The music of transformation

Íñigo Pírfano and Álvaro González-Alorda

On 30 May 2019, the Rafael del Pino Foundation organised the dialogue "The music of transformation. An inspiring conversation between a conductor and an expert in change management", with the participation of Íñigo Pírfano and Álvaro González-Alorda.

Íñigo Pirfano holds a degree in Philosophy from the Complutense University of Madrid, and studied Orchestra, Choir and Opera Conducting in Austria and Germany with maestros Karl Kamper, Karl-Heinz Bloemeke, Sir Colin Davis and Kurt Masur. He was the founder of the Orquesta Académica de Madrid, and its musical director for 15 years. For his work at the helm of this orchestra, he was awarded the 'Young Leadership Award' by the Rafael del Pino Foundation in 2012. He has worked as guest conductor in Europe and Latin America, with orchestras and choirs such as the Hamburg Symphony, Szczecin Philharmonic, Bratislava Symphony, Euskadi Symphony, Bilbao Symphony, Orfeón Donostiarra, Castilla y León Symphony, Navarra Symphony, National Symphony of Colombia, National Symphony of Peru, Guayaquil Symphony, National Symphony of Panama, etc. He has also accompanied singers of the stature of Ainhoa Arteta, Aquiles Machado, Aris Argiris, María José Montiel, etc. In 2002 she made her operatic debut with a production of 'El Retablo de Maese Pedro' by Manuel de Falla, highly praised by critics and audiences alike. Parallel to his career as a performer, he develops an important facet as an essayist and speaker. He has published three books: Ebrietas. El Poder de la Belleza (Encuentro, 2012), Inteligencia Musical (Plataforma Editorial, 2013) and Música para leer (Plataforma Editorial, 2015), the latter with a foreword by Plácido Domingo. As a lecturer, he is in demand by some of the most important forums in Spain and Latin America, such as Fundación Telefónica, Banco Santander, IESE Business School, Fundación Rafael del Pino, International Center for Leadership Development, Janssen Cilag, Grupo Zurich, Banco Davivienda, La Caixa, etc.

Álvaro González-Alorda is an Associate Professor at Headspring Executive Development and Visiting Professor at other business schools in Spain, the United States, Mexico, Costa Rica, Colombia, Chile, Argentina and Uruguay. He is co-founder of Emergap, a consulting firm specialising in organisational transformation. He has collaborated with more than 100 companies in 25 countries. He has been educated at the University of Navarra and IESE Business School, and has completed a research stay at Harvard Business School. He is the author of the books Los próximos 30 años and The Talking Manager.


On 30 May 2019, the dialogue "The music of transformation. An inspiring conversation between a conductor and an expert in change management", in which Íñigo Pírfano, conductor and CEO of A Kiss for all the World, and Álvaro González Alorda, co-founder and Managing Partner of emergap and professor at Headspring, took part. Iñigo Pírfano: I don't like to distinguish between classical and modern music. I find it much more interesting to distinguish between good music and bad music. The important thing is to have the criteria to clearly differentiate between good music and bad music. There is another thing about rock music that interests me. It's about its character: it's a music that resists being written down, that was conceived to be performed live. The score is incapable of capturing the absolutely essential parameters of the musical work. What one must be faithful to is not the score, but the spirit it conveys. The score requires the participation of an interpreter, the conductor, who restores its character of something living in that act of recreation which is musical performance. The conductor's mission has three important facets. The first is the conductor as concertmaster; he is the person who is able to develop a good working session with his musicians, he anticipates the problems. Then there is the conductor as the conductor of the music, which corresponds to the 15% of his work. In a concert, he is checking that there are no mismatches with what was worked on in rehearsals. Thirdly, there is the most difficult facet, which is the conductor as inspirer. He has to disappear in order to become the work he has to perform. In order to be able to conduct, to move the audience and to convey the profound message of the work, the conductor has to take on board internally all that is contained in the music. To conduct Mahler's second symphony, one has to take on board all the horrors of the 20th century. All this is present in Mahler's work, in which he denounces the fracture of post-modern man, the inner tearing. The Resurrection symphony is Mahler's song from the naïve faith of a child. Mahler needs to turn to a faith and a transcendence beyond this broken existence in order to find the meaning of the whole. In all Mahler's works there is a funeral march, an elegy for lost childhood, as if Mahler were telling us that if we lose a child's capacity for wonder, it will be very bad for us. He anticipates these horrors and the conductor has to make them his own. To do this, Íñigo needs thirty minutes before the concert to be in the dressing room alone, introducing himself into this drama that he has to communicate faithfully and powerfully to the musicians and the audience. He gets into that atmosphere, that inner world of the composer that he has to make his own. Such is the energy that has to be accumulated to be able to transmit it, because it is a very demanding exercise. That is to inspire, to give breath and life to the notes, which have that dead character in the score. Álvaro: Inspiring is key in the transformation model, because today it is difficult to find a company, an organisation, that does not have to undertake a profound transformation, due to changes in the business model, due to a need to renew the organisation itself. Experience has told me that traditional management skills are not enough when it comes to tackling extraordinary changes, such as reinventing a business model, redesigning complex processes that involve hundreds or thousands of people, or winning back the enthusiasm of a team that is tired, dejected, or restoring deteriorated relationships among a management team. What determines our ability to influence others, what does it mean to transform? There is nothing more persuasive in the world than an older brother who has come up with an idea in which you are the protagonist. The early answer is that our ability to transform depends directly on our ability to inspire. To inspire is not to occasionally dazzle. We live in such a superficial and sentimentalist world that we are in danger of calling anything inspiring. Íñigo: Persuading and motivating is very difficult. We talk lightly about very complex concepts, for example, the person, which is a very complex, almost mysterious reality. Often, we don't even know why we act in a certain way. Therefore, to speak of persuading and motivating as easy is intolerably light-hearted. Inspiration and transformation somehow participate in the loving, in the sense that this is a door that only has a handle on the inside, it cannot be forced from the outside. Only in a free way can one open up to that invitation that is gently and kindly extended, that can never be forced. Persuading and motivating, therefore, is one of the most difficult things. Álvaro: Difficult, complex and one that cannot be approached with sentimentalist approaches. Oscar Wilde said that a sentimentalist is someone who wants to indulge in an emotion, but does not want to pay for it. In this society in which we live, so inclined to immediate success, there is a tendency in many organisations to invite emotional speakers who make people feel epidermal emotions, as if that would transform anything, in the face of the leaders' inability to motivate. None of this has anything to do with inspiring. Someone inspires you when they move you to change your habits, transforming your life. Íñigo: That transformative power has helped me to understand the power of musical discourse. The greatest professional success in Íñigo's father's career as a conductor had come in an irrelevant concert, out of season, in a church, in which he performed Mozart's Requiem, a work that has a profound and spiritual content. At the end of the concert, a member of the audience approached him and said: "Thank you very much, maestro, because after your performance tonight I have decided to rebuild my life". It made him aware that, as a musician, he handles material with enormous power, which can transform hearts, which can transform people. That is why George Steiner says that contact with the work of art has the character of an annunciation, it is a total indiscretion because the work of art asks us about what is most genuinely personal in us. The work of art can transform you by virtue of the response you give to such a demanding interpellation. Álvaro: That makes me think of the questioning capacity that many leadership dynamics in organisations can have, that reach people's heads with approaches that sound good, are logical, make them feel. They even go to the heart, arousing the desire to change. But very rarely do they reach people's hands, to concrete actions, to real transformation. People are not transformed by listening to transformation talks; they are transformed through 'learning by doing', through the daily development of their will, building their character. What do I have to have to be able to influence other people to develop new habits? How do I have to live my life to help others to change? Warren Buffett says that when he hires people, he looks for three qualities: integrity, intelligence and high energy. But if you don't have the first, the other two can kill you. When you think about integrity, you have to ask yourself what my values are. Values are not hereditary, nor do they have a lifelong character. Gandhi says that you cannot do the right thing in one area of life when you do the wrong thing in another area. Life is an indivisible whole. Can you be a great leader and a bad father? A great colleague and a bad brother? It doesn't add up. So when you ask yourself about integrity, you can feel very beaten up because many times in our lives we don't live up to our values and we lose that inner strength that leaders have, that allows them to look into the faces of others and ask them to make extraordinary efforts. If you feel that you don't have that inner strength, that you don't have that ability to influence others that you would like, there is good news. That good news is that there is nothing more attractive in the world than a person who strives to improve himself. No matter how far they have fallen. Íñigo: For you, to transform is to inspire, and that is to have the ability to change people's habits based on one's own integrity. This connects directly with my vision of the conductor's leadership, which rests on three pillars. Firstly, the most important thing is to have an attractive proposal, i.e. a job well done, which may not please everyone. But if it is well-founded, it will be accepted. Then, exemplarity. The person who strives to be exemplary is endowed with an aura that necessarily carries with it. The third pillar is servant leadership. Only those organisations whose leaders have shown themselves to be good servants will be sustained over time. Alvaro: Work, integrity and service. What about when you try to live that way and you find yourself in your own fragility? What about when you so often fail to live up to the quality of the work? How do you regain that integrity? There are two simple and complex ways. The first is to ask forgiveness from whomever you need to ask it. Nelson Mandela says that asking for forgiveness frees the soul. Asking for forgiveness and forgiving allows you to travel light. Íñigo: The culture of forgiveness should be introduced into any organisational model. Forgiveness is a gift, it is the most valuable and the most difficult to give. Sometimes we think that when a relationship has deteriorated, the way to heal the wounds is to give a gift. When you forgive, you are giving a gift to yourself. Álvaro: Asking for forgiveness and fulfilling commitments, the second tool. Small, concrete, daily commitments. When you have doubts, it's very easy to clear them up by asking questions. But that daily struggle with the small things is like taking your soul to the gym. That is where our character is forged. It is from that character that we lead. Íñigo: That makes me think of the great temptation that every artist has. Behind every brilliant career there are many hours of hidden, hidden, lacklustre effort. Mozart complained that people said he played very easily, when he had worked very hard. Many talented people have not made a great career because they lacked the discipline for serious work. Those challenges that one sets oneself have to be transformed into a musical message. That's what makes music alive. It makes an artist a performer with inner worth and weight. Álvaro: In the business world, that inner weight is achieved through discipline. But discipline enters organisations through people's habits. Discipline could be defined as order in things, order in time, order in information, and the consequence is order in ideas, which are ordered and generate impact. Otherwise, what happens is not that we go off the rails, but that we change the forest. The only way a leader can respond to his or her key responsibilities is discipline. The first responsibility of a leader is strategy, which requires stopping frequently to think with the team about how things can be done better. But if the leader is too caught up in the operation, which is another responsibility, there is little time for strategy and none for people development, which is the third responsibility. One of the great tragedies that happens in organisations is that leaders outsource the development of their people. This raises two scenarios. Either you are a manager or you are a leader. A manager is a technician who has done well, but with the mentality of a technician, who does not have a comprehensive vision of the organisation, nor of the organisation's talent. A leader, on the other hand, has an integral vision and is interested in the whole organisation. How do you recognise a leader? There are two very significant traits. The first is that the leader is in a self-development mode. They have a reading plan, they take online courses, they download an app to develop a habit, ... Íñigo: We often talk about transformational leadership when they have not spent a single minute of their lives getting to know the human heart in depth, penetrating the texts of those who, in the deepest, most heart-wrenching, passionate way, have penetrated to the darkest corners of the heart and shown them to us. That is Dostoevsky. Nietzsche said that he had learned psychology by reading Dostoevsky, not treatises on psychology. Manuel de Falla said that music is learnt, but not taught is exactly that. The most important questions of life are hidden in details, in the everydayness of any given day. Álvaro: The second trait of a leader would be to give transformational feedback. You have to give a lot of basic feedback, but when it's time to transform, you have to give that transforming feedback that reaches the other person's kitchen, which has opened up because the leader has been able to connect with them with empathy, with genuine interest in them. But feedback is nothing more than a way of conversing, and there is no more transformative tool in the world than face-to-face conversation. Today, however, the tendency to hide behind a keyboard is a tragedy that we must stop with a wave of face-to-face conversations to restore damaged relationships. Íñigo: Such conversation is the only possible way to manage these otherwise inevitable crises. Crisis, which comes from the Greek, does not have a negative main meaning. It comes to mean something like discernment, an opportunity for improvement. Crises will happen in one way or another, they are inevitable conflicts. Rachmaninov went into a great depression because of the criticism of his first symphony, which led him not to write a single line for three years. But he was fortunate that, in his circle of friends, there was a therapist who made him see that complaints about the unfairness of criticism are legitimate, but perfectly sterile. What he had to do was to work, to remake himself, to reinvent himself. He set about it and composed his second piano concerto, which many experts consider to be the most perfect concerto ever written. That was the fruit of a crisis. Crises, therefore, don't have to be bad. They can be good. It depends on how we are able to manage them, for example, through a face-to-face conversation. Álvaro: Often, what these face-to-face conversations ask us to do in order to manage crises is to change the way we look at them. A sceptical look towards others that becomes a transforming look, that admits the possibility of change in others and in oneself. When someone loves you, they look at you with a protective gaze that says "I see the talent in you, that unique personality you have". When you feel that you are looked at in this way, you feel that your wings are spreading, that nothing can stop you. Íñigo: The gaze of the one who loves is also the gaze of the poet, of the one who has the capacity to actualise powers, to see what no one else sees.

The Rafael del Pino Foundation is not responsible for the comments, opinions or statements made by the people who participate in its activities and which are expressed as a result of their inalienable right to freedom of expression and under their sole responsibility. The contents included in the summary of this conference, written for the Rafael del Pino Foundation by Professor Emilio González, are the result of the debates held at the meeting held for this purpose at the Foundation and are the responsibility of the authors.

The Rafael del Pino Foundation is not responsible for any comments, opinions or statements made by third parties. In this respect, the FRP is not obliged to monitor the views expressed by such third parties who participate in its activities and which are expressed as a result of their inalienable right to freedom of expression and under their own responsibility. The contents included in the summary of this conference, written for the Rafael del Pino Foundation by Professor Emilio J. González, are the result of the discussions that took place during the conference organised for this purpose at the Foundation and are the sole responsibility of its authors.