Leadership in a New Key

Creating Possibilities in a Complex World

A Leadership Retreat near Toronto February  15th to 17th 2012 (Download the brochure)

Michael Jones


The ‘key’ unlocks the doorway to new possibilities. The‘note’ creates the tonal atmosphere for these new possibilities to be received and understood. When the key and the note sound together they result in an inner music, a song that can be heard not just by the intellect, but also by the body, the mind and the heart.


We are entering a time when the primary leadership challenges are not technical but transformational  – a time when leaders to succeed will need to reach beyond their technical and strategic skills to connect with the inner music of their own imagination. As such we are on the threshold of a new leadership story. As our organizations and communities struggle with complex discontinuities and disruptive change it is becoming increasingly clear that leaders cannot apply the same strategies they used to create their current environment to   change them.

To create this new story will involve a shift from the formalities that characterize traditional hierarchical structures to creating communities of engagement and aliveness in which each can peruse their own leadership-learning journey in ways that are aligned with the organizations core mission and purposes.

This will include an understanding of  the regenerative practices of dialogue, reflection, listening and respect as core principles for taping into the organizations collective intelligence. Not only will tapping into this intelligence contribute to creating an environment that recognizes each persons individual strengths and gifts, it also creates a supportive environment in which the seeds of these gifts and aspirations may find fertile ground to take root and grow.

A basic premise for Leadership in a New Key is that leaders can reach beyond doing things differently or doing different things based on conserving the past or sustaining what they already know to creating the future based upon what they collectively imagine and want to create together.  To achieve this higher aspiration leaders need to be present enough with themselves for the future to come in. That is, to not only do things differently but to see differently. To be the kind of leader who can proceed boldly into the future sensing what is needed in the moment without relying upon a clearly defined long term strategy, plan or goal.

In this context to learn from the future involves a fundamental realignment in how we think of our mental models and institutions. We need to adjust our attention from learning from the ‘outside in’ to learning from the ‘inside out’ through asking not only what do we think and how do we act as leaders but to consider more fundamentally; where do we lead from.

To meet this challenge we need to step back to  ask; as a leader what am I uniquely called to do?   To listen and truly hear the answer to this question is a call not to action but to stillness- to quiet the mind in order to sense into the places where our deepest calling may be fulfilled. This involves connecting with and trusting the authority of one’s own inner wisdom. It also involves writing a new story of possibility   – one that helps the leader discover their own unique voice and a path to fulfilling their deepest destiny in bringing their gift to the world.

When we engage in this learning journey we not only plan our future, we enter into a conversation with and become a living embodiment of it. The power of leading through conversations is that speaking and listening about the questions that truly matter amplifies our ability to see possibilities that we could not see or realize on our own. From this new perspective we will always have enough ideas and innovative resources to create our possible future in the midst of the confusing and complex world that lies ahead.

In this context artistic experiences   including music art, poetry, conversation and reflection deepen a leader’s capacity for creating possible futures through learning to sense and make meaning of the subtle forces around them.  Listening into the spaces between the notes becomes an essential orientation for leading effectively and wisely in uncertain times.

The Leadership – Learning Journey


Leadership is a journey, not a goal.

In the absence of detailed charts to map our way we will need to learn to be ‘way finders’ again – capable of accessing the ancient wisdom of our past. This wisdom once taught us how, without the aid of chronometers and other navigational and technical aids   – to find our way across hundreds of miles of open uncharted sea guided only by the subtle but accurate reading of the winds, clouds, light, stars, sun and waves including the complex movement of currents beneath the boat’s hull.

We cannot go back entirely to this early time – but we can retrieve the quality of attention developed then to find our way now – and in so doing discover how together we can create the possible future that we could not envision or achieve on our own.

In contrast to more formal teacher led learning environments Leadership in a New Key is structured as an inquiry into possibilities that reach beyond our current organizational and leadership practices. The spirit of the gathering is captured in the question – What more can my leadership is? Our unfolding exploration will focus on expanding and enhancing our individual and organizational awareness, sharpening the sense of our personal and organizational identity, and developing the critical communication skills necessary to enable organizational learning and the creativity necessary to meet new challenges and create the possible future we would all like to be part of.

To cross the threshold from the old to the new story is a learning journey, not a goal.  The journey begins with The Call in which we ask; what are we uniquely called to do?  This is followed by The Adventure in which we ask; Where is home and fertile ground for my gifts to grow? The third stage in The Return in which we awaken to new possibilities through creating new stories of commitment, renewal and change.

Paradoxically our current mindsets which often value absolute truth and certainty can inhibit the deep listening and ability to see the world in different ways which this journey entails. Someone once said;, “if your cup were already filled, you would have to pour something out before you can add anything new.”

To embark on this learning journey something of the old must give way to take on something new. Leadership in a New Key will be exploring ideas that will challenge existing and traditional mindsets that have dominated business and community thinking for over a century. The growth challenge for leaders now will be how to maintain an appreciative and positive attitude of inquiry, respecting what they already know and have been doing, while opening to new possibilities.

Therefore, in contrast to traditional leadership development programs, this experience is structured not as formal ‘book learning’ sessions but as an inquiry into possibilities for leaders that goes beyond current theories about leadership. Because this dialogue is designed as an inquiry and a learning journey, we cannot know beforehand exactly how it will unfold.  A tightly scripted and controlled agenda would not fairly model the highly changeable adaptive and chaotic environment that now represents the leader’s real world.

What we can be assured of is that this leadership dialogue will create fertile ground for leaders now and into the future to enable them to create the kind of culture of possibility that they most deeply aspire to lead.

To learn more please write to Michael at michaeljones@rogers.com or check the  brochure left side bar on his home page at www.pianoscapes.com

Follow Michael Jones on Pianoscapes1 Channel on YouTube.

Dear Friends,
Recently I have been posting new video segments on The Pianoscapes 1 Channel on You Tube – to help you navigate, here is brief menu and theme summary of what you can find there. Just click on each video thumbnail to watch or click on the underlined links to go directly to YouTube.

The Heart of Wood Buffalo Leadership Awards Ceremony: Parts 1 through 4 — An Overview
This past June The University of Waterloo Nonprofit Sector Link and the Suncor Foundation came together to work on the Wood Buffalo Capacity Building Project (WBCBP). This project is designed to improve the quality of living for all citizens of The Region of Wood Buffalo. I was guest speaker for the first Heart of Wood Buffalo Community Leadership Awards Ceremony (Videographer Sunshine Chen)

Part 1: Michael Jones in Performance — Pianoscapes
In this first segment I perform a musical interpretation of my original composition Pianoscapes. Pianoscapes was my first recording and the first release from Narada Records. Pianoscapes would go to serve as a benchmark for the emerging genre of contemporary instrumental music.

Part 2: The Heart of Creativity — Stories and Commentary
In this segment I share stories and commentary on my early influences in finding my own voice as a musician and leadership educator. I refer specifically to the influences in music from my grandmother and her love for the open skies and limitless spaces of the heartland of the Midwest where she came from – and in leadership from my grandfather who was one of the co- founders of the University of Waterloo based on an educational philosophy of co-operative education. I speak of how his early experiences of place in rural Iowa gave him a vision for how a university could serve as fertile soil for seeding a community and ‘technological ecosystem’ for the future.

Part 3: The Heart of Creativity — Stories and Commentary Continued
In this segment I share how as a young piano student growing up in small town performing the music of Elvis Presley is what ‘saved my life’ But it also set me on a path of seeking approval through playing other people’s music and many years past before I found the confidence to explore my own music again.

Part 4 – Michael Jones in Performance – After the Rain
In this closing segment I invite the audience to close their eyes and listen for the sounds of thunder, rain, wind and the sparkle of light on water as I perform an interpretation of After the Rain

Michael Jones — in Conversation
Dialogue and Artistry: What Leaders and Organizations Can Learn From the Imagination — Wasan Island The Breuninger-Stiftung Foundation
This past summer I was invited to present a two-day session on leadership, dialogue and artistry to The Architects for Learning – a group of international consultants who travel to meet teachers around the world and also return each year to the beautiful conference centre on Wasan Island in the Muskoka Lakes Region of Central Ontario, Canada hosted by the Breuninger-Stiftung Foundation. In this wide-ranging conversation with Christiane Zarfasse, Founder of the Architects for Learning Group, we reflect on the themes from my presentation and how creative artistry needs to be integral to creating a story of leadership that can shape our future. (Videographer Jan Betz)

Finding Voice – The Power of Story
York Harbor Maine – Dialogos Inc Leadership For Collective Intelligence
The art of story telling is not found only in the accuracy of stories, but in their vibrancy – the sense that the spirit of the story lives freshly in the storyteller with each telling. This highlights an emerging capacity for leaders which is ‘narrative competence.’ Michael shares his own stories with a group of senior leaders from diverse organizations including: The World Bank, BP Oil, The US Forest Service and The International Monetary Fund and others. (Videographer Jon Gibson)

Playing Rain – The Power of Place Part 1 & Playing Rain – The Power of Place Pt 2
Mount Madonna Ca. Chautauqua 2010
Peter Block a widely acclaimed leadership educator and writer says; The arts have a job to do no matter what the purpose of our gathering. The most businesslike, intellectual or problem-solving gathering needs an open mind, an open heart and a trusting network of relationships to achieve its purpose. Participating in art does this. In this presentation at the Chautauqua gathering at Mt Madonna California on transforming leadership – Michael reflects on how ‘playing rain’ … and wind and the beauty of nature… has inspired his own art and leadership.

Thanks and I hope you enjoy the videos — Michael


The Art of Innovation – Creating Cultures of Possibility   

Michael Jones



“ If we are going to make things in our lives we might as well make them beautiful”

Steve Jobs

In my blog Leading Artfully I explore the nexus between leadership, innovation and community through the context of artistic processes.   Recent domains I have been writing about include;

– The Art of Touch (June 2011)

– The Art of Impossibility (September 2011)

–  The Art of Place- Making (April 2011)

While these domains are clearly relevant to creative artistry, we may question their connections to leadership. That is until we read Walter Isaacson’s wonderfully insightful book on the life and work of Steve Jobs. Jobs’ focus was to bring together creative artistry with technology and this involved a shift from invention to innovation.  He was not interested in replication but regeneration.  And he worked tirelessly in the service of beauty and collaboration in order to bring to market original and innovative products that would transform the experience of the consumer – and change the world.

In this blog I explore the legacy of Steve Jobs as an artist in showing us how to create cultures of possibility in order to succeed in a complex world.

The Art of Touch


I want tactile experience to set the toneSteve Jobs


What lies at the heart of the experience of touch, is delight.  From his earliest days at Apple, Steve Jobs was obsessed with delighting the customer with the joyful use of the product itself. He loved finely designed and crafted things like Ansel Adams prints and Bosendorfer pianos. He displayed a Bosendorfer hand crafted grand in the main foyer of the Apple offices.  This served as a daily reminder that they were not only engineers but designers and craftsman. Jobs wanted to remind employees daily to see their work as art and to carry this aesthetic throughout the flow of all of the phases of the design and manufacturing process.

Jobs had a vision that he wanted to marry together arts and great design that expressed the elegance of human touch  – and even romance.  What was most important for him was not making money but putting the quest for beauty back into the stream of history and of human consciousness as much as he could.

The ease of use, the simplicity of design, the flow of operation – all these and   more lay at the heart of Steve Job’s vision for creating not only functional but artful innovation This went beyond asking what the customer wanted because the customer themselves may not have thought that this was possible. So in place of focus groups, benchmarking and market surveys, his mission was to surprise the customer with innovations that they could not have dreamed possible in advance.

As a musician I love all kinds of music. music. I was accustomed to carrying five pounds of CD’s everywhere I traveled. I could not imagine that one day there might be a device that could carry many times that capacity which I could operate with the ease of touch and toggle lightly with my thumb as I held it in the palm of my hand. The key to creating this interface with the consumer is not strategy, but embodiment.

Communicating through touch invites an empathy with the other so that we can connect with the ‘felt sense of the experience’ itself. The simplicity of design, the ease, flow and intuitive logic of operations, the tactile pleasure and delight of the touch screen – all of these and more invite us to enjoy the natural and intuitive flow of experience itself with                       the confidence in knowing that each element was true to itself and couldn’t be more or less than what it is. This iterative movement of going over it time and time again in order to reduce complexity to its most essential and simplest form that is at the core of the art of innovation.

The Art of The Impossible


The journey is the reward  – Steve Jobs


Most dreams and aspirations that really matter seem impossible to do.  For Steve Jobs the journey to making the impossible possible was its own reward.  And it worked because they brought the fullness of their gifts to their work and they truly loved what they did.

The idea of cobbling together inventions from many diverse sources and transforming these into ground-breaking innovations and creating in the moment, this is what awakens the human spirit and enables us to tap into something that we often don’t understand and so cannot explain.

Widely acclaimed pianist Keith Jarrett reflecting on his recent improvisational concert last April in Rio on a ‘not perfect piano at all’ said in a recent NPR interview with Guy Fraz;

“It’s never the same… I have no idea, moment to moment, how to prepare for these things, either. What actually happens is so much in the moment, so much of a nanosecond. And I know a lot of people probably are skeptical about whether they really are always improvised. I myself even feel skeptical though I know they were.” (1)

Yet Steve Jobs reminded others that if it does not appear impossible it is not worth doing.  The only projects that are truly worthwhile are those that cannot be fulfilled within the span of our own lifetime.  For the truly artful innovator they often have no idea if their product will succeed. Too often we settle for incremental steps where replication and invention serve as substitutes for true innovation. We are content to play someone else’s music rather that to truly create something uniquely our own.

The Art of Place- Making


I want to create in that place between where engineers are working in tandem with designers   – Steve Jobs

Place is not an object or a thing- it is a power and presence  – that can inspire us to achieve what seems impossible to do.


When Keith Jarrett reflected that he did not know how to prepare for a concert he added;

When I get to the place, I try to absorb the culture that I’m in, listen to the language, think about where I am, and that’s about the only preparation that might be important, it was obvious when I listened to the CD (Rio ECM Records 2011 from his solo concert in Rio De Janeiro) that I was connecting to the culture. It wasn’t Holland, or Germany, or the States, or Japan — it was south of the equator. So that made me free of something, I think.”

Being rooted even temporarily to a place helps us achieve the impossible – it connects us to the ground of our own being and inspiration.

Steve Jobs was a student of place and place making. He believed that the right kind of building can do great things for the culture.  The simplicity of design flowed into the informal functionality of his living environment.  His most natural environment for innovation was a ‘skunkworks’ separate and apart from the main corporate operations where he could  – with the collaboration of a small creative team  – produce radically new product innovations.

The Macintosh was created in a modest building known as Texaco Towers several miles from the main offices in Cupertino. And Cupertino for Jobs was itself a place of significance. He describes how he got inspired by the history of El Camino Royal and how the royal road connected all 21 mission churches. He wanted to be a part of this history.

At Pixar they built a huge building around a central atrium that served as a ‘commons’ in that was designed to encourage spontaneous conversation and random encounters. If an environment doesn’t encourage this Jobs believed that you will lose a lot of innovation and magic that is sparked by serendipity.

But what perhaps mattered most to Jobs were the meetings that occurred in the place ‘in between’. Walter Isaacson in his biography of Jobs writes about how his heroes were people who could stand at the intersection of aesthetics and technology. It was building these bridges that Jobs was most passionate about and wanted to do.

Isaacson indicates that from his previous biographies of Benjamin Franklin and Albert Einstein, the creativity that occurs when the feeling for both humanities and sciences is combined in one strong personality will be key to creating innovative economies in the 21 century.

(To read more about other strong leaders like PepsiCo Chairwoman, Indra Nooyi who work at this nexus between the humanities, business and technology – see my blog Thinking Outside the Building; Leading From the Space Between https://pianoscapes.wordpress.com/2010/12/)

Creating Cultures of Possibility 

If there is one common thread that runs through all of Steve Job’s work it is that products come and go. What matters most is creating environments – cultures of possibility – that reward the imagination. Ultimately this is the most important thing. And these environments stand out to the extend that they embrace a language that awakens the imagination. What awakened the imagination at Apple were words like touch and tone, simplicity, intuition and ease, beauty and aesthetics, dreams, aspirations, embracing uncertainty and making the impossible, possible.

The future will bring ideas, careers and possibilities for which we have no language to describe. Steve Jobs was giving us this language. It is the language of the artist. Steve Jobs was an artist and what he gave his voice to will continue to transform our world.



Walter Isaacson Steve Jobs Simon And Schuster (Canada) October 2011

Michael Jones Artful Leadership, Awakening the Commons of the Imagination, Bloomington Indiana Trafford, 2006

Roger Martin, Dean, Rodman School of Business, and University of Toronto:  Canada, like Steve Jobs, should zero in on innovation Toronto, Globe and Mail, Report on Business November 21, 2011

Guy Raz in Conversation with pianist Keith Jarrett Keith Jarrett Alone in Rio and Ready to Fail    All Things Considered   NPR November 14, 2011 http://www.publicbroadcasting.net/…/Keith.Jarrett.Alone.In.Rio.And.Ready…

About Michael Jones


A leadership speaker, pianist composer and creative facilitator, Michael Jones is widely recognized as a thought leader who integrates creative artistry in his presentations and workshops on personal transformation and organizational learning.  He is the author of Artful Leadership and Creating an Imaginative Life and has composed and produced fifteen recordings of solo piano and ensemble work that have been distributed worldwide. You can visit his web site to read other Leading Artfully blogs as well as featured essays, videos and music at www.pianoscapes.com




The Art of the Impossible; Being at Home in an Uncertain World 

Michael Jones


Perhaps all things that really matter to us seem impossible. When I am improvising in a piano concert or giving a leadership talk or facilitating a group I sometimes think… this is impossible.

Celebrated opera singer Susan Graham, in conversation with Globe and Mail writer  Robert Everett- Green says; ” The reason I went into opera in the first place was that it seemed impossible to me. You have to  learn languages, master 400 years of musical style, create characters who may have lived hundreds of years ago. How could anyone do that, and memorize all that, and sing for three hours and not collapse.” ( Globe and Mail, Toronto, September 22, 2011)

And it is impossible if we believe it must come from my own will alone. Something needs to come out of a place we don’t know about and have little or no control over.

It is this ‘something’ that transforms moments of effort into hours of free play.

In this essay I explore how we may tap into this unknown place as we engage the art of the impossible and learn to be at home in an uncertain world.


As I watch the maple leaves outside the window turn a fiery red and the days shorten, I also turn to writing again. Thanks for responding with your many heartfelt thoughts, stories and reflections to these blogs. I hope you enjoy this one and,  as always,  I look forward to hearing from you.

With appreciation



All things that really matter to us are impossible. You know they say that (poetry) translation is impossible. Sure it is. We do it because it’s necessary, not because it is possible.

Poet WS Merwin Poet Laureate

These words from recently appointed Poet Laureate WS Merwin brought to mind a conversation with  David, a senior leader as well as a consulting client, colleague and aspiring pianist.

“When you sit at the piano- how do you play?” He asked

His question seemed impossible to answer – like a centipede being asked how it walks!

“When I try to play the piano…” David continued, “ I need to know which chord I am playing and which chord comes next. I feel very slow and awkward.”

As David spoke I recalled my own struggles transforming a few seconds of spontaneous flow into minutes and perhaps hours of free play. What I enjoyed most was weaving back and forth between composed music to freely created spontaneous improvisations that flowed through my hands in ways that seemed both easy and complex at the same time.

“How am I doing this?”  I would ask myself. And of course as soon as I thought it   – this experience of spontaneous free play came to an abrupt stop.

“It is not caution but a wise blindness” that enables us to tap into this deep current of free – flowing spontaneous expression  –German Poet Rainer Maria Rilke once wrote.

But it is difficult to embrace this ‘wise blindness’ when each musical note is deliberate and thought out in advance.

With Rilke’s words in mind, I invited David to join me on the piano bench.

“Lets play together for a few moments”. I said.  My words had hardly left my mouth when I felt David tense his shoulders and arms.

“This is not a performance and there is no need for caution” I reminded him.  “This is an experiment… there are no wrong notes…  it is just a work in progress.”

Then I asked him to play, emphasizing that he not try to do anything special. His shoulders dropped a little. But I could tell by the way his fingers stiffly contacted the keys that this was not an easy thing for him to do.

He played from memory, his eyes focused in front of him as if there was music on the stand. The complicated musical structures he worked with did restrict his movement. Ideally the structures we work with should support rather than impeded the natural and organic flow of energy at the instrument… or  with anything else we may do.

If I  had one gift to offer David that evening, perhaps it would be to help him feel the music instead of thinking about it.

As Poet DH Lawrence once wrote;

“We live in an excessively conscious age, we know so much, we feel so little.” 

So as I considered how to share this gift with David, I also considered how this  worked for me.

Being at Home in an Uncertain World.

From a young age I discovered that to feel the music and sustain its spontaneity involved being attentive to what felt most alive and  most engaged my  imagination while I played. This involved learning to be at home with the uncertainties within myself and within my immediate world. To achieve this also involved a certain forgetting of oneself – that is, of stepping out of my own way   so that the inner music could flow unimpeded by my conscious and deliberate thought processes. And this occurred very naturally when the aliveness I felt caused me to become completely absorbed in what I was doing.

This aliveness could  lead me creating a bold new musical idea or something as simple as the subtle beauty of discovering a new turn of phrase within a familiar theme. Whatever it was, my work was to receive and accept it with humility, and learn to create as best I could with the materials close at hand.

This complete absorption in the work itself   helped me realize that so much of what we create, in whatever we are doing – leadership, teaching, living or art – comes from a place unknown to us.  It is natural to feel uncertain because the insights we need are not always visible to the rational mind. To discover them we must trust our own innate sense of aliveness. And our aliveness comes when we accept a certain humility with regards to what we know and can control and what we cannot.

Trusting What We Feel

And this may also be the key to engaging the art of impossibility. That is, to be open not only to what we know, but to what we feel.  In the same vein we may ask ourselves what called us to leadership or to teaching or to art in the first place. This first flame of attraction connects us to something deep and visceral inside – something that is saying to us- I am doing this not because it is possible but because it is necessary – this is what I came for – this is what I am here to do.

To help David reconnect with this first call of attraction I suggested that he close his eyes and imagine he was re – discovering the piano keys for the first time. Just go with the feeling of this – and let the sounds and music take the lead. David hesitated for a moment as he experienced what Rilke described as the  “exhilaration and terror of that first moments’ surrender” and then David really started to play. His transformation was a joy to watch.

When our primary reference is sight then our attention tends to go out to things that are external to our experience  – that is we see our world, including notes and chords, as   separate and discrete.  When we play from feeling, our ears listen and take in all of our surroundings all at the same time. So as David closed his eyes his point of reference shifted from the parts to the primacy of the whole of the experience – something in which he could feel and hear the flow of the music unfolding all at once.

I noticed it in his face first. The lines in his forehead relaxed, then his jaw dropped. Then I also noticed how lightly his fingers were moving across the keys. His music which had been so calculated and measured before, was now filled with subtly and expression.

It was some time before David brought his music to a natural conclusion – it was as if he did not want stop.  When he finished he just sat there for a time. And when he did look in my direction his eyes were bright and sparkling –  “ That was impossible!” he said.  Then he asked; “Could I do the same thing again?

“ Not exactly the same” I replied. As the great composer Gustav Mahler once said;

“we cannot repeat a state of mind”

When we engage the art of impossibility we draw our authority not from a body of content and expertise from past memory but from a living process of thinking and feeling as it is made in the moment – that is from an inner process that includes our doubts, perplexities questions aspirations and fears.  The exhilaration and fear we experience is a natural response to the realization that what we are creating is not from our own will alone but from a living process of feeling and experience as it is made in the moment  – a process in which new insights come forth afresh in our speaking, leading teaching and playing as we need it from a source unknown to us – and not a moment before.

This is the challenge for everyone now – with the great uncertainties that lie before us – we need to dig deep for a fresh response.  This includes the willingness to act even when we don’t know what our actions may be. The performance we see ahead does seem impossible.  Improvising at the piano is impossible, speaking out of the moment, facilitating a group dialogue is impossible, leading a team or an organization is impossible.

And if  it is done in a way that is reliant solely on the script of notes and chords and how things have gone before then, yes it is impossible. But if we listen for the feeling of the moment and do what is uniquely ours to do, to do = then we may access that place that is usually invisible to us. That is our work….

To master the art of the impossible and  – in so doing – to achieve what we did not think it possible to do.


Poet WS Merwin in conversation with editor Sarah van elder in Yes Magazine August, 2011 Page 12f

Finding a Musical Intelligence  – Chopin and The Art of Touch

Michael Jones


Chopin may have been one of our first ‘ecologists’, a composer and inventor so deeply attuned to the sense of his inner and outer environment, that his music’s deep sensibility serves as a touchstone that can detect the most subtle of variances in sound, rhythm and pitch.

Michael Jones

A Story of Place

 This past weekend I facilitated a regional forum for community leaders on creating a new story of place. Upon reflecting on their own inspiration of place, many spoke of the power and beauty of nature and community. Others also spoke of the quality of place inside – that leadership is not only a question of how you lead – but also the place you lead from.

Coincidentally shortly after the forum a colleague who is giving a presentation on the ‘Musician Leader’ later this month wrote to ask;  “ What leadership competencies are generated when you spend a lifetime playing and creating music?  It’s becoming very important for educators to communicate the value of music education, not just for the purposes of increasing musical skill/talent, but other equally important qualities for work and life”

One of those values of a music education has been discovering a sense of place. And one of the touchstones that has connected me to the inner place I play from over a lifetime of piano practice has been the music of Frederic Chopin.

I was first introduced to Chopin by my music teacher who, one day suggested that I see a movie titled The Eddie Duchin Story. Eddie Duchin was a widely respected society pianist who opened and closed his engagements with the Chopin Nocturne in E flat minor. When I first heard it performed during the opening scenes I was completely entranced.  I was twelve at that time and I had never heard a piano sound this way before.  And when I listened again as it was performed with two pianos and four hands during the closing credits I was overcome with feeling – my eyes filled up with tears. As I left the theatre I could remember the magnificence of the sonority of the music and the resonance of each musical note.

 Chopin; A Deeply Personal Adventure

Chopin was a student of place.  His preference for conveying the natural flow and organic form of music revealed how in touch he was with his environment. This intimacy with the natural world was such that the refined articulation of the shapes and surfaces of his world were fully embodied in his own inner musical articulations.  He lived in an empathic resonance with his surroundings.

Not only was he a profound composer– he was also a daring innovator and designer – one whose prophetic harmonies drew succeeding generations of composers and pianists under his spell.  In this context Chopin may have been one of our first ‘ecologists’ a composer and inventor so deeply attuned the sense of his inner and outer environment, that his music’s deep sensibility served as a touchstone that could detect the most subtle of variances in sound, rhythm and pitch.

While my lessons involved precisely following the notes and chords recorded on the page – and learning how to interpret the mood and tempo prescribed by the composer – with Chopin so much more is left for the performer to interpret regarding the structure of sound and space. His interest was always to encourage the student to be guided by his or her own innate sensibility regarding how the music should flow.

Most significant perhaps is that at a time when Chopin’s contemporaries were offering virtuostic displays of prodigious speed and technique, Chopin’s concept of technique was based on sonority. The mastery of the piano’s tonal resources was for him the necessary precursor of virtuosity. To perform Chopin therefore involves exploring all the many ways that a note might sound so that as a pianist you become fully literate in all the tonal possibilities available at your fingertips.

So for all that Chopin was revered and admired in the world, his music was always a deeply personal musical adventure, the articulation a personal touchstone to which everything else could be measured and understood. The seeing, touching and hearing of the music opens an inner world in which new qualities of musicality can be felt.

Finding A Musical Intelligence 

 This may lead us to ask; how do we find this musicality?   In the years that followed, I discovered that to master Chopin’s language of touch involved less focus on performing from the wrists and the forearms and instead allowing the sound to begin in the center of my back.  To accomplish this I needed to keep my attention on the looseness of the upper arms and shoulders so that the elbows could always float free. By shifting my orientation so that the whole body was engaged, including my hands, back, shoulders and lungs, I developed a physical and embodied relationship with the instrument. This enabled me to bring more color, contour and freedom so that the upper melodic notes could sing very much in the spirit of the Bel Canto line Chopin loved so much from Italian Operas such as Verdi. To find this singing line involved an inner and outer connection. This connection allowed me to develop a suppleness – (or Souplesse avant tout!  Chopin would say- Suppleness before everything was his pianistic motto) in the wrist action that gave me the flexibility in my hands to shape and bend the notes rather than strike, force or – in Chopin’s language – bash them. This was the worst of all offences in his mind.

This shift in orientation from playing from the wrists to playing from the whole body what not just piano technique but a way of living. It was an orientation to the piano that allowed me to more naturally move with the full weight of fingers along the keys creating both a depth of expression and a lightness of touch at the same time.  Chopin wanted each finger to find its distinctive character so that the player could expand the full range of their palette. This could not be accomplished if the player yielded to the equalizing the fingers – a common technique at the time. For Chopin the richness was found in the diversity of the finger weight, the rhythm and tone.

Ease- Chopin’s Trademark Prescription

He recognized that cultivating these differences through the movement of weight could not be achieved without ease. This was his trademark prescription – “ facilement!  He would say easily… easily.  Ease was at the core of his philosophy of piano technique.  With ease a pianist could convey the impression that they were playing with four hands, not just two.   Furthermore, when the sound originated from this sense of relaxation and ease then it could unfold freshly and naturally.  Then each could play according to their own need, he would emphasize.

The result of this shift in orientation is that with Chopin, you don’t strike the note. Rather you sink the full weight of your arms and shoulders into how you shape the sound so that you can create this warm singing tone.  In this context Chopin looked more for poise and grace in his students playing than for force or effort. Throughout his teaching it was the delicacy of the notes that took precedence over technical virtuosity. What he wanted his student to master above all was the ‘art of touch’

“Caress the keys, never force them,” he would say repeatedly.  And he always encouraged his students to mould each note with a velvet hand rather than striking it – it was as if the through immersing themselves in the depths of the piano that the instrument itself was transformed into something alive and responsive to the variability of weight and the expressiveness and intelligence of the hand.

In this context stiffness exasperated him. To find this ease he would say to his students; “Express as you feel…. I give you the full authority to do whatever you want; follow freely the ideal you have set for yourself and which you must feel within you”

Thus for Chopin simplicity and suppleness of the hand and body was the hardest thing but for him they were also the only thing.  No matter how complex, difficult or challenging the music, he always encouraged his students to approach it with grace and ease. The beautiful quality of sound he sought after could only be found by being relaxed at the keyboard. It was this that created the poetry in the sound. It was through the discipline of finding just the right word or image – and his music communicated a kaleidoscope of feelings, stories and images – that he tried to develop a language in which the quality of tone and touch always took precedence over speed and virtuosity.

Lying Under the Piano

Foremost in his mind was the concern that his students avoid the “mental numbness” that comes from too many hours of strenuous practice. Please, he would say – to ensure that the spirit of naturalness and simplicity is preserved, if you find yourself straining in your practice leave the piano alone, instead go for long walks, visit museums or read a good book.  It is this avoidance of stiffness and strain that goes to heart of Chopin’s teaching and composition.

Every pianistic challenge imaginable is found in the complexity and expressiveness of Chopin’s music and yet, at no time did he want his students to strain. Instead his ultimate goal was for them to connect to their inner music as a touchstone  – then, and only then, could they express this music as an intimate expression of their unique inspiration to the world.

Fifty years later I was a witness to the music of Chopin in a movie theatre for a second time. This time the movie was Impromptu with Judy Davis with Hugh Grant. It was set as a lovely period piece in the 1830’s outside Paris, France where Chopin and his companion George Sand are spending a warm Sunday afternoon on a country estate. Suddenly the rain pours down and they quickly retreat to the parlor were George Sand immediately lies under the piano (the only place where she would listen to Chopin play) and insists that he perform music that has the feeling of the rain and thunder outside.

Over the past twenty years many hundreds of people have also listened to my musical impressions of wind, rain and thunder in conferences, workshops and seminars. And   they have also closed their eyes and become immersed in sound, as they lay side by side under the piano much as George Sand did 150 years before.


 1.The opening correspondence was from Colin Funk who I have worked with as a faculty member in the Leadership Development Program at the Banff Centre when he was Director of The Leadership Lab. Colin has a contract with the National Arts Centre as a consultant for the Music Alive program (musician outreach to schools) and presenter/workshop facilitator for the Summer Institute where he is doing a presentation for the students and faculty on the “Musician Leader

2. Recently I also enjoyed an insightful conversation with author Peter Block and other artist colleagues as we explore a language that establishes connections between artistry, dialogue and community.  In my work with them I reflected on my formative experiences at the piano such as playing it as an orchestra, using all 88 keys and inventing musical soundtracks with nature that created a sense of music making as a sacred occasion – all these and more, laid an early foundation for creating transformational learning experiences for leaders through music in later years…more about this in future essays.


 Frederic The Great with Alan Walker, Jessica Duchen and Jeremy Siepmann in Chopin His Life, His Genius, His Legacy BBC Music Magazine February 2010 P 25 Bristol UK.

Chopin: Pianist and Teacher by Jean -Jacques Eigeldinger, edited by Roy Howat, translated by Krysia Osostowisc (1987) Copyright 1986 Cambridge University Press.

Art and Community; Creating Cultures of Place

Michael Jones


Several years ago I was a keynote speaker at a Celebrating Communities Conference in Atlantic Canada.  During the keynote I asked the group to share a story of a place where they experienced the greatest sense aliveness, vitality and connection. How did this connection to place shape how they thought about their leadership and their community now?

They reflected on finding common ground in their deep ties to land and sea and how these close ties to the wildness of nature instilled a resilience of spirit in their leadership and in their communities.

Since that conference I have been convening  further place – based conversations with leaders in communities and organizations. I have discovered that an intimate relationship with place helps us see  – and clear sight helps us create a new story of possibility rooted  in where we come from and who we want to be.

Thanks for visiting and I hope you enjoy reading this essay on place.


Creating Cultures of Place

We cannot talk about community without first talking about place – Peter Block

Place matters. While it is commonly believed that life’s greatest challenge is meaninglessness and the search for truth, perhaps it is uprootedness and the search for home.

Many have deep memories of how stories told by a crackling fire late at night came alive when cloaked in the richly nuanced specifics of the places in which the narrative unfolds.

Questions of identity, home, beauty and quality of place need to be in the forefront of our thinking now. Not only are they questions that inspire creative endeavors, these questions also revitalize economies and inspire leaders and the communities they lead.

Richard Florida, author of The Rise of the Creative Class said in a recent symposium; if the social and organizing unit of the industrial economy is the company, the organizing unit of the creative economy is place.

It is in the context of creating this new narrative that we are convening a community dialogue later this spring through the Muskoka Chautauqua Cultural Tourism Round Table on Creating Cultures of Place.  Drawing from the beauty of music and art and the generative power of stories and conversations, we expect to bring community, municipal and government  partners together to explore the richness of their heritage and how these gifts from the past can contribute to re imaging a new story for the future. This process of arts based creative place – making will include gathering together locally distinct stories of place from communities and schools – narratives that can be both displayed through art and spoken into the space in which our dialogue will occur.

We Are Between Stories Now

We are between stories now. The old story, the story that was given to us as part of the industrial economy is no longer effective. And the new story, which is ours to create, is not yet here.

Central to the new story is deepening our understanding and appreciation for the intimate affection we hold for a place and how this can serve as the foundation for animating a creative economy. And an engaged community is the most knowledgeable resource we have for creating stories for the future regarding the kind of place in which we want to live.

This community vision of place is made more vibrant when it is rooted in the identity and unique heritage and local wisdom of a particular region and locality. And engaged communities also understand the value that place- based conversations bring when considered in the broad context of the natural, built, creative and social environments that define its local and regional distinctiveness and future potential.

This leads us to ask; what makes a place, a place? However we define it, there is something in the presence of a place that leads us to feel more at home and more like ourselves.  Communities that can tap into this inspirational power of place are much better at re- imagining their possible future than those who see their priorities primarily in economic, financial or business terms.

Engaging in creative place – making gives us hope.  It leads us to feeling more alive, present, rooted and native born … more like ourselves.  It is as if something irreplaceable and distinct from the day-to-day reaches out and speaks to us about that which is most natural and deeply felt within ourselves.

A sense of place also speaks about those illusive qualities of authenticity, creativity and spontaneity, qualities that we most value in ourselves, but which are sometimes difficult to achieve.

Finally place matters because it helps us see. In a world were we are often taught what we should see, place helps us discover what we do see. As one senior leader said;” to clearly see our best possible future we also need to see our past – our forefathers created something that has endured through the passage of time- how can we learn from these roots?”

Creating A New Story of Place

In this respect, leaders who are place- based will be among those authoring the new story. They recognize that our communities are not at a loss for innovative ideas, what they do lack however is fertile ground for these seeds of possibility to take root and grow. They also appreciate that we need to know where we come from in order to see where we are going. In a turbulent world where there are no rules, no consensus and no clear way forward, if we have no place to stand we will lack the grounding to navigate wisely in a world with so many unknowns.

Place – making also preceeds place – naming. Conversations of place help us identity those ‘creative crucibles’ where different sectors, ideas and cultures meet at the intersections and where opportunities for heightened creative insight, partnerships and innovative activities can occur. Crucibles also give definition to a communities’ distinctive creative identity; Asheville North Carolina is the city of craft, Stratford Ontario and Ashland Oregon are the cities of Theatre and Festival, Branson Missouri is the community of ‘bottom up’ music venues.  In addition, place-based communities serve as incubators for growing future generations of great leaders- creative thinkers whose place has made them as much as they made the place they come from. In this context, we may think of Robert Frost and the apple orchards of New Hampshire, Henry David Thoreau and the rolling fields around Concord, Mass. and American poet and medical doctor William Carlos Williams and his home in the modest industrial lands around Rutherford, New Jersey.

By looking at place not only as something to return to, but also something to grow out from –orienting us to the future and not only the past; and by realizing that a place is not just an object or a thing, but a power and a presence, we can partner with place in a way that is itself deeply transformative, opening our hearts to the experience of beauty, aliveness and possibility.


The Creating Cultures of Place Forum continues the evolution of place-based work that I been engaged with  organizations and communities in recent years. This has included serving as a Steward with the Fetzer supported Power of Place Initiative and  co – convening The Powers of Place Forum hosted with  The Banff Centre Leadership Development last spring.

To learn more please see

The Soul of Place; Reflections on Place- Based Leadership– Michael Jones

Published in Tamarack Institute Community Newsletter Engage


The Muskoka Chautauqua Reading Circle which will follow The Creating Cultures of Place Forum


Creative Placemaking – Markusen and Gadwa supported by the National Endowment for the Arts


The Power of Place Initiative


The opening quote from Peter Block is from a personal conversation – Peter is author of many wonderful books including Community, The Structure of Belonging.


Transforming Leadership Through the Power of the Imagination

Michael Jones


There is so much that inspires the free flow of the music beyond the physical notes, a stream of  emergent creation which cannot always be anticipated or planned in advance , this is the gift in art, to be surprised  by our own work –   Michael Jones

In my last Leading Artfully Blog, I explored the idea that there is not one, but two dimensions of human experience. The Greeks called them mythos and logos. Both were essential and neither was considered superior to the other. They were not in conflict but complementary. Logos was the voice of reason and mythos the language of our felt life together. With the rise of the industrial economy we found ourselves in a world out of balance. Scientific logos quickly rose to dominance and our mythic and imaginative life fell into disrepute.

But perhaps we are on the threshold of crafting a renaissance in leadership practice—the challenges ahead are not technical but transformational. Letting go of our industrial age mindset will require not just intellectual understanding but the full power of the imagination.

Most of us, at a young age, have experienced the power of the imagination—we have tasted the sweet elixir of being set free and unconstrained—riding on the fresh wind, the doorway flying open wide and… ‘Life rushing in’.

As a friend said to me after reading the lines of the poem about the beast being caged behind the music bars….

“You don’t cage the animals do you? You dance with them!”

And it is true that as a pianist the melody I listened for was not only in the notes but also in the pauses, the tone, the rhythm, the feeling and the sensitivity of touch—the dance that lay in the spaces between.

This Winter I have had two essays published in  leadership journals that explore what’s involved in engaging the life of the imagination. The first in The Journal of Leadership Studies explored the ‘marriage’ between logs and mythos.

The second on Transforming Leadership which appears in the series; Building Leadership Bridges explores what emerges in our  awareness when  we begin to listen downward to the unheard melody, a song that lies in the spaces between the notes.

Here is an excerpt – to read the full article please visit my publications page at;


I hope you enjoy it – and that this story may bring to light your own memories of  a time when you first tapped into the the power of  your own imagination.



My Business is Circumference

“My business is circumference,” Poet Emily Dickinson writes. This is also the business of leadership.

To understand the significance of circumference we need to acknowledge the new mindset required of leaders for integrative whole mind learning. As we struggle with new discontinuities, fragmentation and sudden change it is vital for leaders to think in more complex and holistic ways. This involves a shift in focus from a narrow and reductive emphasis on individualism based upon an industrial model of managing where the leader is the strong dependable self-made individual or hero towards a style of leading which expands the circumference within which the leader leads.

In the future leaders will not be remembered for their professional, technical or cost cutting skills but for their wisdom, empathy, presence, intuition and artistry. It will be a way of leading that is more relational focused and based upon creating an empathic resonance with others as a networker, connector and convener of webs and communities. We could imagine this new relationship to be like the musician’s open stage where individuals with diverse voices come together in an ever-widening circumference of collective engagement and where—even when they are ‘strangers’ to one another—create beautiful musical collaborations together.

For leaders to engage in the shift of mind from being heroes to artists involves cultivating new disciplines for accessing the subtle power of the imagination. It involves understanding that while strategy and tactics may help leaders be effective technicians, in order to be good artists they need to also listen deeply and get a feeling for things—in other words to be attuned to the unheard melody that is emerging in the space between the notes. Emily Dickinson brings to light this unheard melody—of the sense of being touched from another place—when she writes – This world is not a conclusion; A sequel stands beyond, Invisible as music, But positive as sound.

Listening for The Unheard Melody

Her words bring to mind a line from another poem, one that describes, “The beast of sound caged within the music bars”. These words offer a contrasting world in which what speaks to us from that another place is not wild and free but contained and caged behind the bars. It is a world where, if we are to maintain order and predictability, the wild and unruly elements—the beasts—of the imagination must be constrained. Too often we assume a Faustian bargain—one in which we willingly trade off the promise of a sequel, of something greater and more beautiful just beyond—for the assurance of certainty, clarity and predictability in the moment.

Yet most if only at a young age have experienced the power of the imagination—we have tasted the sweet elixir of being set free and unconstrained—riding on the fresh wind, the doorway flying open wide and… ‘Life rushing in’.

As a friend said to me after reading the lines of the poem about the beast being caged behind the music bars….

“You don’t cage the animals do you? You dance with them!”

And it is true that as a pianist the melody I listened for was not only in the notes but also in the pauses, the tone, the rhythm, the feeling and the sensitivity of touch—the dance that lay in the spaces between. In order to be attuned to the deeper music, to let go and let be, I learned to listen and be open and responsive to whatever was coming next, to be alive to the moment and to every possibility. The surroundings, the listeners, sense impressions everything that danced along the periphery of my attention became a part of the melody and inspiration I heard in my mind and heart.

There is so much that inspires the free flow of the music beyond the physical notes, a stream of conscious and emergent creation which cannot always be anticipated or planned in advance. This is the artist’s work, to make the invisible visible through being alive to their own felt experience including all that they have seen and been nourished by. With this aliveness they can be responsive to what the moment calls for.

In a time of rapid and unexpected change when so little can be understood or controlled in advance, this is the work of leadership as well.

To read the complete essay please visit http://www.pianoscapes.com/writings.html

(Transforming Leadership is published now in Building Leadership Bridges /Leadership for Transformation a series of essays on  transforming leadership published in partnership between The International Leadership Association and Jossey – Bass Publishers, Winter 2011)