Teaching Business Improvisation through the Power of Music

Teaching Business Improvisation through the Power of Music


Orit Wolf was on stage, alone at the piano, in front of an audience of hundreds. Only 12-years-old, her performance was being broadcast over the Voice of Israel’s classical music radio station to thousands more. And then she froze. “I had a complete blackout,” she says. “I couldn’t remember what I was playing, I couldn’t remember the notes.” There was only one thing to do. “I started to improvise,” confides the 38-year-old concert pianist from Jaffa who is a graduate of BIU's prestigious Doctoral Fellowship of Excellence program.

That experience of utilizing her mind to transform a potentially disastrous situation into a creative triumph became a professional pivot point that propelled Wolf from the top of the music world to a highly successful career as a business consultant. The connection? “In both you have to come up with out-of-the-box solutions. On that stage, I learned the value of ‘online’ real-time composing, of regarding mistakes as opportunities rather than errors. I take the importance of improvisation in the music world and apply it to a business environment, building creative thinking, teamwork, leadership and communication skills, all through the power of music.”

That switch has led to a whirlwind schedule encompassing some 100 consulting gigs and lectures a year (she has over 180 clients including some of the biggest in the business such as Orange, Bank Discount, Fedex, ECI, Teva and Strauss), in addition to continuing performances as a solo artist and with orchestras in Israel and around the world. She also hosts her own series of popular public lectures with leading musicians and, to top it off, she’s a mother of two small children under the age of four.

Wolf’s drive derives in part from a childhood where “I never got anything for free. I worked hard for everything. That was my education,” she says. Indeed, she was six years old when, with no music experience, she announced to her parents that she wanted to learn the piano. Her parents agreed, but they wouldn’t buy her the instrument – she had to practice at a friend’s house – until she showed she was serious. She soon did.

At 16, she garnered a full scholarship to study at the prestigious Tanglewood Music Center in the U.S. When Boston University courted her to enroll in its music department, not only did Wolf obtain another full scholarship, but she asked for – and received – money to cover her living expenses.

She continued her education at the Royal Academy of Music in London and Bar-Ilan University, where she earned her PhD in 2007 focusing her research on the interplay between music and improvisation. As an outstanding student, Wolf received a Doctoral Fellowship of Excellence.

While the music world may sound "concertos" away from business, they are both “ruthless,” Wolf says. Speaking about the many music competitions she has participated in over the years, she adds, “I learned to lose and win, to analyze the reasons for both, and to try to repeat the latter and avoid the former.”

Part of the way she practices her music is to play “absurdly,” she says. “I’ll take a very delicate piece and instead play it fast and loud. I teach managers how to solve problems in a creative way too, one that will result in new insights.”

She gives another example of a company where employees were spending too much time on the Internet for personal use. “The managers could have tried to threaten the employees,” she says, “or put cameras on their computers.” Instead, Wolf came up with one of those absurd solutions. “We told the employees that they had to surf the web for personal use every day from 2:00-3:00 PM. If they were caught working, the whole day would be counted as vacation. It worked because most employees have inner automatic moral values, so efficiency was improved significantly.

Which does she love the most – performing music or lecturing executives? “That’s the million dollar question, isn’t it?” she smiles. “I have two careers and two passions. I can’t choose. For sure, my soul cannot live without music. On the other hand, I didn’t want the life of a poor suffering artist!” The result is truly the best of both worlds – for both her clients and her many musical fans.

Last modified: 17/02/2013