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CREATIVE LEAPS - Journal of the Arts in Leadership and Organizational Learning

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Leadership, Government, and Creativity
When Art Works…The Concert of Ideas
By Eric Booth

Creative Leaps International’s keynote Concert of Ideas, “Unless the Mind Catch Fire,” was first developed for George Washington University Center for Excellence in Municipal Management (CEMM) in 1997. A performance-based exploration of the intersections of leadership, creativity, and personal integrity, “Unless the Mind Catch Fire” has now become a cornerstone in Creative Leaps International’s repertoire of leadership education programming with CEMM and beyond. Below, renowned author and arts education consultant Eric Booth provides a first-hand account of the power of “Unless the Mind Catch Fire.”

CEMM is the result of an innovative public-private partnership established in 1997 with the founding premise that municipalities need strong leadership and management capacity within the ranks of government in order to thrive. While originally focused solely on the District of Columbia, CEMM is now expanding in scope, bringing the lessons learned in the District to its work with the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (MWCOG), other local governments, and to local and regional governments internationally.

Creative Leaps has been a partner to CEMM since its inception in 1997 as adjunct faculty to its executive training programs, performing its signature Concerts of Ideas on leadership, integrity and change to each of the 18 assemblies of municipal cohorts that have enrolled in the CEMM program.


When Art Works... the Concert of Ideas

An article by Eric Booth about the educational and performance innovations
of Creative Leaps International at business and government conferences


The arts have been used for many purposes over the millennia: to delight, instruct, enrich, challenge, and often to make the world a better place. I recently attended a "Concert of Ideas" by the six talented performers in Creative Leaps, and I saw art used in a clever, powerful, strategic way that accomplished those other goals and more.

The performance itself is an engaging collage of music, song, and thought. The audience with whom I attended were municipal officials from Washington DC city government -- not your average art-attendees. This Concert was the kickoff for a week of leadership training and team building. From the very beginning, the warmth, informality and fun of the performance drew in these administrators as people and as professionals. Of course the audience was a little cautious at first, not sure what was expected of them. But the performers deftly amused, offered appealing participatory activities, and opened themselves so winningly that the audience was wholehearted in attention and personal investment within minutes.

One moment our jaws
dropped at their musical virtuosity,
the next we were reflecting on a profound idea
about a deep issue of our relationship to our work.

You couldn't miss it: people rushing to volunteer to participate, everyone joining in group activities, rapt silence for key performance moments, frequent eruptions of laughter. The Concert is shaped so cleverly with a fluid mix of information and different kinds of listening and connecting challenges. One moment our jaws dropped at their musical virtuosity, the next we were reflecting on a profound idea about a deep issue of our relationship to our work.

The art opened me, us, up. The use of music kept the power of the event under that cautionary radar we all keep to warn us against challenges to the status quo; the performers and the music speak right to the heart. And the messages are well chosen. They are messages of personal empowerment, of deep priorities, of commitment, excellence and quality. These are the wholesome, heartfelt, effective messages most management courses hope to have participants address over time--yet when expressed artistically, they have an added potency, immediacy, and intimacy.

Think about it for a moment. How do you respond when someone tells you you should do something? It catalyzes a series of defensive or cautionary internal actions--hardly the fertile soil you hope your good ideas will fall on. Now imagine hearing a powerful song sung exquisitely for you. It gets you thinking about that aspect of your own life. You think and feel in balance, in harmony with the artwork, and by the end of the song, you have a personal grip on that core issue, and how it might be improved. The idea is well planted and growing.

That is the way the Concert of Ideas worked for me. And for the others. The artistry brought me into openhearted reflection about my values and practices, revived my optimism and deep yearnings to make a difference. I was lucky to be able to attend a follow-up workshop in which participants were invited to share their responses to the performance, and then to begin to apply their personal responses to the issues of governance and leadership that was their week-long agenda.

This workshop, led by John Cimino and all the performers, enabled me to hear the impact of the Concert on the participants, and it enabled them to grab their internal messages and clarify them for professional and personal use. As person after person articulated his or her response to the performance, I was astounded. Each had a deep personal insight and a self-generated commitment to improve in the future. Frankly, I wouldn't have believed it if I had not seen it. These were profound insights about such things as: how one squelched the creativity of his employees; another realized she played for safe goals in her department; another realized the cost of becoming a dry professional and not the wholehearted leader he wanted to be. They stated new commitments to nurture the unique strengths of their workers, to set ambitious goals they cared deeply about, to be better listeners, and so on. These were sentiments and ideas you would be delighted to hear by the end of a week's workshop--through the skill of the Concert, this happened within the first few hours. As one who also designs and leads seminars about creativity in professional settings, I was amazed at the efficiency and potency of the Concert of Ideas.

The six-person ensemble is a mix of three singers with a pianist, a flutist and a percussionist. Many in the audience noted the ways in which they modeled ideal collaboration: the skill of their ensemble work, the generous sharing of focus, the multiple roles each performer plays, and the palpable delight they took in one another's success. The warmth of the Concert is clearly built upon the love these artists have for one another, and it is infectious. The design and execution of the Concert serves as a rich model on many levels.

Many people mouth great statements about the importance of the arts for learning; Creative Leaps sings them into down-to-earth inspiration that makes a difference in the real world. Management training and business thinking never looked, sounded, or felt so good--and got so much done at the same time.


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