Last month, on the evening of the General Election, I was fortunate to be the guest of the London Symphony Orchestra (LSO) for a performance of Isabelle Faust playing Brahms’ Violin Concerto. Having cast my vote, and discussed and digested the various forecasts of what Government we could expect (all of which were proved wrong), the concert provided both a sublime escape and an important reminder of the relevance of the performing arts to twenty-first century life, and communications in particular.
In the days before iPhones, CDs, record players and the like, the only way you could really experience music was through a live performance. Arguably a concert is still is the best way to connect with the music and I was amazed to learn that the audience and I were transfixed by a violin that was made in 1704. Of course, the ‘Sleeping Beauty’ Stradivarius isn’t just any violin, but in a world where innovation cycles are measured in months, it’s quite comforting to see something from a bygone analogue age, produced with the utmost skill, has not been bettered by an automated digital process.
Disruption is a word we hear quite a bit, especially in relation to business models, and it’s hard to think that this particular piece received mixed reviews when it premiered in 1879, as it challenged some of the musical conventions of the time. Change is all around us and often we can get distracted by the ‘new and shiny’, forgetting to pay enough attention to the factors that remain constant.
In communications, the new digital channels and technologies are often seen as being the most exciting, but the reality is we have to understand our audiences and create assets that connect at an emotional, as well as a rational level. We also need to have a narrative that is effective when told in the singular, as well as the plural, in the same way a single instrument can introduce a melody that is developed, amplified and harmonised by the orchestra.
In order to deliver a spellbinding performance, musicians train for many years and, of course, practise before a performance. However, when we communicate, we often spare little thought as to how the message will be cascaded, and whether its tone and impact will change as it travels through different media and to different audiences.
The immediacy and connectivity of our world means there is an expectation that communications have to be fast, but electronic communications in particular are vulnerable to being interpreted in different ways. We often react negatively to something that wasn’t designed to offend, but somehow the context was lost. Whether it’s the throwaway remark that was meant to humorous (but isn’t) or something that demonstrates a distinct lack of empathy or understanding, we are unlikely to respond in a positive way. Indeed a good deal of the expression and opinion we observe in the news and on social media is often a critique of not only what has been said, but how it has been said.
While we assume technology has made us better at many things, I think we need to remind ourselves that it doesn’t make us universally better at everything. As the LSO demonstrates, there is no substitute for the brilliance of human talent focused on a collective ambition. For a showcase in co-ordination, leadership and creative brilliance, the combination of the LSO, its leader, conductor and soloist takes some beating.
Observing the collaborative energy on display, as key individuals sought to encourage other members of the orchestra to elevate their performance to the highest state was intoxicating. When we think about what we are trying to achieve with communications, be it to make us think, feel or do something, we should certainly consider taking our cue from the orchestra.