I come from a family of soloists. So I suppose it’s natural how ingrained it feels for me to put effort into mastering my own craft – once it was the piano, but since then it’s been things like excel modeling, writing powerpoints, analysis…and then on to higher level skills like building effective relationships, strategy, storytelling, fundraising, you name it.

There comes a point, though, when the work we do, in a fundamental way, cannot be done by us alone, when the only way to make the change we seek is with others. Lots of them.

For anyone who cares deeply, like I do, about mastery, this moment requires a whole lot of letting go.

Letting go of the idea that when the chips are down it’s my job to jump in and save the day. Letting go of the simplistic connection between the task and the result. And, perhaps most counterintuitively, letting go of the idea that there’s a most qualified someone to do each something. There might be, but since we are playing a long-term game, the question to ask isn’t “who can do this best today?” but rather “who on the team should take this on so that our ensemble can get the best results in the long run based on everything that lies before us?”

Yes, every cellist needs to play in tune, to be able to read the music and nail the arpeggios. But an orchestra is not just a collection of soloists. And there’s a reason the conductor, who plays no instrument at all, stands at the front of the room.

5 thoughts on “Ensemble

  1. This riff brings to mind the documentary, Jiro Dreams of Sushi. In his quest for “shokunin” — a Japanese word that seems to mean the pursuit of mastery out of a sense of responsibility — Jiro pushes his apprentices to care more and try harder.

    Customers think Jiro, the sushi master, has the hardest job. But he says the sushi is 95% complete before the fish is brought out to him. The important work is actually done by the team preparing the rice and fish. Which Jiro oversees.

    I love the idea that true mastery requires us to let go and entrust others with important work. And it seems this ensemble approach to mastery includes stewardship as a key ingredient.

    Thank you for this one, Sasha.

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