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THE MUSIC PARADIGM with Roger Nierenberg


Maestro Roger Nierenberg made his conducting debut at Avery Fisher, home of the New York philharmonic orchestra and he has guest conducted at countless renowned symphonies all across America. Roger has recorded with the London Philharmonic, conducted at the Prague Spring Festival and the Beijing Festival. He has collaborated with many of the most renowned solo artists and composers of our time.
Nierenberg is also the creator of The Music Paradigm, a pioneering learning experience for organizations of all types that brings live orchestral performances to audiences outside the traditional concert hall. Using music as a metaphor, Nierenberg conducts a professional orchestra in a series of spontaneous role-playing exercises that reveal how behavior and attitude impact results. Over the past twenty years, Nierenberg has presented to hundreds of organizations, from civic groups to Fortune 100 companies, in twenty-four different countries, with musicians from more than 95 different professional orchestras.

Listen to the podcast here:

Connect with Roger and learn about THE MUSIC PARADIGM:


Karla Nelson:  And welcome to the People Catalyst podcast, Roger.

Roger Nierenberg:  Hi Karla, how are you?

Karla Nelson:  Oh I’m excited about the podcast today. This is so awesome because I’m a music lover just like a lot of people out there and I’m also an individual that enjoys leadership and obviously with the People Catalyst podcast, relationships are everything.

And it seems like Roger, you’ve kind of melted this all down and have a very interesting take on leadership, relationships and just the mental model and how people work together. So we’re really excited to have you on the podcast today.

Roger Nierenberg:  Well thanks for inviting me.

Karla Nelson:  And so you’ve got to share a little bit about this music paradigm and how interesting this is bringing business and leadership and people and relationships all together.

Roger Nierenberg:  So what would you like to know about it?

Karla Nelson:  Well the first piece that I thought was so interesting is how orchestra can work together but they have different sections, right? So especially with what we teach at the People Catalyst, is mover, shaker, prover, maker.

And everyone’s different. And we always say, we need everyone, we just need them at different times. And I thought that was amazing how you correlated that to the different sections of an orchestra.

Roger Nierenberg:  Well it’s natural for me to think about orchestras because for most of my career I was an orchestra conductor. That’s what I did. I was a music director for two orchestras and I guess conducted at many orchestras in America and also in Europe and Asia. So I lived and breathed orchestras.

But at a certain point, I got interested in whether the things that I knew as a conductor and that helped me as a conductor could actually be applied to other people and other kinds of jobs. That wisdom.

And I began to explore it and it was kind of, I wasn’t really looking for anything, I was just following my curiosity, but finally what happened is I mixed together many different parts of my life, certain children’s concerts that I did in which I had children sitting on the floor on pillows, these were preschool kids and there were other, there was teaching of conducting at the Julliard School and many aspects of my life, and I combined it all together in to this interactive experience of the orchestra.

And I was looking for what kind of audience I wanted to reach but I thought it would be great if I could reach business leaders because they are the movers and shakers in our society, and if I wanted to do something for music to get them interested in music would be accomplishing a lot. So when I did some presentations for business organizations, I started getting feedback that this was the best leadership training they’d ever had, by far.

They were so enthusiastic about it, and I hadn’t really conceived of it as having business value, but when I started getting engaged by many business organizations, and at the beginning it was mostly Fortune 100 organizations that engaged me.

And that was kind of how it developed. And I followed opportunity where it was presenting and it led me into this kind of second career in which I do presentations for organizations, there’s always a live orchestra that’s present and it’s the orchestra from wherever the location is, be it in Guayaquil, Ecuador, or in Bangkok, Thailand, or in the Philippines or in Stockholm. I always use the local orchestra.

And the other thing that’s interesting about it is I have rehearsal with the orchestra before hand, but the musicians don’t know exactly what’s going to happen. And so the whole thing is unscripted and spontaneous and that’s very disarming because it’s hard to be skeptical about something which once you realize, this thing really is unscripted and it’s really happening live and for the first and only time.

Karla Nelson:  Mm-hmm (affirmative). That’s awesome, I love it.

Well and what you said there, following curiosity, that is really interesting, because that really in a business sense, you can identify that usually what somebody is best at right, is what they’re curious about, it’s what you’re looking at to say, oh, what can I learn more, how can I indulge myself in this curiosity?

But man, that’s so unique about the unscripted and spontaneous part, so you’ve got to share a little bit more about, how do you find the individuals that are actually in the orchestra and then, is it just okay, we’re spontaneously performing? What does that look like?

Roger Nierenberg:  I’ll give you kind of the whole business model, I’ll try to put it in one small container here.

So a client will be having a meeting, generally it’s an important meeting and they’re gathering people, either from their office or sometimes from many offices, sometimes people from around the world, but they’re getting together, and it’s during these meetings, and often they last more than a day, that part of it, at one particular time, they come into a room and the room is set up way differently than they’ve ever seen it before, because there’s an orchestra there.

Karla Nelson:  Yeah, that just sounds so awesome Roger, just literally they’re walking in there and there’s an orchestra there.

Roger Nierenberg:  Yeah, but the orchestra is not on a stage, the orchestra is spread out through the entire room and they are sitting inside the orchestra, right next to the musicians.

Karla Nelson:  Wow. That’s so cool.

Roger Nierenberg:  And in advance of the meeting I have consulted with my clients to find out, what’s the meeting about? What are you trying to accomplish? What are the opportunities that you’re trying to seize and what are the impediments that you’re trying to overcome? And I ask lots of questions, I probe on that.

And then I design ways, by designing role playing exercises, I design ways to make those very issues grow spontaneously in the orchestra. So the orchestra is viewed as an organization, and whatever kind of behaviors the leadership wants their people to understand, those are the behaviors that we’re examining in the orchestra.

So the orchestra becomes kind of like a magical mirror through which they see themselves. And it takes the audience, oh, ten minutes or so to kind of get used to it. At first it seems like this-

Karla Nelson:  It’s a little uncomfortable I would guess.

Roger Nierenberg:  Yeah.

Karla Nelson:  It’s not typical, right?

Roger Nierenberg:  Yeah, it’s unexpected and they don’t really understand whether it has any relevance, but the longer it goes on, and it goes on for an hour and a half, the longer it goes on, the more the orchestra’s beginning to look like them.

Karla Nelson:  Wow.

Roger Nierenberg:  And it’s beginning to seem like it’s the same as what they are.

Karla Nelson:  Wow, it’s like a mirror.

Roger Nierenberg:  Because it’s music. And because music turns behavior into results instantaneousness. You can use this orchestra to run lots of experiments. You can try on one kind of behavior and see what it does, then you try on another and you see what that does.

Whereas in the real world the connection between behavior and results it might be months before you find out what that behavior caused, and then it’s so distant that you don’t even, the connection is not so clear. But in the orchestra it’s crystal clear.

And because it’s spontaneous and unscripted, you can’t argue with it. You can’t deny it because it happened right in front of you.

Karla Nelson:  Wow, that’s so cool. Okay, so I also read a little bit about not only your leadership focus but then also Kaizen which I have the book, Kaizen, and understanding these little teeny pieces right, that lead you to a big result.

So it’s kind of interesting because they’re kind of seem juxtaposed of that, right? Where your little, teeny steps lead to big differences, whereas, so can you share a little bit about the kind of juxtapose of the Kaizen aspect which is little steps.

Roger Nierenberg:  Well, Kaizen is important to me and I’ll explain to you how it comes about. When a client is telling me what their business challenges are and what their business strategy is, because in order to be effective I have to really find out what’s going on.

The way I learn to listen to it is, I imagine what if this was my problem, what if this was my opportunity? And I identify with it. And so in the course of that, I learn a lot about business. And so I try to adopt whatever that business is doing, I try to adopt it for my own organization. And one of the things that I learned about from my clients is how important it is that things run effectively and smoothly within the office and that we avoid errors and we avoid redundancy, we try to make things go quickly in all.

And so I met a consultant, and when I was designing a new database for myself, I hired him to do a Kaizen for my organization so that I could make it streamlined and I could make the database support the new organization that was being designed. And that process was the Kaizen. But that doesn’t, the Kaizen doesn’t have any part in the presentations that I do. The presentation will be around what’s actually going on in the organization, although it’s not called that at first, it seems like it’s a tour of the orchestra.

But during that tour, people begin to discover things about themselves and opportunities that they have and ways that they have, strengths that they have that they weren’t aware of. And because nobody’s told them about it, they’ve discovered it through listening to the orchestra and watching it and hearing the musicians reflect about it because they’ve discovered it, they take much greater ownership of it than if somebody had told them.

Karla Nelson:  Oh I love that. Take ownership because they came about it through their own awareness.

Roger Nierenberg:  That’s right, exactly.

Karla Nelson:  Right.

Roger Nierenberg:  Because a lot of times, when a management realizes there are new challenges that are coming about, because the world is always changing, they’re very aware of the fact that the changes that they’re trying to bring about meet with a lot of resistance in the workforce. And it’s not easy to get people to embrace and adopt the change that’s necessary.

So if you tell them about it, you’re going to run right into that resistance. But if you set up the kinds of circumstances and you show through the orchestra the advantages of a particular kind of behavior, nobody’s told them what it is, but it’s obvious in the room, it’s so clear what’s happening that then, people they understand it and they’re willing to adopt it. So let me get a little specific about it, because I know this is sounding abstract.

One of my clients was on the point of embarking on a five year transformation which is going to transform the entire multi, multi, multi million, multi hundred million dollar enterprise. Probably in the billions. And it was a big risk to do, but they knew they had to do it, and they knew that the only way they were going to accomplish it was if the leaders in the organization not only embraced it, but they had to lead in a different kind of way.

It wasn’t just supervising, they had to really, they had to be persuasive, they had to be engaging, they had to enroll the entire workforce in this. So they did a vast leadership campaign with those 500 major leaders of the corporation, which has many tens of thousands of employees. Well, so they wanted people to understand what this kind of leadership was.

So at one point, I said to the orchestra, I said let’s take this passage and we’re going to play it now, but the principal players in the organization, in the orchestra, which is about maybe 20% of them, are going to be completely committed to this performance.

But the rank and file, of all the sections, are going to do as little as possible without getting caught. Of course, that makes people laugh, and everybody’s laughing at it because it’s so ridiculous. So then the orchestra plays and you look around and you see that the vast majority of them are putting no energy into playing.

But, they discover, the orchestra sounds find. Nobody can find anything that’s wrong with the orchestra. And I stop and I say, I see the surprised looks on your faces, I bet you thought that was going to be bad. But really, why should that surprise you? Because we all know that this is the way things really work. That most organizations are carried by the people who are really committed to it, the few people. The 20%.

Music Paradigm with Rogert Nierenberg conducts orchestra performing InSight Concerts at DiMenna Center, 9/18/16. Photo by Chris Lee

Karla Nelson:  It’s the 80/20, Pareto’s Principle, no doubt.

Roger Nierenberg:  They carry it for everyone else and you wouldn’t even think it was a disfunction until you heard the following. I say, what would it be like if every single musician gave everything you know, and all the finest things about your playing that maybe nobody else knows but you know it. What would it sound like if everybody gave all of that?

And then the orchestra plays the same passage but this time it sounds so different, it’s so alive, it’s so electric, and everybody, they not only recognize it but it sweeps them up and they feel it in their bodies because the room is full of the vibrations of this symphonic sound. And after it’s done and of course the audience, they applaud spontaneous, and I say this is a very challenging demonstration for a leader, because if you’re the type of leader who just makes sure that nothing bad happens, you will never be able to draw that kind of response.

It’s only the leader who knows what the possibility could be, and creates the circumstances where their workforce can achieve that, who will ever realize that kind of thing. So that’s an example of a role play for the musicians that makes a really powerful point for the executives who are in the room.

Karla Nelson:  Oh I love that, create the possibility and the circumstance to have that happen. I mean gosh, if there’s anything that you could identify as true leadership, right? That’s awesome Roger, I love it.

I think this is fantastic and I love the fact of, bringing something like the arts and leadership together, right, to interpret things through a different lens. I just think there’s so much there that we could learn from. No doubt, that’s amazing. Love it.

Roger Nierenberg:  It sounds strange when you hear about it for the first time, but the more you know about the arts, you know that it’s a very natural fit. It is the most natural fit. And that’s just one role play exercise that I described to you.

But I’ve designed maybe a hundred different role plays and I keep on inventing them, because every time a client has a different success vision I design a role play. And there is no, I customize every session that I do for that particular audience. So it’s always custom made, just like-

Karla Nelson:  That’s incredible, well and every, obviously every business is custom made. They’re all different, with different cultures.

So that’s incredible. I can’t wait to learn more about what it is that you do Roger, I just think it’s fantastic and I am, where can our listeners get a hold of you, and/or look at what you’ve got going on?

Roger Nierenberg:  Well there’s a website, which is musicparadigm.com, and on that website you’ll find some videos that you can look at, you’ll see some blogs that I’ve written, you can find out about the book that I wrote, and you can also find out how to contact me.

All that’s on the website, and I’ve tried to make it very interactive and pictorial, and it’s not fussy. Because everything that I do with the orchestra is very unfussy.

Karla Nelson:  Well we love unfussy, so I love it. Following curiousity, playing together, and interpreting things through music. So Roger, thank you so much for being a guest on The People Catalyst Podcast today.

Roger Nierenberg:  Well I have your email, so I’ll send you some videos also Karla, and you can see them yourself.

Karla Nelson:  You got it, and we’ll make sure it gets in all the podcast notes.

Roger Nierenberg:  Great.

Karla Nelson:  Thank you.

Roger Nierenberg:  Thank you so much, it was a pleasure being with you.

Karla Nelson:  Awesome, thanks Roger.

Roger Nierenberg:  Okay, bye bye.


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