Using Music to Solve Problems: How Music Entrepreneurs Discover Solutions in 3 Steps

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5216552979 119b40080e zHow can the process of learning how to perform music help music entrepreneurs and arts leaders solve difficult leadership problems when the answers are not obvious?

This was among the questions under discussion at last week’s Opera America’s Leadership Intensive Next Steps (LINS) programwhich brought together 15 talented mid-career opera managers to provide advanced leadership training in order to retain high-quality leaders in the field. The reason for the training? As these rising stars of the opera management world face new challenges and take on more responsibility, the stakes get higher and leaders often do not have the answers at their fingertips. 

So what do you do when you don’t know the answers?

One helpful strategy is a 3-Step Process of figuring out your way of achieving success, even if it arises in a different area because chances are, your process of achieving success is transferrable. And because our group consisted of many trained professional musicians, we first dissected what made them successful as musicians and then we applied those steps in order to solve their leadership challenges.

Here’s how it works!

As leaders progress, certain things become easier:

  • There are more opportunities to take the lead and see more possibilities.
  • Leaders are better able to anticipate the outcomes.
  • People take what you say more seriously.
  • It is easier to see the big picture.

Yet, the problems and challenges that rising leaders face become more complex, decision-making is harder because there is more at stake and the answers are less obvious, managing relationships with multiple stakeholders becomes trickier, it is harder to find time to cultivate relationships and self-doubt can easily slip in.

That’s where the 3-step process can help. It is actually very simple.

First, take an area where you have experienced success and ask yourself 3 questions:

1. What works?
2. What about it works?
3. How can I apply it to this situation?

We decided to tackle the question of how to achieve a difficult goal. This could range from meeting development targets to increasing ticket sales goals to getting the buy-in for implementing systemic change in an organization.

Since so many people in the group were musicians, we decided to look to the process of how musicians achieve their goals. Here’s what we came up with:

What works and what about it works:

  • Break things down: It helps to reduce the feeling the overwhelm and make it easier to solve problems one at a time.
  • Practice a lot: Gain comfort with your material so that you can feel confident and zero in on what needs more work.
  • Focus: concentrate on your material so that you can learn it better.
  • Persistence and grit: achieving goals is hard so keep at it and don’t give up!
  • Repetition: It helps you to learn, remember, memorize and feel confident.
  • Give it time: Achieving goals takes patience so allow yourself the time that you need to master something.
  • Muscle Memory: The more you practice and the better your strategies, the more instinctive the material will be become so that you can draw on your learning quickly and easily.
  • Rehearse: Try things out before the final performance to see what works and what need more attention.
  • Check in on progress towards your goal: Assess how well you are doing so that you know where you stand and are able to make any necessary adjustments.
  • Get help: Consult a trusted mentor, teacher or friend to gain perspective and guidance when you genuinely do not know the answer; and
  • Trust the process: If you have been persistently working towards your goal, you will instinctively know what to do so draw on that knowledge and trust yourself to know.

How can we apply this process to leadership challenges?
We then discussed how to apply the 3-Step process to the common leadership challenge of what to do when you have more responsibility and encounter problems that you have seen in the past where you did not know the answers but you are now the person who has to come  up with solutions.

Our 3-Step Process helped to sort this out as follows:

  • Create your framework for making decisions:  If you reflect on how you have achieved goals in the past, it can help you to outline your particular process.
  • Break things down and check in on your progress towards goals: Achieving goals is a marathon and not a sprint so be sure to create milestones as you work towards your big goals.
  • Rely on “muscle” memory: If you have worked towards a goal in the past, you know what to do! So trust the muscle memory that comes from hard work.
  • Check in with friends and colleagues and ask for help: It’s important to reach out for support. This is a way to work smarter, not harder!
  • Trust the process: If you have done it before, trust that you can do it again. 
  • Appreciate the process and honor the fact that it takes time: Rome was not built in a day! This is where persistence and patience pay off.
  • Be optimistic: leaders need to believe that they can solve the problems that they are tasked with so optimism can help

How to Use The 3-Step Process
You can use the 3-Step Process in achieving a difficult goal by analogizing to something that you have achieved. Music? Running a marathon or entering a triathlon? Organizing a big event? Use your imagination and reflect on the times in your life when you have achieved a big goal.   Musicians have a built-in advantage here because the process of learning how to perform music involves many steps to success.

Another analogous area is overcoming a difficult challenge in your personal life, such as a health challenge. This too is a process that takes a lot of courage and resilience and can be easily analogized to the workplace.

Similarly, if you have trouble with difficult or complicated professional relationships, look to your personal relationships. Often, that will give you clues on how to find areas of common ground, empathize with the other and communicate effectively. That’s a great way to use your emotional intelligence to build stronger relationships.

What’s great about the 3-Step process is that it draws on your life experience to help you solve your challenges. So the next time you are stuck, look to an area where you have achieved success and see what it took you to do that. Then, apply it to the problem at hand.