When pianist Keith Jarrett arrived at the Cologne / Köln opera house in 1975 he found that the wrong piano had been put on stage for him.
It was an old, practice piano — out of tune, with keys that stuck. The upper register was harsh and tinny. It was simply not the kind of piano that a musician of his calibre should be expected to play. It was outrageous! It was insulting! So he refused to perform.
Somehow the young promoter managed to win him around. Perhaps she found a convincing argument. Perhaps Keith Jarrett decided to teach her a lesson. Perhaps he decided to rise above the situation. Who knows?
But then something extraordinary happened.
His improvisation that night* was described as “magical, amazing, breathtaking, electrifying… a masterpiece.”
By agreeing to work creatively within the constraints before him, Jarrett created what became “the most successful solo jazz album of all time” and “the most popular piano album in history”.
We all face challenges in our work. Overcoming them or finding a way forward within those constraints is not a barrier to our job: it is our job. And if we choose to treat the challenges we face not as limits but as frames that we can use to refocus our energies on the differences we can make, then we all have the opportunity to create inspiration — perhaps even a masterpiece.
Are you feeling held back in your work or personal life? Has someone given you the ‘wrong piano’? What would happen if you switched your attention away from focusing on the difficulties to creating a masterpiece with what you have?
* You can listen to the concert here.
Adapted from Inner Leadership: a framework and tools for building inspiration in times of change.
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(And remember: you can’t learn to swim just by reading about swimming, you also need to do the practice.)