Lower the Bar

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Lower the Bar

I’d never met a composer before, but had the pleasure on Sunday of meeting David Winkler.  David’s composition “Winds of Time,” was premiered at Michigan State University with violinist Dmitri Berlinksy conducting the chamber orchestra.  David is the husband of my friend Kathi Elster, who is co-author of the acclaimed book Working for You Isn’t Working for Me. We had brunch together.  We seasoned the food and peppered David with questions about how a composer imagines a piece, develops it, and how he interfaces with the conductor.  Although his work is more complicated and intricately developed, I couldn’t help but think that it parallels that of a coach, a general, perhaps a CEO.  He develops a complex plan that others must execute.  We smiled at his stories of how hard it is to “let go” as he hears musicians not quite appreciate and execute his full artistic intent.

“I have to write for people,” he said, fully appreciating how obvious that probably sounded.  He explained that one of the things he has learned to do is to write lines of music that let a musician ease into the work.  He knows he will ask them to execute very difficult technical dimensions, so he wants them to get there with ease and momentum.  The point he made echoed one I’d just read in Dan and Chip Heath’s excellent new best-seller Switch: How To Change Things When Change is Hard.

The Heaths’ book brims with research, great stories and this seminal image:  Our brains experience a battle for control, where our logical side, which they refer to as the Driver, must battle the need, passion and fear-driven emotional side of our minds.  They call this side the Elephant, and you can imagine which side wins all too often.  Consider the battle in your head that occurs when an aromatic slice of your favorite Grand Traverse Pie Company pie is steaming before you:  does the Driver have a chance against the Elephant?  Here’s the point that the Heaths make, which like composer Winkler’s strategy in writing offers us so much sense when, as they say, “change is hard:”

“A business cliché commands us to ‘raise the bar.’ But that’s exactly the wrong instinct if you want to motivate a reluctant Elephant.  You need to lower the bar.  Picture taking a high-jump bar and lowering it so far that it can be stepped over.  If you want a reluctant Elephant to get moving, you need to shrink the change.” (italics in original)

Our plans are for people.  Good to remember as you

Lead with your best self,

Dan