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17 November 2011Talent over compliance

Martin Ledigo

by Martin Ledigo

A bit of culture this morning… if someone asked me what I know about Wagner (the opera one rather than the one from last year's X Factor) my word association would be German, Ride of the Valkyries, Apocalypse Now, dubious politics, very long and heavy-going operas.

I had never had the chance to enjoy or endure one of his operas so was excited to see a performance of Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg. It was 4 hours and 50 minutes and I was sure that I was going to be snoozing through parts of it. I was very pleasantly surprised. It was really enjoyable and the time just flew by.

The plot revolved around a German guild of male singers (The Mastersingers) that existed in Nuremburg from the 1500s to the 1800s. Admission to this elite group was via a series of auditions which were assessed by someone called the “Marker” and the marking was based on a series of arcane rules. In other words you had to tick all the boxes to be admitted. The opera tells the tale of a very talented singer who, in Act 1, fails the test and, without giving the game away too much, the rest of the opera is about his gaining membership but without compromising on his personal style. In the end talent triumphs over compliance.

I was chatting to a fellow attender after the performance who knew the opera and quite a lot about Wagner. He said that this opera was a statement by Wagner that reflected his own situation – whereby his music was being judged in relation to the musical principles of the day which sought to constrain him rather than encourage him to develop his own style and let his obvious talent flourish. This sounds a lot like the initial rejection of the Impressionists by the Paris Salon who were judging impressionist landscapes by the standards of the classical.

In organisations there is a place for rules – for clarity and certainty. But all too often they control and constrain. I once spent a day visiting several PC World stores and on entering was greeted with the phrase “What brings you to PC World today?”. Why do you need that rule? Why not instead ask staff to greet customers and allow them to find their own way to do it. And everyone will be different – and real.

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Categories: behaviourpersonal responsibilitycompliance

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