095: 3 Things Leaders Should Learn from Rock-Orchestra Superstars

by Joe Sherwood on September 1, 2014

MWHeatherpic-2013“At first, we didn’t believe him, that this highly accomplished star in our field was interested in not just teaching us but in learning from us,” my wife Erin said. “But then we saw by his actions that he really meant it.”

Erin had just returned from her first time attending the annual week-long Mark Wood Rock Orchestra Camp, which sounds to me like a grown-ups’ version of high-school band camp. Well, most of the “campers” were not yet adults, and the age ranged from 11 up to 61, but the maturity level and skill level was adult-caliber. All of the students had at least four years of experience; most of them had much more. The faculty leaders were world-famous in their field — nobody I would know, but superstars within their genres.

Erin had just completed her fourth year of violin lessons, so she was very conscious of being one of the lowest-skilled students at the camp.

At the beginning of the camp, she was awestruck around the faculty leaders. She carried three assumptions, which the leaders quickly turned on their head:

Assumption: The leaders would teach advanced skills but would be protective of their own cutting-edge techniques (the secrets behind their signature grooves).

Reality: The leaders freely shared everything that would be helpful to the students, and anything else they were interested in. “Hey, check this out,” Tracy Silverman told the class, and showed them a funky new sound from a “strum bowing” technique. He even let them gather close and video his fingers on their iPhones while he demonstrated at various speeds just how his technique works. Rather than sharing information on a need-to-know basis, leaders shared information out of sheer passion, fun, and interest in the students’ growth. It reminded me of the open-source movement in software: the more we share, the more we all advance.

Assumption: The leaders would insist that Erin develop technical excellence (perfection) before teaching her any funky rock techniques (fun, game-changing stuff).

Reality: The leaders insisted that students have fun with their instrument, pushing them to learn and try new things even when they hadn’t yet mastered earlier lessons. “You don’t work music,” founder Mark Wood said, “you play it.” Along the way, they encouraged and watched the students — and took note when students attempting the techniques stumbled on fresh sounds that even the leaders wanted to learn. Which leads to the final point…

Assumption: The learning would be a one-way process. Like gods, the leaders would descend from “on high,” to transmit knowledge to the students.

Reality: Repeatedly, Erin heard faculty leaders commenting that this was their favorite week of the year, because they themselves learned so much from the students. It sounded like a cliché until mid-week, when Erin discovered some of the faculty trying stuff they picked up from students of all ages. Some leaders even incorporated new sounds and improvisations into songs they were in the process of composing.

In a Nutshell

  • Sharing and serving … will take you farther than worrying about secrecy, competitive advantage, and politics.
  • Passion and fun … will lead to performance, excellence, and growth.
  • Humility and learning … will lead to creativity and innovation.

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