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Miha Pogačnik used his violin and a sketchpad to show how art can influence business leadership during a May 15 visit to the Kellogg School.

‘Sound’ business principles

Violinist’s leadership lessons play well to MBA crowd; Kellogg students treated to creative display

By Adrienne Murrill

5/17/2007 -

The halls were alive with the sound of music on May 15 as a special guest brought his unique brand of leadership to the Kellogg School.

Like most musicians, Miha Pogačnik began his performance at the Donald P. Jacobs Center by first tuning his instrument, a violin. What was unusual was that he did so in a crowded Kellogg classroom — not the typical stage for a renowned classical performer.

While warming up, he asked the audience of students and professors if they, too, were in the habit of “tuning” before their presentations to peers, colleagues or superiors. “You can’t make music without tuning,” Pogačnik said as he ran his bow across the instrument’s strings, likening his preparation to what any business leader must do also.

But what can business people learn from a musician? According to Pogačnik, more than meets the ear.

By using classical music masterpieces along with art and speech, Pogačnik travels the world to inspire organizational and leadership transformation among business professionals. He has presented to the World Economic Forum, ABN Amro Bank, Pfizer Global Pharmaceuticals and others. He shared his insights with the Kellogg community in a program presented by the school’s Business Leadership Club.

Anticipating a key question from his audience, Pogačnik explained why he believes art will prove helpful for the future of business. “When you enter the world of experience that art can give you, you actually don’t wake up the next day just with symphonies buzzing inside your head,” he said. “As you pursue experience in arts, gradually that [effort produces] new faculties, new capacities to lead, to perceive, to differentiate, to dare.”

Clinical Associate Professor Michelle Buck said that Pogačnik invites people to think and listen in new ways through music. “Leadership is about thinking differently,” she said. “As Kellogg and businesses throughout the world focus more on global leadership and global business, it means that we are living in a smaller world. We need to look for a common language, and the arts often provide that.”

Pogačnik used Bach’s “Fugue in G Minor” to illustrate the pitfalls of improper implementation strategies in corporate environments. Using his violin along with a large sketchpad and markers, the musician dissected the piece visually and audibly to show how force can lead to organizational chaos.

As the music’s dynamics were reflected in his body, facial expressions and drawings, it became clear that Pogačnik follows his motto for inspiration and success: Leaders and artists both must pour energy into their work, he said.

“You have to be so bloody inspired for what you want to do that you don’t notice it hurts,” said Pogačnik. “This is what we experience as artists.” As soon as a person notices their exertion’s pain, they don’t go on, he said. If people are inspired, however, they can complete their project before becoming aware of any discomfort.

Such inspiration can provide powerful models for others, said Pogačnik.

To achieve success, artists and leaders must demonstrate “peripheral leadership” by identifying with what they do. When “you stop telling people what to do, you become your own ideal, and then your colleagues come to you with your ideas,” Pogačnik said, adding that this practice creates trust, resulting in a healthy environment for collaboration.

Bethany Pinnick ’07, who attended the lecture, said she appreciated what Pogačnik said about becoming one’s own ideal. “Leadership is being a reflection of what you want to see in the environment and community,” said Pinnick.