I recently had the good fortune of hearing an Israeli conductor by the name of Itay Talgam give a talk on leadership. He has taken what he knows about leading from the podium, and uses conducting an orchestra as a metaphor to help spark new insights about leadership in the business executives and government officials he works with (ranging from the CEO of Chanel to the Mongolian Parliament).

Watch the following TED video which provides a glimpse of his ideas.

Transferable skills

This is an example of someone who has leveraged their so-called “transferable skills” to contribute to the world in a uniquely personal way.

I can think of a few other musicians (e.g. Ben Zander is another; here is a link to Ben’s TED talk) who have similarly branched out into areas outside the performance sphere, and not necessarily because their musical careers were floundering. Often, it was more a result of their being able to see things in novel ways, grasp the unique connections between seemingly unrelated areas, and leverage their skill set to help others find new ways of realizing their personal and professional goals.

Do you know of anyone like this? Please share below in the comments if you do. I’m sure there are many others out there, who could serve as helpful case studies for musicians who are interested in creating a unique path of their own.

Take action

What are your transferrable skills? What have you learned, what unique insights or perspectives have you gained from your training and experiences in music that could be shared with folks who want to excel in other areas? What unique connections, syntheses, and larger truths can you see that others may not?

The problem, of course, is that we tend to be pretty poor at identifying these in ourselves. We’re too close to see what’s actually there.

Exercise 1

One thing you can do to get a better perspective, is to rely on good friends, coworkers, bosses, mentors, and teachers for their input (I don’t recommend family or significant others or exes, as this can get a little tricky).

Here’s the gist of an exercise I did myself once upon a time, devised by author Michael Port:

  1. Brainstorm a list of 5 such people you trust and respect (and who think fondly of you, of course)
  2. Write each of them a nice email (but keep it short), saying that you are doing an self-awareness/psychology/marketing/etc. exercise and could really use their help as someone whose opinion and insights you value.
  3. Ask them to share their favorite story of an experience you had together which captures their most salient impressions about you.
  4. Ask them to list the first 5-10 words/adjectives that come to mind when they think of you. And tell them to be courageous! If “pompous jerk” comes to mind, that’s unfortunate, but you still want them to write this down so this exercise can actually be helpful to you.

You may be surprised by how thoughtful and touching some of the replies you get are.

Exercise 2

Another exercise, which appears in the classic career guide What Color is Your Parachute, is to:

  1. Type out five or six short 500-word stories about challenges you have overcome or problems you have solved, where you remember really sinking your teeth in and enjoying the process.
  2. Download a big ‘ol list of transferable skills.
  3. Go through each story and check off the skills that you used in each situation.
  4. Tally up the checkmarks, and see which skills you used most often.

Who could benefit from learning such skills? How would you teach these skills to others? How was it that you learned or developed these skills yourself?

You might be surprised to see just how much about yourself that you’ve taken for granted.

The one-sentence summary

“Building art is a synthesis of life in materialised form. We should try to bring in under the same hat not a splintered way of thinking, but all in harmony together.”  ~Alvar Aalto (Finnish architect and designer)