Friday, November 12, 2010

Passion that leads to strategic planning

It is very interesting how our minds absorb and process information in such a unique and personal manner. I find even more interesting how we construct a mental design where we fit every bit of information that we receive as if we were organizing the fridge after buying food for a whole week. By doing this we reinforce our views on the world but at the same time we might not be opened to experience reality in its rich multiplicity. Extrapolating this comparison to my experience as an Abreu Fellow in these five weeks of daily seminars, I have to admit that “my fridge is full of a balanced mixture of healthy food but I have not had time” or should I say, “my nature does not have the predisposition to distribute the different food groups to their ‘proper’ compartments.” You might consider this a more or less controlled chaos but I prefer to call it “wholeness.”

The way the Abreu Fellows Program’s curriculum has been layered out enhances my “mental design” in a very positive way. I must admit that my mind has not separated the different information received during these five weeks and I feel I have to put into words some of these experiences as if I were doing inventory of “the food in my fridge.” For this reason I am going to start a mini-series of postings where I will describe a little bit how the program moves from the general to the particular and how strongly I perceive the organicity and interconnection among all the information we receive. I don’t really know if by the end of this mini-series “my fridge will have the different food groups distributed into different compartments or not,” but I know for sure that identifying and isolating “this food according to their nutritional values,” even just for the time I am writing these postings, will help me to integrate them even more cohesively into the ‘wholeness’ of my fridge.

The first two weeks were part of the Introduction Module and we had wonderful speakers on Organizational Values/Strategic Planning as well as on Non-Profit Management among other topics related to Organizational Management. They presented the whole picture of ‘how organizations work’ from the highest levels all the way down to the smallest details. So ‘right off the bat’, the second day of the program, Greg Kandell gave a great lecture on 101 Strategic Planning. Can you imagine ten musicians attending a lecture on how to start a non-profit organization? This might sound boring and non-related to what El Sistema is about but the reality is that it was an experience that opened my mind to realize how vital is to have a successful organization in order to develop and replicate a successful music program such as El Sistema. I would like to highlight several points from Greg’s presentation because I see their parallelisms with El Sistema.

First of all, Greg spoke of “collective will” as one of the key elements to start any organization: you gather people to support a plan. It is true that the more people interested in this plan the more likely to actually happen. But I think that even more important that this is the second part of this “collective will,” which is “having focus on what the plan wants to achieve.” If we compare these points with what Maestro Abreu did more than thirty-five years ago in Caracas (Venezuela) there are not that many differences. He wanted to start a music program for at-risk children and he gathered people to support his plan. The twist of this story is that he expected many more than the eleven musicians that showed up for the first rehearsal. As he tells the story, he thought of two solutions to this problem: quit this idea or multiply the number of people interested. And on that moment he made a promise to these eleven musicians: “to become one of the better orchestras in the world.” In my opinion, this was a leap of faith or what Greg would call it a BHAG: Big Audacious Hairy Goal that helped to focus the objective he wanted to achieve.

Several factors helped him to achieve this objective more than thirty years later (when the Simón Bolivar Youth Orchestra was considered among the first top-five orchestras of the world) but I would like to concentrate on an aspect that appeared on Greg’s presentation: alignment. Aligning the people who share your passion about this objective is extremely important in order to achieve your vision. And in this respect, Maestro Abreu had the right people who shared his passion for his BHAG: “becoming one of the better orchestras in the world.” In one of the documentaries about El Sistema there is an interview with the eleven musicians that started El Sistema. By the way they explain their first experiences shows that although they might have not known exactly where they were doing it seems quite clear that this big-audacious-hairy-goal was “an excuse” to provide a social program for at-risk children whose primary objective is the personal and social development through orchestra and choir ensembles. Their faces shine when they recall how it all started and what it has become in these thirty-five years.

After sharing this entry with you I hope at least only one thing is clear: in order to achieve your El Sistema-inspired BHAG find the people who passionately believe in your idea and align them to achieve it!

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