Inspiration in a baton, a helmet, a sword …


In January I recommended to you a talk at Google’s Zeitgeist Conference that I had attended. It was by Itay Talgam, an Israeli conductor who asks us to see in the styles of the great conductors (Karajan, Kleiber, Muti, Bernstein…) the dos and don’ts of leadership, the ways to elicit or inhibit the creativity and collaboration of individuals in a group.

Talgam can make us see in a conductor’s manner of holding a baton our own experience as, or with, leaders.

He has now given essentially the same talk again at TED. (If I may observe: TED, Zeitgeist and Poptech, who are rivals, are essentially the same conference these days. As soon as a speaker does well in one, the other two pick him up too.)

So why would I recommend Talgam … again? Because his talk is so incredibly good! So watch all 20 minutes of it, below.

But I’d also like to make another point, one that might seem oblique. One thing I like about Talgam’s approach is that he draws from one area of life (orchestra music) and role (conductor) to inform another area of life (business) and role (boss).

In my very humble way, I try to do the same thing. When I think about writing, I like to think about painting–the way Rembrandt uses color so sparingly and thus effectively, for instance. I see in the highlights of a helmet the touches of good storytelling.

And in my forthcoming book, I take the story of Hannibal, Fabius and Scipio, whose role was commander and whose context was war–the sword, if you will–and I extend it to sex, science, business, sports, exploration, art, politics and intellect–and the ways we succeed and fail in them.

Sometimes, when I give my “elevator pitch” (ie, the book idea compressed into a sentence or two) I get blank stares. I imagine that Talgam does, too. But then I watch Talgam’s talk, and I leaf through my manuscript, and I realize that this … works!

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The conductor guru

I attended Google’s Zeitgeist conference again last fall, which is my second favorite conference after TED. And there was one session that blew me, and all of us in the audience, away as no other did.

Al Gore later said on stage: “I learned more about leadership in that half hour than in my entire career”.

Michael Pollan and I were raving about it, and I pointed out that the speaker did not even mention the word leadership the entire time. “It would have ruined it,” said Michael.

Who was that speaker? An Israeli conductor named Itay Talgam.

Notice that he encountered some audiovisual difficulties early on in the presentation. It did not matter. He never told us, he just showed us. Watch:

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