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The Ignorant Maestro: How Great Leaders Inspire Unpredictable Brilliance

The Ignorant Maestro: How Great Leaders Inspire Unpredictable Brilliance

by Itay Talgam

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“Choosing ignorance might seem a terrible quality to exhibit in your workplace—a sure path down the stairs and out the corporate door. But stick with me here and see how it leads you upward. You’ll understand why great leaders embrace ignorance and use it to elevate their people to new heights of achievement.”


“Choosing ignorance might seem a terrible quality to exhibit in your workplace—a sure path down the stairs and out the corporate door. But stick with me here and see how it leads you upward. You’ll understand why great leaders embrace ignorance and use it to elevate their people to new heights of achievement.”

A conductor in front of his orchestra is an iconic symbol of leadership—but what does a true maestro actually do to enable the right sort of cooperation among his players, leading to an excellent performance? If you think his primary job is making sure the musicians play the right notes, prepare to be surprised.

For twenty years, in addition to conducting orchestras around the world, Itay Talgam has been a “conductor of people” for companies large and small, for CEOs of Fortune 500 companies as well as startup entrepreneurs, and beyond. Drawing on his decades of experience on the podium, he teaches nonmusicians how conducting really works and how the conductor’s art can help leaders in any field.

In his lectures (including an acclaimed TED talk) and now in this book, Talgam shows why imposing your vision on your people is likely to backfire. Great conductors may know in advance how they want a piece to be played, but they make room for the creativity and passion of their musicians. They respect the gap between the baton and the instruments. They focus more on listening than on speaking. And they embrace their own ignorance, knowing that others may have better ideas than the conductor can imagine.

Talgam explores the nuances of leadership by describing the distinctive styles of six world-famous conductors: the commanding Riccardo Muti, the fatherly and passionate Arturo Toscanini, the calm Richard Strauss, the gurulike Herbert von Karajan, the dancing Carlos Kleiber, and the master of dialogue Leonard Bernstein. All took different approaches to the age-old leadership dilemma: how to maximize both control and creative freedom at the same time.

The Ignorant Maestro will empower you to help your own team make even more beautiful music. Talgam’s anecdotes and insights will change the way you think about listening, humility, and the path to unpredictable brilliance.

From the Hardcover edition.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
This strained offering from orchestral conductor and leadership speaker Talgam frames leadership lessons through an orchestra leader’s perspective, peppered with examples of great conductors, such as Richard Strauss. Talgam, a grandchild of the first kibbutznik pioneers to Israel, takes an entrepreneurial and fail-fast-fail-first approach to leadership; ignorance, according to him, can be overcome by a willingness to learn from and listen to colleagues and respected mentors. Talgam admits to knowing very little about the fields in which most of his consulting clients work; this has not, to his mind, precluded him from being able to lead them toward success. His tone is encouraging—“You are the designer of your organization, the composer and the orchestrator of its flow of work”—but it is not always clear how he expects his readers to interpret his more orchestra-specific musings on topics such as “gap handling” (dealing with the spaces between notes) and creating “enough structure to sustain the flow” in the “metaphorical music of the workplace.” Though earnest and well intentioned, this book is too vague and meandering in its execution, and the musical metaphor is stretched too thin. An enthusiastic attempt that misses the mark. Agent: Lisa DiMona, Writer’s House. (May)
From the Publisher
“An enthralling portrait of some of music’s most fascinating conductors that serves as a vehicle for a remarkably thoughtful study of leadership. No musical experience needed—Itay Talgam brings the baton-wielding personalities to life, and the lessons ring clear.”
STANLEY MCCHRYSTAL, author of Team of Teams
“Music is magic, and Itay Talgam’s book lets us stand beside him to revel in that magic in leadership and life.”
DAVID MARQUET, author of Turn the Ship Around!
“A great conductor stands alone in front of an orchestra but knows that it is the collective genius of the group that creates something incredible. In this book, Itay Talgam reveals the counterintuitive lessons that business leaders can learn from world-famous conductors about empowering organizations and audiences.”
RYAN HOLIDAY, author of The Obstacle Is the Way
“Talgam inspires us to think beyond leadership dogma and for the first time learn to truly listen.”
NIR EYAL, author of Hooked
Library Journal
Orchestra conductor and motivational speaker Talgam's book is one of a long line of niche management titles (e.g., H.W. Crocker III's Robert E. Lee on Leadership). This one uses orchestral music as the main parable for handling people and situations. While a conductor may know the "tools of the trade," past mastery can never dictate the unknown future. Hence, management is always working with ignorance and should embrace the unknowable "gaps" that constitute the "space between the notes." Keynote listening is important—listening to others with the goal of creating dialog. Talgam illustrates his ideas with six orchestral conductors)—for example, Riccardo Muti relies on "command and control," an attitude fundamentally at odds with "filling the gaps" and dialog with others; Herbert von Karajan's unclear "guru-like" conducting puts undue pressure on his musicians (an example of not enough direction); and Leonard Bernstein is seen as the consummate master of embracing "ignorance" to create a new and productive performance. VERDICT This short book ably presents Talgam's concept of management, and the conductor examples are especially illuminating. Recommended for readers interested in management, leadership, and classical music.—Bruce R. Schueneman, Texas A&M Univ. Lib., Kingsville

Product Details

Penguin Publishing Group
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Penguin Group
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679 KB
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18 Years

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Meet the Author

ITAY TALGAM, a protégé and disciple of the great Leonard Bernstein, has conducted many prominent orchestras and ensembles worldwide, including the Orchestre de Paris, the St. Petersburg Philharmonic, the Israel Philharmonic, and the Leipzig Opera House. He also teaches leadership to Fortune 500 companies, nonprofits, and universities, and at conferences around the world, including TED, Google’s Zeitgeist, and the World Economic Forum at Davos.

From the Hardcover edition.

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