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Maestro Roger Nierenberg has discovered a creative leadership model. His methodology takes leadership to a whole new neurological and psychological level. The Music Paradigm literally surrounds leaders with a real live symphony orchestra, and this is when the unexpected happens.



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Learn More About ROger Nierenberg and The Music Paradigm

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Full Transcript of Roger Nierenberg Interview

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Justin Brady 0:06
There is a really interesting project in New York City and Maestro. Roger Nierenberg is joining me. He’s the orchestral conductor, and he’s also a leadership guy. And he’s also the founder of the music paradigm Roger, or I could should I say, Maestro Roger Nierenberg. Thanks for joining me.

Roger Nierenberg 0:20

A pleasure to be here, Justin.

Justin Brady 0:25

So you’re a Juilliard guy, you’re you’re doing a lot of cool things. But let’s start out here. What for those that don’t know, is the music paradigm. It’s a fascinating project.

Roger Nierenberg 0:42
The Music paradigm is a learning experience. For organizations. I have clients that are big organizations, mostly, but also some smoking smoke small organizations as well. And I’m engaged to come from they’re meeting and when I show up, I bring with me a symphony orchestra, the local orchestra and the room is set up so that the participants in the meeting can sit inside the orchestra alongside the musicians, which already is, is a big experience for them,

Justin Brady 1:18

Roger Nierenberg 1:20
…and then I take them on a kind of a guided tour of the orchestra, displaying some of the skills that most people aren’t aware of, that immediately catches people’s curiosity. But having in advance learned about the organization and what their challenges are, and what their ambitions are, I devise these spontaneous role-playing exercises for the musicians that I spring on them, without preparation, in which I asked them to display certain kinds of behaviors. And it just so happens that those are the behaviors that are going on inside the organization. And they, they show very clearly what they could be. And they also show them what they don’t want to be. They show them as they show them parts of themselves that they are very reluctant to acknowledge.

But they’re not confronted, to acknowledge these things. But everybody understands, after a while that listen to the orchestra is like looking at a kind of a magic mirror. Yeah, you can see what your future could be. And you can see elements of your past that you haven’t really clearly understood before. So people get very absorbed in that kind of act of introspection, and it’s all going on, on, you know, in everybody’s mind privately, and yet, it’s a very public thing, right? And, and at the same time that this is happening, then they’re listening to the music and the music is affecting them. So it tends to energize the group it with it, and they, they come away with this feeling of optimism about themselves, and, and what they could be, and a lot of insights about exactly what they could do in order to bring that about.

Justin Brady 3:16
So you’re getting in the music paradigm. Yeah, you’re getting into some very, very interesting areas here. Because even neuroscientists and people who research the brain the connection with music and learning — even in a business sense there, there is a lot of striking research that’s coming out. And to be quite honest, I don’t even think the scientists researching this stuff have any clue what’s actually going on. But what you’ve tapped into, like you said earlier, you’re kind of holding up, I guess most people would call an abstract mirror, I would argue it’s a very direct mirror. But I think that makes sense. But you know, I think what you’re indicating, you said something that was very, very fascinating. You said, and I’m going to summarize this, you said it really well. But you said, you get them privately thinking in their own head about these realizations they’re making once you hold up this mirror, and it becomes their own idea. You’re not sitting there and saying, okay, as a leadership consultant here, the things I’m seeing in your organization, here’s how you need to fix them. Because then people can respond to that. And they can say, No, you’re wrong. Or Yes, I agree, which in most cases, as you know, it’s probably No, you’re wrong. That’s the first reaction we all have. But you’re bringing them to that realization on their own time, through this deeply visceral, deeply emotional connection, you’re over your kind of bypassing those logical, “just say no” areas of the brain, are you?

Roger Nierenberg 4:44
Yeah, and all those filters, you see, if, if somebody let’s say, they need to understand something about their behavior, and the impact it has, everybody is going to resist those messages, nobody will be, wants to be confronted, and certainly not in a meeting in front of everybody else, right. And so. So therefore, what we do is, what I do is, I take it completely outside of their realm into something that’s so totally non-threatening that and yet they begin to see themselves through that. And so you through this device, you’re able to, to raise some pretty hot issues and not have anybody resist it. As a matter of fact, what they generally do is they laugh at it, sure, because it’s so irresistible, there’s a behavior and you can immediately here because it’s music, which, which translates behavior into results almost instantaneously, you can hear what the results are, and it’s rather humorous. And some of some of the role-play exercises for an orchestra, the musicians are laughing, because it’s kind of it’s so out of the box for them as well. So you create this kind of very like a playground. And yet. what’s being played at is really important dishes for the organization.

Justin Brady 6:16
Now, this is the seems like a very, it’s fascinating, and I love it. And I think it’s an incredible, incredible way to demonstrate leadership insights to teams. But I have to ask, How on earth did you or someone else make this kind of connection with this, just let’s take let’s take an orchestra to a business meeting, like, where, how does this work?

Roger Nierenberg 6:44
Well, if you’re asking the history of how it happened. I was very passionate about expanding the audience for classical music. I knew that there were a lot of people who were, you know, bright and curious and well educated and all but who were barred from the experience were barred from the experience of really hearing and feeling the music, because of because of just the way their lives went. And they, they didn’t, they weren’t exposed to it, and the right kind of way and, and they feel uncomfortable about it, they, they feel shut out of it. And I was, I was curious about whether there was a way to, to get beyond that to get through that barrier. And that’s what I was experimenting with. Interesting and, and then I invented this, and I had no idea that was going to have value, a business value. But when I started doing it, and especially doing it for business organizations, they I started getting this feedback that I continue to get that this is the most powerful leadership training that I’ve ever had in my career.

Justin Brady 7:54
I can’t imagine. I mean, it’s, it’s great, it’s fascinating. So I have to know did this grow your audience sizes and or did you just find a whole new avenue?

Roger Nierenberg 8:06
I think I found a whole new avenue because because what I did was I followed opportunity and the the business world which, after all, is a competition and people are trying to stay ahead and trying to survive and all that they were much more receptive to this kind of strange thing than my own field, which is in a kind of a organizations are working so hard just to keep themselves afloat that they haven’t really yet seen, what is what I saw in that, and they don’t really believe that this could actually open up people’s imaginations and ears to hearing this kind of music. So I just followed the opportunity. So So I’ve had hundreds of clients in the times that I’ve been doing it. And because I customize every session for each client, I find out what their ambitions are, and what their challenges are. And then I devise the role play exercises for that I have learned a lot about business organizations enough so that I eventually wrote a book about this. And the target audience was both it was both business executives who want to become more effective leaders, and also conductors who want to learn how to be more effective in conducting

Justin Brady 9:33
What’s the name of that book?

Roger Nierenberg 9:35
it’s called Maestro, A surprising story about leading by listening.

Justin Brady 9:41
I love that! And that’s one of the things we talked a lot about on the podcast is listening. And, you know, one of the challenges in harping on listening is that as soon as you say as, as an organization, what you need to work on is better listening. As soon as you say that people don’t listen. And they say, yeah, we already do that. We already I mean, this is, this is obvious, I learned how to do that when I was, you know, one, and they just, it goes right over their head, but you’re hitting on an area we talked a lot about is true listening is really peeling back when the word someone says, to look for meaning, and really internalizing what they’re saying and what they’re going through. That’s, that’s true, listening, through listening, shutting up and allowing people to express themselves and then asking follow up questions to dig in deeper, and then and then applying that to your own life. And so many people have difficulty with that. So how does this practically work? Do people come to your space in New York City? Or do you guys move the entire orchestra into another space and meet them where they’re at,

Roger Nierenberg 10:47
I go to wherever the meeting is. And wherever that is, I engage musicians from that locality. So that it’s a very good just in time organization. Because let’s say the meeting is at 11 o’clock. Well, then, at 930, I meet for the first time, this local orchestra, wherever it is, now, I’m going to Dallas tomorrow, and I’ll be doing a session there. Tomorrow is Thursday. So I’ll be doing a session on Friday, and, and then I’ll be going to Minnesota. But, but next year, I’ll be going to London and to Singapore and, and Thailand and Brazil. And I’ve done it really all over the world. And I always engage the local orchestra. And part of the kind of like, the way that this experience is so disarming is that people can’t believe that I just met that orchestra 90 minutes ago, and spent 60 minutes with them. And that it’s real, it’s actually happening. And huh. And that it’s completely unscripted.

So it’s just, you can’t refute it, because it just happened in front of you. Right. So let me say just a little bit about listening. Because I was really interested in what the remarks you said about listening. Part of the reason that people resist hearing about listening, is because listening means so many things. And what those lectures who lecture about listening can do is they can’t demonstrate what listening actually is. But one of the things that I frequently do is, I have the, I have the orchestra play without a conductor and the orchestra, so very good at that they know how to organize themselves, and who to follow, and all that. And then I will ask the orchestra to play in various different ways, I give them one after another, do it this way, do it that way. And the only way that they can do that is listening.

And if they don’t believe it, I finally after they’ve played it, you know, let’s say five or six times I asked them to close their eyes and to do it, and they show that they are capable of connecting with one another, and organizing themselves and, and having this kind of deep conversation in, you know, very rapid exchange of information in real time. And it’s done completely through listening, right. So then frequently, what I’ll do is I’ll, I’ll hand the microphone to the musician. So how do we do that, and they start talking about, you know, what they do, and I’m always there to translate for my clients. Or I know that a lot of things that the musicians say, I’ll understand the clients won’t, won’t understand what that is. So I talk about how we mind read as we listen. And we here we, we anticipate about what we’re going to do, and when they were very much in the present, and always ready to adapt, and always valuing how we can unite and join together. And that tends to say, a lot more about listening than I think any lecture can say. And in addition to it, it’s not me who said it, right. It’s a musician, and they don’t have any skin in the game right now. They just arrived for a job. And, and so it’s hard to dismiss them. And it’s hard to be cynical about them because they themselves don’t know what’s going on. Right. And so, you know,

Justin Brady 14:37
that’s really cool.

Roger Nierenberg 14:38
I love the cynical people in the audience. You know, let’s put it this way. The skeptical ones, right? You know, the ones who come in, then they haven’t added to first of all, maybe they feel like, I’ve seen everything before, I know what’s going to happen. I figured this out, you know, yeah. And I love seeing them get disarmed. And that’s what there was one, one client of mine who had had had participated in the CEO meeting at Sears. And then she called me up, and she said, I wanted to do something for my division. She said, because I was working there for 15 years, and all these people that I work with it, I’ve never, never seen a smile on their faces. And there, they were sitting in this meeting and laughing and I said to myself, I don’t know these people, you know, I worked with them for 15 years. But here, I’m seeing something about them that I’ve never seen before. So, so it has this way of, of just disarming people.

Justin Brady 15:41
I mean, I completely understand, I mean, the only thing I can liken it to, I have never played in an orchestra I have played in a jazz combo before as a drummer. And the only when you said, like, mind reading that resonated, because there are certain hits, and again, I’m going to translate to jazz combo, like a three or four, maybe eight-person, you know, jazz group, but, you know, there’s just those moments when the pianist is going to play a hit, or they’re going to reverse a song or go into a backbeat rhythm, or something’s going to change it. I mean, you just read that no one plan that he wasn’t written, it just ended, you know, you hadn’t done it that way before, but you just thought that time it would work. And so, you know, whoever was leading that particular rhythm or that particular phrase, you just kind of watch their body language. And, you know, I’ve just, I’ve tried to describe that to people. And the only way I can describe it is how you described it, it’s just kind of like mind reading, once you work with someone, once you pay very close attention with them for such a long period of time listening, once you listen to them, you start to understand in a very subconscious level, something that even may be too difficult to communicate out loud, how they operate, and you operate lockstep in perfect harmony in I think a lot of people, even as I’m saying, this probably are, you know, pushing the BS button in their head thinking, that’s just not a real thing. But you can demonstrate that in real time, right in front of people.

Roger Nierenberg 17:12
Exactly. And wouldn’t that be fantastic if people could transplant that into a meeting, let’s say, and instead of it being about music, it’s, let’s say, some particular problem that that, you know, you’re getting people together to think about, and if everybody could, could work together, the way the way that musicians do in that hearing what each other says, and not being quick to, to, like, move on, or dismiss it, or answer it or fix it or something. But just to understand deeply, what that that that particular point of view, and then this magical process that musicians do, of kind of melding all these interpretive ideas into one coherent idea, it happens very quickly, and music, which is why it’s such a great medium to do experiments with so so I described the music paradigm as a playground, but it’s also a kind of a laboratory, because one after another, I run these experiments, and we do an experiment, and then we see what happens, and what can be learned from it.

Justin Brady 18:24
So throughout this process, you’ve worked with a lot of different groups. And it sounds like you’ve worked with a lot of different orchestras in various regions, right? More than 100 different orchestras. So are there any recurring themes? Or are there any, I guess, your top two or top three issues that organizations these days are working through? You’re almost, you know, you’re almost a a, what would you call it a counselor of sorts? So are there any Top trending things that companies are working through?

Roger Nierenberg 18:57
Well, it’s all about the world that we’re living in, because it’s a very fast moving world, it changes fast, when you think about, you know, how long it took for, you know, Ford Motor Company to become the incredible organization that was, you know, the decades, whereas if you look at Facebook, and how long it took for it, to conquer the world that he’s done in a decade. And, and organizations like, when I worked for Sears in the, in the 1990s, it was dominant, it was one of the largest organizations and you were just, it’s, it’s kind of fallen apart and almost disappeared. And that’s how quick change can be right? And so everybody is worried about disruption, that concerned about disruption. And, and they’re concerned about organizational agility, even if they figured out what needs to what needs to be done, how do you get a whole organization to, to respond to it quickly, and to give up their their behaviors and the ideas that are that are keeping them from embracing the new thing they need to do everybody’s really interested in that everybody is interested in employee engagement, how do you how do you get your people to be as interested in what’s going on as the leadership is what kind of leadership is it that that enables people to, to use all the intelligence and all the talents and all the experience they have, rather than just simply defaulting into following orders and doing what they’re told and withholding all the best things that they have to offer? everybody’s interested in that.

Justin Brady 20:45
So as far as the disruption things interesting, I would have never even imagined that I mean, I think it’s a little hopeful that organ that organizations and companies are scared of disruption, it seems like one of those things that no one’s scared of until it’s right on you, and you’re gone. Is there a theme is a certain type of company that’s scared of disruption or is that pretty universal?

Roger Nierenberg 21:08
Well, I think the organizations that are related to tech where, you know, and the, the Think of the advent of artificial intelligence, I mean, think about the revolution that that’s going to bring about in our society, it’s just begun. But think about what-what that’s going to mean for them, like, the, the workforce, and you know, how many people are going to be displaced, and how many jobs are going to disappear, and how many new capabilities are going to be available, right, how to leverage that we can’t even imagine it. And so everybody, you know, everybody knows that this is like, two years away, three years away, and they know that, that things are going to be uprooted and so on, they’re trying to figure out well, how do we plan and how do we prepare? How do we how do we take advantage of our strengths and all that it’s, it’s a very, it’s a fascinating and amazing challenge. There are some kind of slower moving industries that have been around for a long time that are not so not changing so much for, for example, let’s say the in the big financial organizations that are an industry that’s been around, but even that is changing a lot because the world we’re in is changing. I mean, like, how long ago was it that North Korea was this you know, this medicine our greatest problem right now, now, it’s it’s just it’s viewed in a different way. And Ryan cons of different possibilities. I mean, the world is shifting, and because I think it’s largely because of communication and, and the role that technology has had in connecting people. It just means that we’re much more interrelated. And what happens in one place deeply affects what goes on another.

Justin Brady 23:10
what’s really interesting, I want to make sure that you listening, everybody listening didn’t miss what you said, just about a maybe a minute or two ago, you were talking about artificial intelligence and technology in the amount the massive amount you said, I think you said something about it’s not even imaginable how much opportunity this is going to present. And most the time I hear that that statement said the other way, I hear people say, artificial intelligence and tech are going to replace jobs, and then they just stop. But you took it a step further, and you you put the Replace jobs at the end, but you lead that comment with hope you lead that comment with the opposite of the opportunities coming up are going to be imaginable, they’re going to be so many positive opportunities, and will phase out. So jobs. So if you’re very much looking at this from a and I would agree with it, but you’re very much looking at this for a yes, some jobs are going to phase out. But that’s a really good thing. Because the opportunities that are resulting from all this technology are going to be unimaginable.

Roger Nierenberg 24:16
Yeah. Well, so you imagine how much how much pressure This puts on leadership to try to figure it out to try to figure out what, you know, how are we going to adapt to this? And, you know, what, how are we going to use our people? And what, how do our people have to have to develop new capabilities in order to take advantage of the right and also the protect themselves in their careers.

So these are the things that a lot of organizations, it’s in there, it’s on their minds.

Justin Brady 24:51
So before we go, I want to ask a few questions to you. We ask them to every guest. The first one is, you know, a lot of people falsely assume that people like yourself, just come up with these ideas. And it’s right time, right place. Or maybe you’re just a super genius, and the rest of us are idiots. But the reality is that, you know, you, you know, failure just like everybody else. And failure is the thing that affects everybody. So one of the things we always ask, is name a time that you miserably failed. Maybe it was a complete embarrassment. And how did you use that as fuel to get where you are today?

Roger Nierenberg 25:25
Well, God, there’s so many.

There’s so many. I don’t know where to begin — I’m trying to think I’m trying to think of something big failure. Yeah, because little failures, they happen all the time. You know, there’s, there’s an exercise that I, I invent, and I do it, and it happens, and I just don’t feel that it speaks with power and, and eloquence to the audience. And so therefore, I start analyzing, well, you know, what happened there? And how did it work? And, and why, why didn’t it bring about the results that I thought, and then in my conducting, you know, if, if, for example, there was one orchestra that I rehearsed the piece, and it went really great. And then we, at the end of every session, we perform the piece, we play it, and then the performance, something went wrong, and it had never gone wrong in the rehearsal. And so I think to myself, well, how did that happen?

What and the first thing of course, I think about, well, what about my conducting and the and the justice that I made? And why did those justice which were designed to get everything to align? Why didn’t they? Why didn’t that to why didn’t that work? So I analyzed, the first thing I want to find out is what happened. That’s the first thing I tried to leave out blame. And I try to leave that shame and all those things that just get in the way and just kind of very coldly say, what was the sequence of things what happened, because a lot of times, they’re hidden clues in the details of what happened. And if you pass over to quickly and rush to judgment, you don’t remember those things.

So there’s that and then and then eventually, I come up with some, hopefully, some deeper understanding of what the forces are the drive things and that helps me to be more effective.

Justin Brady 27:36
I like that methodology. And, and, you know, not immediately placing blame on failure, but just analyzing and understanding what happened. The other question we always ask is, what is one area or one tactic now that obviously, the listeners completely understand this Maestro. But for any new listeners, if your culture is not empathy, warm, if you’re not a good listener, if your bosses don’t love employees, there’s nothing you can do in there is no hope. And, you know, there’s no tip in the world that can make you more creative or problem-solving. So if you don’t love your people, sorry. But with that being said, for people who, for leaders that do love their staff, what is one thing you can put in place, what is one go-to-tactic that you use to help people being better problem solvers.

Roger Nierenberg 28:25
I wish it were so easy as that. I know, I wish you were, you know, you could give people a tip. But I think that people need to grow, you know, people need to have a growth mindset. And by growth, I mean, learning to see, to better see what’s going on in your life. Because a lot of times, we miss things and our, our attention is distracted and we don’t even know that. And so this emphasis on how to how the way how to build the way we make sense of our lives and the world around us, there is growth there is it is possible to grow that and to and to become clearer and more effective in that but I think it begins with a kind of a growth mindset.

I just read a book by Jennifer Garvey burger and Keith Johnson called Simple habits for complex times, which is about it’s about leading it’s powerful practices for leaders but it applies also to individuals. And, you know, if you’re not a leader, or let’s put it this way, if your position doesn’t say leader, because I think everybody is a leader of a in some way, I completely agree we want people to have a kind of a mentality and mindset of of leading, you know, there are resources like that, and I’m always reading up on them logic because I meet these people and and I’m fascinated by by their ideas and and the way they think and so I’m always trying to grow and I think the most important thing is to value of this growth mindset and to know that it is possible to grow it is possible to become more effective, and to have more fulfilling life at work,

Justin Brady 30:53
Maestro. Roger Nierenberg orchestral conductor and leadership consultant and founder of the music paradigm I should also point out the author of now there’s a while ago but it was 2009 but Maestro, a surprising story about leading by listening How can people find more about you perhaps hire this bring this experience to their area where do people go to do that well it’s

Roger Nierenberg 31:16
pretty easy this a website called

Justin Brady 31:47
Awesome. Thank you so much, Maestro, really appreciate it today.

Roger Nierenberg 31:51
Thank you.

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