What Being A Musician Has Taught Me About Achieving Sustainable Outcomes

Well, I’ve been on the move a bit in recent weeks, so it has been a bit of time between posts here I’m afraid. Plenty of time for reflections and general mulling however, and I have a few topics logged in the brain to share with you over the coming weeks.

One of these musings I’ve had whilst on my travels, and working with a good number of different people from different parts of the globe in recent weeks, is perhaps slightly out of leftfield, but hopefully an interesting one nonetheless. And it’s something that has certainly shaped who I am and how I approach my work, so I thought it was perhaps worth a share.


I have an alter-ego as a musician – playing, performing and teaching (although to a much much lesser extent these days!) mainly classical guitar, but also piano and a smattering a few other instruments here and there. And there are clear approaches to learning, teaching and performing music and certain instruments that are tried and tested, and these, I reflected, have become a strong part of what I do to the point of it influencing how I approach my professional career and sustainability practice.

So what? I hear you say. Well, I thought it may be interesting to share these thoughts and approaches as a way to think about your own “performance”, in the various senses of the words, and working with others to achieve a desired outcome with respect to sustainability.

So what has being a musician taught me about achieving sustainable outcomes in the infrastructure world? Here are some thoughts, in no particular order:

Feedback is really nothing to be afraid of

Yes, when first receiving it and learning to first receive it well it can hurt. That’s just your ego trying to tell you “you’re no good”. Don’t listen. Open yourself up to receiving feedback without feeling as if it’s personal, or the need to defend. Takes a bit of practice and getting used to but it pays enormous dividends.

And, by and large, feedback is often a piece of information that has the potential to make you even better in what you’re doing and aiming to achieve. Test it out, whatever the suggestion is and if it doesn’t work for you then chances area you’ve not really lost anything.

Give feedback

Or rather offer the feedback but don’t force someone to take it. And give it in as a constructive way as possible to help someone see or hear something from a different angle or try a new approach. Demonstrate an example to help illustrate what you’re talking about.

Feedback is, when delivered in a way genuinely intended to help someone, it’s a real gift. Not one of us is an island, not one of us has the full perspective, not one of us has all the answers or “right” way of doing things. A little extra information or insight from someone else is really helpful to achieving the outcome being striven for.

And giving constructive, helpful feedback doesn’t mean telling someone something is wonderful all the time

Sometimes it is saying “look, that really wasn’t great from my point of view…” but always – ALWAYS – offer thoughts and advice on what “great” looks and feels like, and what the person can do differently to get to “great”. Always! Offering a subjective viewpoint without any constructive direction or advice is really just whinging, of very low value and a waste of everyone’s time.

Put ego aside, disassociate yourself personally from your own ideas and subject matter, and think and act as subjectively as possible to achieve the outcomes desired. 

Whilst courage of ones convictions is a good thing and to be encouraged, strong attachment to the exclusion of all other concepts and considerations is less good. I’ve discovered that the more open one is to listening to and taking on board others’ thoughts and viewpoints the better the outcome usually, with a stronger level of buy-in and acceptance of an idea or solution.


Working with a group of people is like an ensemble of musicians, like an orchestra – They’re all specialists in their fields (and some more rehearsed than others sometimes! Hah!), so they come to a discussion or workshop or whatever with an existing viewpoint of how something should “sound”.

Sometimes, as a sustainability leader , you’re a bit like a covert (or sometimes not so covert) conductor – your job is to understand the “piece” as a whole, understand how the different players work best together, encourage more shy players, ensure everything blends harmoniously. It also oftentimes means you making a decision based on all the inputs and taking your “orchestra” down a defined “interpretation”.

Practicing little and often, is far more effective than attempting the same amount in one or two big blocks

Transitions tend to occur slowly and with small repeated messages being most effective in engendering change. This goes as equally for relaying messages about sustainability as it does for learning a tricky passage in a new piece of music.

Have an interpretation in mind but keep your mind open to how things naturally unfold. And remember that this might be the first time someone has heard something

Approach with an inquisitive mind and good, positive energy, even topics you’ve heard or played a thousand times before. Why? Because someone is hearing your point or discussion for the first time. There are still a number of people that the concept of sustainability, and a true understanding of what it is and can mean to them is a new thing. Be respectful of that and treat it as a golden opportunity.




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