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Ethics and Leadership News

December 8, 2005

Orpheus comes to Columbia Business School

By Michael Dwork '07.

Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, an internationally acclaimed music group sponsored by Morgan Stanley, graced the Columbia campus for the first time and presented their unique style of performance and organization. In a revolutionary stride, the Orpheus group has done away with conductors and has chosen instead to ground itself on the premises of individual responsibility, shared leadership and workplace democracy. “Orpheus seeks to achieve excellence through building trust and respect among group members, and through collaboration.”

Orpheus Musicians
Orpheus Chamber Orchestra

Attending students might have wondered what a Chamber Music Group that operates without a conductor or the typical structure of 1st, 2nd, 3rd chair, an Investment Bank, and CBS have to do with each other? Over the course of two hours, the answer was presented to us by Dean Emeritus Meyer Feldberg, Paul Guenther ’64, and the Orpheus Group. Orpheus demonstrated a collegial form of leadership, which Feldberg likens to the cluster structure that was instituted at CBS under his watch as dean. The cluster system, which allows for both collaboration and competition, challenges all members to improve their performance. Using the mechanism of collaboration within a competitive situation we build off each other just as the members of Morgan Stanley need to do in order to maintain the role of on of the world’s premier investment banks.

Paul Guenther, Chairman of the NY Philharmonic, expressed his appreciation of the group’s talent, remarking that the Orpheus Process demonstration shows us how talented people with a common well defined goal can produce a superior product even without a defined hierarchy. Through constructive feedback and open discussion, Guenther noted, mutual trust and respect lead the group to the productive outcome we witnessed, resulting in a remarkable new interpretation to a classical piece of music. This again was compared to our own journey as students. Currently, we are in school but will soon re-join the workforce – and in both cases, we will be asked to work in groups, often composed of our peers, and will have to develop new and creative “outside the box” solutions to traditional problems. More likely than not, we will continue to face such challenges throughout our careers.

As the performance continued and the audience listened to the Orpheus Group talk through their difficulties with the piece (Beethoven's Symphony No. 1), the terminology used by the group to describe their feelings was a bit unexpected for the audience. It was like watching a marketing team deciding how to pitch a product. ‘How can we stay true to the piece while making it unique; should we open soft or hard; should all the violins open or just one?’ The group’s focus was clearly on satisfying and meeting the needs of the audience, and the group was most concerned about delivering for the audience rather than for themselves. This spirit echoed numerous presentations that we have attended at business school in which a critical take-away message has been, ‘What we want is secondary to what the client wants. The client comes first.’ An Oprheus member summarized this point succinctly by asking, “How can we make this exciting and fun for us and the audience?”

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