Innovation, breakthroughs, stellar sales, growth, strategic leaps; we yearn for those moments when it all comes together. Whether it’s a scientist who through years of observation, in an instant, spots what is now the obvious solution or the writer who has conducted painstaking historical research to author the masterpiece; or the sports team that has practiced day after day after day; they all yield to something in common – listening with others.
Some will argue that the breakthrough doesn’t require others’ participation; that the discovery comes in a moment in time as someone peers through the microscope. And yes, there may be a person who first saw it, but it did not happen in a vacuum. Breakthroughs occur when the sum total of many people’s work and contributions over the years come together. The scientist spent years reading, studying, and assimilating the work of others to come to the next logical conclusion. The artist studies the gifts of others, their techniques, and use of color and light, which influences their own gift. The orator masters words, intonation, and presence after being schooled in or observing how to put it all together to great affect.
A recent tribute to Marvin Hamlisch, one of the greatest modern composers of our time, provided insights into the moments of creation. Not only could he take others’ masterpieces and make them his own, but he yearned for the next composition that would touch the hearts of the listener. His early smash success with The Chorus Line was one of his most treasured experiences; something he sought to recreate throughout his life. The joy was not just in the final product, but in the peak collaborative experience. If you looked carefully at each photo during the musical’s conception, there was a common thread in each of the still shots. Someone was intensely listening to someone else. It was palpable even in the grainy black and white images.
While the magical moment is often attributed to a person throughout history, no one is successful in designing the magic without others. If you are feted as a leader, you must have had partners; (my bias away from the hierarchical and traditional use of “followers.”) It’s why you often hear someone who is clearly a hero say, “I only did what anyone in my position would have done.” Sometimes, it’s because the person was trained to respond in that capacity. Other times, it’s extreme modesty. In all cases, there is a recognition that circumstances connect us one to the other at all times; that it’s listening throughout our lives and collaborating with others that creates the magic….that no person stands alone and separate from others in accomplishment.
When the “leader” leaves a team, that’s when you learn whether innovation and creativity can be sustained long-term. Has the collaborative bug infected the group at the cellular level? Have they mastered listening to one another? Have they learned that conflict is not required to be a source of frustration, but when used properly, is the genesis of future invention? Do they seek to learn and understand from one another? Do they appreciate their individual gifts and what they bring to the table? Do they listen intently first and then contribute; designing together and assuming the best of each other?
Do some have undeniable gifts which seem to stream directly from the heavens? Of course! We can reel off their names in profession after profession. And there is a huge “BUT” that accompanies these gifts. Putting arrogance aside, most will share who showed them the path to even greater excellence, helped them master their gift, learn when to modulate it and when to let it soar to new heights; who kept them from over-delivering in a way that minimizes the talent by looking like showing off instead of capturing others and lifting everyone up.
Even the most gifted know that the magic is created in collaboration. In the end, designing at the greatest heights requires subduing the ego, serving others, and incorporating those into the process who can elevate what appears to be a breakthrough to a plane of excellence previously unknown.
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