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Gathering owls

 In an unlikely corporate setting at Alarko Holdings in Istanbul last year (Alarko is one of Turkey's largest companies), Ishak Alaton, the CEO addressed us, something of a motley crew of MBA students on an international business trip, about his experiences of leadership through plenty of turbulent times. His biggest piece of advice: make sure you have a mentor who is at least 75-80 years old, has known you for a good while, and has the degree of life experience that they might indeed have some wisdom to offer.

Not long before this, I had heard Stefan Cousquer talk passionately about engaging in a VUCCA world:






and insistent that if we want to have any real idea about how to develop wisely, then we must engage at a profound with digital natives.

How to these thoughts fit together? I'm thinking a lot at the moment about the nature of ensemble in the performing arts, how we work collaboratively, how we might do this even more effectively, and then how we can bring these principles, practices and values when working artistically further into the heart of how we manage and run conservatoires and arts organizations.

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The whole idea for me of "gathering owls" feels increasingly closely connected to my sense of ensemble working: being available, alive to exchange, exploring ideas creatively, risking new directions you might never have thought of, contributing expertise, insights and humanity at appropriate moments, finding and building a shared endeavor. We often talk about having "a mentor" or "a coach". What I'm finding is that there is a really powerful dynamic to discover in gathering a parliament of owls that can help me catalyze and sustain leadership in my own context as it becomes increasingly fast moving and unpredictable. And I am also seeing just how critical and valuable it is for these owls to be diverse: different ages, with different expertise, from different contexts....

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I am of course inclined to those who are like me – it feels immediately easy to find mentors in those who are artists and educators, a bit older and more experienced. But this so easily comes to be about confirming what I already know or believe. What would it really like if I had mentors over 80, under 14, from countries I have never visited, skeptical about the arts? I suspect that I need these owls more than I realize, if I am to make step-change in my own perceptions and ability to lead.

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Gathering Owls

I listen

Intent to feel, to sense

The colour and smell of the air

The brush of a feather

The clear grip and movement of a claw,

Knowing that all this speaks,

Helps, informs,

Deepens ways to know

To create, to fin a path

And build the journey.

I gather my owls

I welcome my owls

Even when their voice is tough.


Be present

Slow to react

Quick to attend.

I gather my owls

With deep trust

And ask for their support,

With fun

With passion,

Immersing ourselves in the work

Because we can make a better place

For us all.

In a nutshell

So why should you be interested in Learning in and through the Performing Arts?

The collaborative processes of the performing arts open a pandora's box of possibilities for artistic, personal and organizational development. They are subtle and multi-layered, embodied practices that can yield much more than what individuals bring to them, creatively and in terms of human exchange. My work is about continuing to develop these processes for the twenty-first century, so that artists can adapt to their changing contexts and enable their work to take root as creative entrepreneurs, and so that the processes of the arts can be shared and enhanced through exchange with other disciplines and across cultural contexts.