Thursday, May 19, 2011
The conductor who teaches business management
Israeli maestro Itay Talgam uses musical principles to foster harmony in boardrooms, courtrooms and classrooms worldwide.
By translating the language of music into the language of the workplace, Israeli conductor Itay Talgam has carved a niche for himself as a decidedly different business consultant.
Since 1996, Talgam's Maestro workshops have brought new harmony to businesses, schools and organizations ranging from PepsiCo to the Israeli Supreme Court. At this year's World Economic Forum at Davos, Switzerland, Talgam led a session on how conducting an orchestra can be a model for team management.
"Making music, in whatever culture and context, concerns such issues as communication, listening, rhythm, technique, preparation, improvisation and interpretation, rehearsal and performance," he explains to ISRAEL21c. "Different aspects of music-making can provide stimulating insights into familiar management concerns such as leadership, teamwork, creativity, mentorship and personal development."
Talgam says music provides "an exciting new vocabulary for addressing these concerns" in a non-threatening atmosphere for discussion and self-reflection.
"As a professional musician, I understand conducting," he says. "But when it becomes a metaphor for activities such as teaching or treating patients or commanding soldiers, it becomes so much richer.
"I am still really deeply surprised by how far people can take it, whether it is psychologists looking at the space between conductor and orchestra as the distance between psychologist and patient, or web developers speaking of ways communities are being formed over the Internet in comparison to the environment fostered by a certain conducting style."
The 53-year-old father of two sons had made a name for himself in the contemporary Israeli music scene long before starting Maestro. The Israel Composers League recognized his contribution to performing and promoting Israeli music with a 1994 prize.
A native of Tel Aviv, Talgam received his diploma in conducting from the Jerusalem Rubin Academy of Music and Dance in 1987.
That year, he was chosen by composer Leonard Bernstein to perform in a special concert with the Orchestre de Paris. He was the first Israeli conductor to perform with the St. Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra and with the Leipzig Opera House. Talgam conducted and recorded with all of Israel's major orchestras, serving as music director of the Tel-Aviv Symphony Orchestra and Musica Nova Consort.
All of this positioned Talgam uniquely to apply his Maestro techniques to world-class organizations. His clients have included financial institutions (Credit Swiss, Swiss Re); high-tech corporations (Intel, Google, HP, Motorola); government organizations in Scotland, Israel and Singapore; universities and business schools in England and Israel; health organizations and charities in South Africa; Hilton hotels; Orange mobile communications; and the WPP advertising/marketing firm.
He once taught conducting and string quartet basics to managers of PepsiCo in Romania, with the aim of better understanding small team dynamics. The group even joined the Bucharest Opera Orchestra onstage to experience the inner workings of a large, complex music "factory."
"When whole units of business organizations go through Maestro training, the new ‘musical' vocabulary becomes available, and serves as a softer medium of communication - releasing tension and reducing alienation from the workplace, and promoting a feeling of fun and satisfaction," he says.
Order in the court
The Israeli Supreme Court twice invited Talgam to give a seminar for its justices and presidents of other Israeli high courts of law. They explored the idea of the judge as a conductor in the courtroom and the communication skills required for "orchestrating" opposing voices. He will soon teach a Ministry of Justice course for judges about how to create a better courtroom environment.
"Eventually, I will meet with every judge in the country," says Talgam, whose parents both were judges known for their listening skills. "If you think of the procedures in court, it's all about creating a productive conversation in the most difficult circumstances. People with opposing interests have to understand they also have mutual interests to enable listening so that important facts will not be lost."
He also regularly works with Israeli teachers and principals. "The education system has great problems and I think what I am offering is really important," says Talgam, a former fellow at the Mandel School for Educational Leadership in Jerusalem.
Another Maestro programs helps business leaders prepare for crises. "Using documentary videos ... portraying great artists under stress, great orchestras hating their conductors and the music they are forced to play, as well as creating musical exercises in which the participants work in ‘crisis conditions,' we seek to learn new ways of managing oneself and one's colleagues in times of hardship."
How Maestro makes a difference
Participants in Talgam's workshops learn to connect through discussion and creating music together. "These moments make you feel life could be different," he says.
Using music as a "distant mirror" creates a safe environment to reexamine one's style and beliefs and the way one is perceived by others in the organization. Through understanding the working methods of great conductors, participants learn "how to create processes and infuse meaning into tasks. One actually can take away some principles of great ways to lead," says Talgam.
"The real power of the workshops emerges when what we speak about is actually happening -- when participants in the room become members of an orchestra, when different voices, even arguments, come together. The insights emerging are fruits of the collaborative thinking, a wonderful moment when real learning happens. Maybe to do that, one has to be a conductor."