems to have the edge in terms of analogies and role models.

From my perspective, I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to look back and consider that transfer from extra-curricular music to my working style today. And I’m grateful to my parents for supporting me, as well as various music teachers along the way for encouraging and inspiring me. An ABBA song title seems particularly apt here: ‘Thank you for the music!”