Daniel H. Pink wrote a fascinating book, A Whole New Mind: Moving from the Information Age to the Conceptual Age (New York: Riverhead Books, 2005). I have found the work to be extremely relevant to so much of what is happening in our society today. Among the six aptitudes Pink says we must master to be successful in the Conceptual Age is symphony. The other five are design, story, empathy, play, and meaning. (For my prior blog posts in this series, please visit Blog.reliableinsights.com, 2/10/14 through today.)
Considering just symphony, here is what I would offer. A musical symphony involves many musical instruments synergistically playing to create a result that is bigger than what any individual instrument could create alone. Symphony means while we constantly give full attention to all the minutia of the individual pieces, we do so with an overriding passion and focus toward the big picture and the composite result. In the context of his book, Pink describes the concept of symphony this way:
“What’s in greatest demand today isn’t analysis but synthesis—seeing the big picture and, crossing boundaries, being able to combine disparate pieces into an arresting new whole.” (p. 66)
Pink further explains this aptitude against the backdrop of right-brain thinking as opposed to left-brain thinking:
“Symphony . . . is the ability to put together the pieces. It is the capacity to synthesize rather than to analyze; to see relationships between seemingly unrelated fields; to detect broad patterns rather than to deliver specific answers; and to invent something new by combining elements nobody else thought to pair.” (p. 126)
I believe that from the perspective of leadership opportunity, symphony’s validity is opening up remarkable new doors. Fundamentally, a large portion of leadership responsibility has always been helping your team to navigate the diverse pieces of the puzzle to achieve organizational success. With the ongoing, exponentially increasing change we face, symphony has never been more important. In fact, its importance will only increase, and that means leadership opportunities will only increase. Andy Serwer, the managing editor of Fortune, expresses serious concerns about our increasing difficulties with just keeping up with technology’s growth and in particular just keeping up with the unanticipated consequences of technology’s growth (“Waiting for Datapocalypse” February 24, 2014, p. 8):
“First, the rate of change here—and by ‘here’ I mean the amount of our data and the number of our transactions occurring online—is increasing lickety-split. And second, our ability to understand and control the consequences of this increasing change is not keeping up. The consequence gap is proving highly problematic.”
Precisely because the big picture is getting bigger, we need more big-picture thinkers. Precisely because diverse disciplines and subdisciplines are arising, we need more connection makers. Precisely because technologies, demographics, cultures, and societies are creating new entities, we need more boundary crossers.
We will always need the violinist. We will always need the pianist. We will always need the drummer. That is because we will always need the experts. The experts have always remained and will remain important. Nevertheless, more than ever in the past, today we especially need the conductors—the people who truly can do “symphony.”
Let’s look for opportunities each day to do symphony. Our future success depends on it.