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Sean Pillot de Chenecey chats with Dominic Alldis, jazz musician and conductor who runs innovative business development and leadership courses using music as a metaphor.

Included in the chat:

  • How music and the arts can be useful in teaching business skills
  • What happens at an event where Dominic performs
  • Differences in cultures and how people react in different ways
  • How investment in learning and development, particularly when it is memorable, helps with staff retention.

Episode #119

The use of music and the arts in teaching business skills

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (00:04): Hello. This podcast is care of Speakers Associates, the global speaker bureau representing a select group of the world’s finest thinkers and thought leaders. Founded in 1999, today Speakers Associates operate out of nine offices across seven countries covering the UK, Europe and Middle East. I’m Sean Pillot de Chenecey, author of the Post-Truth Business and Influencers and Revolutionaries. In this series, I interview a range of fascinating individuals, proudly represented by the bureau. These change agents and industry experts give an update on their specialist areas of knowledge, and also on their motivations and viewpoints regarding the future of business. Today, I’m really pleased to be joined by professor Dominic Alldis, a fascinating individual. He’s a jazz musician and conductor who runs innovative business development and leadership courses. Using music as a metaphor. Dominic is a multi-talented and versatile musician and performer equally at home conducting symphony orchestras, improvising at the piano with bands and teaching students in the world’s finest conservatories. As a keynote speaker, he’s worked with many of the world’s leading companies and business schools to create powerful musical experiences for executives. His thought-provoking and transformative presentations often feature live musicians ranging from large symphony orchestras to more intimate string quartets and jazz bands, depending on the size and key themes of the event.

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (01:38): So Dominic welcome.

New Speaker (01:39): Hi, it sounds, I must say absolutely fascinating and very, very different and incredibly, sort of a innovative and intriguing. So just so we can go into this in some sort of a structure, just tell me, so in terms of the, you know, the main organizational concerns or the businesses you work with, what do you think those are? And then we’ll come on to these specific music angle in which you obviously focus so greatly.

Dominic Alldis (02:06): Sure. Well, I suppose there are two things I might start by saying, I think firstly, to say that I think most large business organizations are dealing with the same dilemma, which is how do you equate on the one side, the need for strategy, hierarchy, responsibility, all those things that you associate with a big organization while simultaneously fostering innovation, risk taking and autonomy, in terms of the individuals working within your firm. I think every business organization is having to deal with that. And of course, people have very high expectations now, when they’re gonna go and work for large business organizations, they want creative freedom. They want to feel they’re progressing, that they have autonomy. And how do you make that work within the structure of large organization?

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (02:58): So in that case, jumping straight to the chase. So with regards to all those points that you make that are intriguing and entirely clear, and the sort of things that we read about in the business press and the strategy press and are watching business programs, et cetera, the killer question has to be, go on then. How does learning about music,

Dominic Alldis (03:20): Yeah. Why music.

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (03:20): relate to people working in business organizations?

Dominic Alldis (03:23): Sure. Well, I would say two things, I’d say that any metaphorical, support that you can give organizations, is helpful is inspiring and is something different. So, you know, it could be sport, it could be theater and of course it could be music. And interestingly, I think there’s been a move from perhaps more militaristic sports metaphors towards artistic metaphors, which are very much around, you know, culture, personal fulfillment, creativity, diversity inclusion. So I think, you know, the arts in general are right where they need to be in terms of inspiring business. And I think the other thing about music is two things. I think one thing is most people are interested in music and like music, which helps tremendously. And I think the other thing is that you can create these very spectacular and emotional events that people are going to remember. ‘Cuase the thing about training and development is all very well giving people these wonderful experiences, but are they going to remember them? And what is wonderful is if you have the opportunity to sit within an orchestra, for example, or to converse with jazz musicians or whatever they do create unforgettable experiences. And I think that’s important.

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (04:41): How interesting. And are there any particular elements of music making that link into business today?

Dominic Alldis (04:48): Great question. Well, you know, in a way music is also uniquely powerful because of its mutability, if you like or different usages. Oh, I dunno how you’d say, but for example, you know, you can talk about leadership, the role of a conductor, always fascinating and inspiring and so much to see. You can talk about nonverbal communication as part of that. You can talk about collaboration in terms of the larger orchestra. You can talk about diversity, skill expertise, building of trust, and then, you know, moving more towards the kind of the jazz small group environment. Then you’re talking a bit more around creative freedom building on each other’s ideas, accommodating risk and error and failure and all those kinds of things that make a jazz or a band performance. So fascinating. So, you know, my approach I’m slightly unusual because I have both a classical background and a jazz background, so I can sort of draw on both of those elements and bring them to a business audience.

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (05:54): So in terms of that audience then, so just imagine where one of your events, some point soon. Go talk us through it, what does it look like? How is it run? What happens from the delegate from the audience’s point of view?

Dominic Alldis (06:10): Sure. Well, I’m broadly speaking, doing three things on the one hand, probably the thing that’s keeping me busiest is what is really I call the orchestra experience, which is where we have an orchestra, anything from 15 up to 30, 40, 50 musicians and the opportunity for people to sit within the orchestra, people who are for, you know, corporate audience, just to observe the teamwork, the communication, the interaction between the musicians and the conductor. So it’s partly performance and it’s partly discussion, which is what makes it so interesting. And to have that visceral experience is absolutely mind blowing and emotional and unforgettable. I do that all over the world for very big companies, business schools. So that’s keeping me very busy. And on the other hand, I’m doing the jazz environment, which is slightly different in terms of the obviously less musicians involved. And it talks about slightly different things, but again, people come in and they sit very close to a band, they observe a performance, they ask questions, they watch us go through a creative process of brainstorming ideas.

Dominic Alldis (07:18): So it’s, it’s a very, very sort of intimate experience, really just seeing how expert musicians do what they do. And thirdly, what I get to do is speaker conferences, which is doing, you know, big keynote events where I talk about those two metaphors, primarily sometimes with some video and sometimes I bring in some live musicians, but you know, I’m doing and have been doing for 20 years or so, you know, big corporate events and coming on stage on my own and giving in away a, an overview of the various things that we do.

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (07:54): I mean, it’s incredibly interesting and I mean, it’s so different. A real clear upon differentiation, I mean, and on that. So in terms of, the response you get is there a uniform response or do you tend to get some people really get hit and others just don’t or what?

Dominic Alldis (08:13): Well, without sort of sounding too pleased with myself,

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (08:17): Go on.

Dominic Alldis (08:18): It’s fairly rare. I mean, almost, you know, to the point at which I can hardly think of an occasion where somebody’s not moved by the experience of sitting within an orchestra.

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (08:27): Yeah, I’m sure.

Dominic Alldis (08:28): So, I mean, that goes without saying, you know, depending on what people want to talk about, of course there might be different degrees of immediate relevance, but there’s always something which is gonna be interesting, whether it’s to do with trust, to do with collaboration, to do with communication, to do with preparation, to do with listening. I mean, you know, these are basic basic issues and just the experience to explore them through another metaphor is extremely valuable. So to be honest, I, you know, I get very, very good, feedback and I get asked back and, you know, and I just say one other point, Sean is, I think another interesting thing.

Dominic Alldis (09:08): There’s a client I have that I do a lot of work with, you know, 8, 10 times a year. And they also have said that having these experiences has a very positive impact on employee retainment, which I’ve always thought was interesting in terms of their surveying of people that feel they’re being invested in at that level.

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (09:27): Oh, interesting.

Dominic Alldis (09:29): Are more inclined to stay with those companies. So, you know, just all those companies out there that take training and development really seriously and really invest in it. There’s a big payoff in terms of retaining talent.

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (09:42): And then what, in terms of the, did you say just the blunt practicalities of this? So in terms of, you know, that the variety of literal physical spaces that you could do this in from the one would imagine the large sort of hall through to a smaller venue, and then also linking in this to other elements of a day where other people are appearing, just perhaps just to be clear about this,

Dominic Alldis (10:09): Sure.

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (10:11): How adaptable is this and how, you know, what sort of array of talks and events can you put on for example?

Dominic Alldis (10:17): Great. Well, obviously I can direct you to my website just to look at the various different options that there are. But, you know, the keynote is obviously very straightforward. I’d like any keynote speaker, I can have some slides and, you know, sometimes they hire a grand piano, which is nice. And sometimes I bring in a few musicians and we just need a bit of prep and we are good to go for a one hour talk as part of a conference. That’s fine. The orchestra event is on one level, it’s very straightforward. On another level, it’s a little bit more complex. Obviously it involves a lot of musicians. The simple aspect is we don’t need any special staging lighting, all of that, but we do need time to rehearse. So typically what will happen. For example, I’m getting to New York in six weeks time to do a big event in a ballroom there, I will arrive the night before I will rehearse the orchestra in the morning from 11 till one, two hours in the space.

Dominic Alldis (11:11): Then during lunch, you know, the, I’m sorry, after lunch, the delegates will come back. They walk into a room and they find an orchestra surprise. That’s a big surprise. So there’ll be like, you know, 18, 19 hundred chairs set up for our guests. They walk in, we’re all looking fabulous and they have this marvelous experience for 90 minutes followed by perhaps another 45 minute of debrief without the orchestra. That’s a typical event. And very often that might be part of a one week training and development program, or it might be a two day or one or two day sort of special event, but let’s be frank, you know, this is a special event. And it’s a privilege. And you know, it obviously costs more than, you know, some events ’cause you’re involving a lot of musicians, but you know, that’s the thing to think about.

Dominic Alldis (12:00): And then of course, whether it’s a jazz band or a string quartet or different, and then there various other events we do where we have both the jazz band and a string quartet to talk about the different cultures, the jazz culture versus a classical culture. So there are a range of things, but you know, I guess the point to get over here is, it’s not hugely complex in as far as we kind of need maybe two hours preparation. But you know, there are obviously options to do with lighting and sound particularly for the jazz. But, anyway, obviously I could go on and talk more about that, but gives you an idea.

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (12:36): Yeah. Yeah, totally. And then what about your story in terms of where you got started? You know, key points, you know, key moments that really cause, you know, made things work for you perhaps just talk us through that.

Dominic Alldis (12:49): Okay. Well for my life story in a minute.

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (12:52): Go on.

Dominic Alldis (12:53): I come from a classical music background. My father was a conductor, my mother, a violinist, in my teen years, I rebelled and got into jazz.

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (13:01): Wild magic.

Dominic Alldis (13:02): Shocking. Yeah. And then, you know, through my early twenties, I was a professional jazz musician in Paris then in London. And then in my late twenties, I got very interested in teaching jazz to classical pianists. And then I got very interested also in composing and then I got into conducting my own projects. And then out of the blue, about 23 something years ago, a friend asked me, would I like to give a talk to some business executives about who I am, what I do both as a pianist and a composer and teacher and I so enjoyed it, found it so interesting. And from that point forward, I started my company and we started looking around for opportunities and it just went from there really. So it’s been, been phenomenally successful. But, yeah, so I’m a musician, primarily. I’m somebody who talks about music. I don’t talk about business directly, but, and I think that’s also really important it’s to be authentic. It’s not for me to be telling business people to how to run their businesses. What I can do is show them our world and make it relevant to their world. And I think that is the power of metaphor. And obviously, you know, I’ve had a lot of experience doing that.

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (14:20): And can I, and looking back, cause I was saying, I’m totally aware you give these sort of talks all all over the world. Is there any real sort of standout event that you’ve done? You look, you look back on saying, wow, that was just put together beautifully. It really worked. And you know, that was like the ideal version of what it is that you’re putting across.

Dominic Alldis (14:43): Gosh. Well, I’m gonna slightly sidestep your question sure. To say that, I feel one of the real privileges of what I do is in a way trying to create the same kind of event in different cultures. So for example, imagine, you know, once in Shanghai working with a Chinese orchestra with people who primarily live and work in that world and seeing how they respond to this experience. And then a month later you’re in Bogota or in Buenos Aires doing the same event. Another culture, another approach, then you’re in New York, then you’re in Paris, then you’re in, you know, Cape Town and every one of these wonderful destinations and what I found, so moving is the enthusiasm and passion. All of these people have for what they do. And they bring a unique quality and indeed the people who are invested in that have a very particular culture and approach.

Dominic Alldis (15:45): And I’m always just, chuffed in the way and taken aback by just how interesting it is. And the thing about it also is that I’m surprised how there are so many new things that keep on emerging. Things I would never have thought of that come out of these discussions. You think you’ve heard it all and then somebody has a fascinating observation, something they’ve seen happening in the orchestra or the jazz or whatever. And I think to myself, my goodness, I never thought of that. And isn’t that amazing?

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (16:17): Yeah, yeah.

Dominic Alldis (16:17): You know, all these years later you think you you’ve got it all taped and then you find that there’s still more to learn.

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (16:22): And again, any of those sort of things that people have come back with that have shown a fresh light on an existing situation, as they say, that makes you look at it in, from, in a bleak way. I think Schiffenhaus used to talk about doesn’t it. The, his term, you know, the big thing is to not invent or create something new it’s to see things from a new perspective.

Dominic Alldis (16:43): Interesting. Yeah. Makes complete sense.

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (16:45): Okay. And what about, you mentioned sort of cultural differences? Are there any, I wouldn’t say stereotypical, but are there any particular sort of standout differences? So you are, you were saying, so you are in Beijing or you’re in Bogota, or you’re in New York. Is there a different way that those audiences react that makes you think all right. Okay. We’re going back there next month. This is how we expect it.

Dominic Alldis (17:11): Yeah. I mean, on two levels, I mean, you know, one is, for example, you might be in a Latin environment and there’s just this massive passion, you know, and just everything’s done from the heart. So what am I there to do as the conductor, as the leader of the orchestra, I’m there to bring some discipline, some precision, some, you know, some silence, some, you know, order in a way, but there’s no shortage of passion. Now you could be in another environment where it’s extremely disciplined and correct and precise, but it’s just not alive. It’s just not reaching people. It just doesn’t have that warmth and passion. So you’re trying to bring that out and finding ways to get that out of the ensemble. Now, I don’t think that’s that different to probably some of the kinds of issues that happen for CEOs of large organizations that are having to deal with those kinds of issues. And I’m sort of using my experience, my emotional intelligence and what have you to try and address those kinds of issues.

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (18:19): Okay. So, and just moving on from the point of view of what’s coming up for you. So I know you mentioned New York is, on the, sort of on the, a fairly brief horizon, any other events that are coming up or issues that are already gonna be

Dominic Alldis (18:34): Yeah. Well, gosh, I’m going to Washington in about four weeks time to speak to an organization called Source America. That is all about bringing people with disabilities into the workplace. There are gonna be 900 people in the audience. That’s a big event with some local jazz musicians. So I’m very much looking forward to that. Then a few weeks later, I’m back in New York for a big American law firm doing the orchestral event. Then I have my regular visits to Columbia Business School. And WPP is a very important client of mine. And the other thing I tell you, so I have a jazz trio. And, we are doing about 10 concerts this year, including Petworth Festival, Newbury Spring Festival. And different places. So I’m very, very excited about that. And we are recording a new album in April, so we’ve got two dates book to record the next CD. So I’m very active as a performing musician as well.

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (19:33): Fantastic. Petworth and almost stamping ground. I went to school there, so they’re

Dominic Alldis (19:37): Oh, no way.

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (19:39): Fantastic. Okay. So, I’m aware by the way of times, I know, again, you have an event today, a busy amount, which is fantastic. So just to, sort of, you know, cover this off and to finish off, are there any sort of key takeaway points you’d like to really get across to the Speakers Associates audience, wherever they may be in Middle East or the States or Asia or whatever, in terms of precisely what it is for, a listener who may not be, have been familiar with you before this podcast, that exactly why it is that using your approach is gonna really bring something different and vibrant to really bring their event to life.

Dominic Alldis (20:20): Well, I would say that if you start from the premise that there is value in getting people to stop using the usual business jargon, to talk about the issues they talk about. And to embrace a different vocabulary, what might that vocabulary be? Well, you know, I’m very open to the idea that, you know, you might be using sports metaphors or, you know, as I said, drama and whatever else, but if at some point you come to music, you just think about music and its universality as a language. The fact that you can have an audience of people from all over the world that will respond to sound, and the emotional impact of sound that is right away, a very, how can I say unifying, and inclusive way of bringing people together. So if you accept that as a premise, then you might think about what kind of event might one be able to deliver that could engage people in a meaningful way. And then of course I can offer various options, whether it’s a keynote speech, or it’s a sort of an event with an orchestra or jazz musicians, classical musicians, whatever. And of course there are logistical budget issues to do with that. And, you know, it’s easier in some parts of the world than others to find an orchestra, for example. So, I mean, that’s also a bit of a factor, but I think that is, probably the best way to give you a summation if you like, of the issues concern.

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (21:54): Well, absolutely intriguing. So I’ve gotta say, so, you know, Dominic Alldis, jazz musician and conductor who runs innovative business development and leadership courses. Thank you.

Dominic Alldis (22:05): You’re most welcome.

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (22:09): Thank you for listening to The Speakers Show Podcast. Please leave a rating on iTunes. We’d really appreciate it. And also be great if you could subscribe to the podcast itself. You’ll find it also on Google podcasts, SoundCloud, or your favorite podcast app. Thank you.

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Sean Pillot de Chenecey speaker

Sean Pillot de Chenecey

Foresight strategist, author and podcast host Sean Pillot de Chenecey is an inspirational speaker, who’s also consulted for some of the world’s biggest brands.

Sean has a very deep level of knowledge regarding the genuine issues impacting brands from a cultural, social and business perspective.

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