Recent findings from IBM’s Institute for Business Value survey was published last week in Business Week magazine and demonstrate one competency leadership values above all others. I share this common value related to the work of the American Choral Directors Association.
On my desk at the ACDA National Headquarters are nine ink pens, a bottle of black ink, a small box of pencils, a box of Crayola crayons containing, as the box indicates, “96 crayons with built-in sharpener”, along with the one souvenir I brought back recently from China, a replica of an ancient Chinese inkwell in the shape of a turtle. These items represent something I want to greet me when I arrive in my office in the morning, or when I am working late into the night—that is, the possibility of new ideas and the ongoing effort at creativity.
When I look at my desk bottle of ink, it reminds me of ideas that are still in liquid form, waiting to be formed by those accompanying pens. When I look at my box of pencils, I see a condensed group of musical notes all resting, unused, in a sharpened piece of #2 lead. When I glance at my Chinese inkwell, I am reminded that my ideas will either be recycled notions from the past, or will be my attempt to build on the past. And when I see the box of 96 crayons, I realize there are at least 95 more ways to do what I am trying to do with the crayon I am currently using. According to the analysis of themes that describe my own personal leadership style, “ideation” is the first characteristic that appears on the list. According to the analysis of my own strengths, the report says the following:
You are fascinated by ideas. You are delighted when you discover beneath the complex surface an elegantly simple concept to explain why things are the way they are. An idea is a connection. Yours is the kind of mind that is always looking for connections, and so you are intrigued when seemingly disparate phenomena can be linked by an obscure connection. You revel in taking the world we all know and turning it around so we can view it from a strange but strangely enlightening angle. You love all these ideas because they are profound, because they are novel, because they are clarifying, because they are contrary, or because they are bizarre. For all these reasons you derive a jolt of energy whenever a new idea occurs to you. Others may label you creative or original or conceptual or even smart. Perhaps you are all of these. Who can be sure? What you are sure of is that ideas are thrilling. And on most days this is enough.
Wow! If any of that is true, I couldn’t be more satisfied. I find ideas thrilling. That is why I have never regretted the purchase or download of a single book, even though the weight and cost of physically moving them over my career has been enormous. If I ever have to justify to the Internal Revenue Service the amount of money I spend and deduct for books, articles, and newspapers, I plan on submitting the above analysis as backup. Nothing justifies this better than the back cover of Alberto Manguel’s A History of Reading, which describes books as “a wonderful celebration of the human race.”
There is one phrase in my work I never tire of hearing. The truth is, I don’t hear it often enough. That phrase is this: “Hey….I’ve got an idea!” It is not only because by necessity I spend so much of my time maintaining systems and structures that I love this occasional, rare phrase, but it is also because I know that an idea is one of the strongest forces known. It was an idea that brought the American Choral Directors Association into being. It was an idea that gave birth to ChoralNet. It is an idea that will shape your next choral concert. And it is an idea that will continue to make ACDA relevant in the 21st century.
If you ever really need me to pay attention to an email, put the following in the subject box: “I have an idea.” If, for some reason, you are having a hard time getting me on the phone, make certain to leave the message “Give me a call…I have an idea.” The fact is, I answer emails and I return calls. But, these are the four words I long to hear, because I know that ideas can transform and reform, they come from people that care, and ideas lead to action. So, if you have an idea for the good of choral music, .