“The wrong piano”: How the challenges we face can be an opportunity to create something extraordinary

When pianist Keith Jarrett arrived at the Köln / Cologne 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 insulting! So he refused to perform.

Somehow the young promoter managed to win him round. Maybe Jarrett wanted to teach her a lesson about how appalling the concert would be? Maybe he decided to rise above the insult? Who knows.

And what happened next was extraordinary.

By agreeing to work creatively within the constraints he had been given, Jarrett created what became “the most successful solo jazz album of all time” and “the most popular piano album in history”

His improvisation that night* was described as “magical, amazing, breathtaking, electrifying… a masterpiece.”

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 to what we can achieve, but as frames that focus us on the differences we can make with what we’ve been given, then we all have the opportunity to create inspiration — perhaps even a masterpiece.

Are you feeling held back in your work or personal life? What would happen if you switched your perspective from focusing on the difficulties to finding ways to create the very best out of what you do have?

* You can listen to part one of the concert here (and a cover version of the whole concert here).

Adapted from Inner Leadership: a framework and tools for building inspiration in times of change.

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(And remember: you don’t learn to swim by reading about swimming, you also need to practice.)

4 Replies to ““The wrong piano”: How the challenges we face can be an opportunity to create something extraordinary”

  1. Particularly good blog today for me. Thank you. I listened to the Koln concern much of the way through college. Interesting to hear the back story. We learn to make lemonade from lemons. 🙂

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