Concert of Ideas: Activate the Genius Inside

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Is your team stuck in a rut? Maybe you’re all burnt out after flexing, managing and adjusting through the pandemic. Join John Cimino, founder of Creative Leaps International, as we explore one highly effective way he developed to quickly generate positive turbulence for teams and change cultures using a technique called Concert of Ideas. It’s unusual. It’s out there. And it works! John’s got 30 years of experience doing this and he shares some amazing stories. 


Concert of Ideas: Activate the Genius Inside with John Cimino

Rob Brodnick: Welcome to the positive turbulence podcast stories from the periphery here, we journey to the edge to talk to turbulators about their experiences creating positive change. Hi, I’m Rob Brodnick.

Karyn Zuidinga: And I’m Karyn Zuidinga sharing these stories, these perspectives on innovation, creativity, change and leadership we hope to generate some positive turbulence for you.

Thank you for joining us.

Rob Brodnick: When we talk about organizational change, we usually throw in the word management on the end, as in change management. The unexamined assumption in there is that change happens and we have to somehow manage it. The power of positive turbulence is that it actively generates change, that you don’t so much manage as guide it.

Karyn Zuidinga: In this episode, we explore one very effective way to quickly generate positive turbulence for teams using a technique called Concert of Ideas. Here music and theater are used to stimulate a group’s thinking about a broad theme. I know this sounds way, way, way, way out there to some of you. It did to me when Rob first told me about it. But stop for a moment and think about the power of an effective jingle for an ad. I bet if I say plop, plop, fizz, fizz, pretty much anyone in North America born before the eighties can fill in oh, what a relief it is and recall that the jingle is tied to Alka-Seltzer.

Rob Brodnick: Now imagine instead of using music and a bit of theater to sell products, you use them to help your team explore ideas like servant leadership, renewal, or rejuvenation. That’s exactly what John Cimino, founder of Creative Leaps International and the Renaissance Center does with a Concert of Ideas, the experience he and his team creates transforms cultures. John has found a way to use music and art to explore the boundaries of what’s possible and to set the mind and curious motion.

Karyn Zuidinga: I’ll admit, I started a bit skeptical about the concert of ideas. We even asked them about that, dealing with the skeptics and like them. I was drawn in and by the end I left the conversation inspired. I hope you’ll stay with us and explore this amazing and powerful idea.

Coming up a whole lot of positive turbulence. But first let’s take a moment to acknowledge our supporting organizations.

Sponsor Message: The Positive Turbulence Podcast is brought to you by AMI an innovation learning community that is celebrating 40 years of supporting innovation and creativity for organizations and individuals learn more at

Also we’d like to thank Mack Avenue Music Group as a contributing sponsor to hear our theme song Late Night Sunrise and other great music visit

Karyn Zuidinga: And now we’re going to launch in. So as Rob, does he drops this oh, we should talk to John. I’m like, Great! I don’t know that much about what you do, John, but I have met you a few times and talked to you and think you’re an amazing human being so, sure what the heck. And then Rob sprinkles in something else that he calls Virtual Concert of Ideas. So I feel like this is a wonderful place to start. We’ll weave in some of the cool things I know about you like an opera singing background this voice to die for, but we’ll get there.

I want to start with this. First, John Cimino, what is a virtual concert of ideas?

John Cimino: Virtual means we’re going to experience it online just as we’re having this conversation, that the key of course is what is a Concert of Ideas. And it is indeed a keynote type event, but in the form of a concert there’s lots of vivacious music, classical and theatrical largely, and woven through the musical selections are bits of conversation and quotations ideas from art, science, philosophy, and history, all mixed together, sequenced ever so thoughtfully and carefully, we call that creative juxtaposition.

We maximize for novelty, surprise, connectivity and wonder. Every piece of music or every quotation from the arts and sciences is intended to, to help you focus on a grand idea, whatever the subject matter of the Concert of Ideas might be, whether it’s leadership or innovation, or in the case of our work with the International Red Cross healing and renewal. Rather than deliver messages with answers and solutions, we propose stories and metaphors, which shine a certain light on the subject matter. And as Rob knows, we sometimes call this orbital thinking. We orbit around the subject rather than take a direct dive toward it, we will circle it and explore the neighborhood, explore all the many stories and perspectives around the idea to give you an intuition for what lives there at the center. That felt sense of what is really there is what makes the Concert of Ideas powerful, because the thinking essential for grasping the subject at hand can not be done advance by folks like me. All we need to do is get you to think. To get you to think in new ways from new perspectives. Feel things that have lived within you for a long time. Reassess their value and use that wisdom or present knowledge.

Karyn Zuidinga: Wow. So instead of asking me to think about something you really asking me to feel about something And to, to more rest in my intuitive mind than in my logical cognitive mind.

John Cimino: Actually inviting you to do both,

Karyn Zuidinga: Oh, okay.

John Cimino: we know already that you’re an expert at the logical analytical, so we don’t have to provide a super abundance of instruction to get that part of you rolling. We know that it’ll happen, but we want you to operate on two tracks at once. At the very least, the felt knowledge as well as the analytical knowledge.

Karyn Zuidinga: Okay. I’m trying to liken this to other experiences. This probably feels a little bit like sometimes you’re listening to music and suddenly you’re overwhelmed with a feeling, maybe sadness, maybe joy, maybe something else, and you connect it to another idea. You’re like, oh, wait a minute. Is that kind of what it’s like? Tell me what this is like, how does this feel?

John Cimino: There are elements of that for sure. Music has its impact on us on many levels. If we get beyond the popular music and kind of the superficial fun of the moment, even though that is present too. The music, when we share with you becomes an inroad to a story. A story, which will set mind and heart in what we call curious, exploratory motion.

That’s hugely important. We want you to be playful in the exploration of the storylines and the narratives, because that’s going to connect with your personal history, your memory, your sense of self. We want to activate that and wake it up so that it is participating. We want not just your intellectual participation, but we want your inner participation that felt component as well.

So we want you to think and to feel, and very importantly to do so removed from your default, whatever that might be. I want you to think and feel in new ways.

Karyn Zuidinga: Wow.

Rob Brodnick: John, during the concert, I often hear you say don’t connect the dots too quickly.

John Cimino: Yes,

Rob Brodnick: I think that’s a caution to the audience as well, permission to not respond with the cognitive, analytic mindset which everyone is trained to do. To immediately have cognitive response. And you’re asking the audience to pause… hold back a little bit, some sort of suspension, maybe not disbelief, although I’ve experienced that during your concerts, wait for something else And I think you’re pushing for this intuition having people have the chance to experience it bubble up it. Tell us more about that. Why do you say don’t connect the dots too quickly?

John Cimino: I’m glad you brought that up, Rob. The idea originates in my history with. My one year relationship with Buckminster Fuller. The last year of his life, a tremendous inventor, hugely creative and innovative thinker. And he was known to have said, and it’s in his books as well, don’t connect the dots too soon.

In particular, he says that ideas are star points in the geometry of our thinking. And we need to stand before them in awe and wonder and allow them to radiate their significance before drawing our conclusions. They have to live within us. And so we have to suspend that inclination to connect the dots and say, oh, I know what they’re getting at because the Concert of Ideas ultimately is– in terms of it’s a building blocks– 12 or 14 five minute scenarios, musical theatrical, poetic, whatever they might be in their nature. And each one is shining a light or telling a story from a certain perspective on the subject at hand. That complex subject at hand that needs to be rethought. And the first item is not a direct link to the second item or even to the third item, but themes appear and reappear in different forms throughout the concert of ideas.

I create the metaphor of each performance piece being a star point that we throw into the night sky of our imaginations and then a second, a third, and then 11th and 12th. And when we see them all in the night sky of imagination, and if we’re not over anxious to connect the dots, we begin to see multiple ways of making connections.

That multiplicity of views is what gives whatever view you ultimately take it’s richness and rightness for you. And no two persons experiencing a Concert of Ideas will draw the same conclusions in the same way. We come to the act of perception with our biology, our genes, but also with our individual experience, our memories, our life.

And it’s through our lives that we make sense of whatever is happening in the moment now. The concert of ideas is in a certain sense like a canvas that we are painting before your very eyes in real time with a splash of color here, a splash of color there. And you may think, what’s going on, but yes, you are only catching a piece of it because it unfolds over time. It is a creature of time. The image or collection of images it will create will unfold over a period of time. And we are also time bound creatures, and we will process whatever comes into our senses, imaginations emotions. We will process it over time. It may take a week, a month or more for certain things to find their place. In that inner scaffolding of ideas that is us.

Rob Brodnick: It’s positive turbulence on an inner, very deep, personal level, and imagine an audience of a thousand people, all having positive turbulence within them. I can get a picture of it.

John Cimino: Exactly right. In fact, Stan, the first time he saw a concert of ideas, he said, John that’s positive turbulence. You’re putting everybody off balance a little bit with all of this novelty from many directions and it’s causing them to reconfigure where they are. And to be more aware of the present moment, instead of living the present moment in a default mode.

Karyn Zuidinga: I have a dozen questions that are bubbling up for me, but apply maybe too much of my analytical brain, but I’m thinking a lot about starting points and end points. I can see this would be a really powerful tool to stimulate a lot of new kind of thinking. To get me out of my old patterns and to start making new connections. What question am I asking before I say, Hey, John, I need a concert of ideas.

John Cimino: That’s a great question. The phrasing of the question Is a little different. We’ve been doing concerts of ideas for 30 years, so we’ve had all sorts of clients from lawyers attached to the IRS. Just imagine how analytical they are…

Karyn Zuidinga: I want to be in that room. What happened there? How did the lawyers attached to the IRS sit through a Concert of Ideas and what the hell happened to them on the flip side of that? Did they all just grow their hair out and start, dying it purple? What happened to these guys?

John Cimino: If the person who hires us who draws the conclusion that we need you. Has first all, probably heard us through another organization or company. These guys did something very strange, new and wonderful, and it helped our people get out of their rut and to think differently around this important issue. In the case of Starbucks, for example, they were not experiencing a problem. They

Rob Brodnick: Bye.

John Cimino: wanted to change the culture within their stores all of their store managers behaved as servant leaders. They wanted to absorb the philosophy of servant leadership. Which is a fairly complicated, but very beautiful and deeply human way of approaching management and leadership. This was a teaching moment. They said, can you bring the essence of servant leadership to life so that our store managers, who bright young people, not philosophers, be to grasp it and translate it into a set of behaviors that can change the culture in their stores. That was their question.

They had a complex idea that they wanted a large number of people to be able to absorb. And as any teacher knows, when you’ve got to explore a complicated idea, you need to do it from multiple angles of view. You have to find 10 ways to say it because each person will hear a different aspect of that story.

That’s why the concert of ideas is comprised of stories or scenarios as we call them. Whether it’s telling a story by your Eudora Welty setting the mind in narrative motion, according to her story outline, and then leaving you suspended. So you’re wondering what happens next. And you’re living with her metaphors.

The metaphors that we utilize that we set before you through the Concert of Ideas, they become like a menu of possibilities. You’ll say, oh, I like that one. And you’ll find yourself thinking creatively and differently through that metaphor or story. Not every story or metaphor will be magical for every individual. If we’ve heard all 30 or 40 metaphors in the course of the concert of ideas, I would be thrilled if a half dozen of them proved hugely fertile or even one for each person. In general, a great deal of them are fertile, but there is always something that says, this is right for the moment.

Karyn Zuidinga: The complexity of curating, that seems really big to me because you’ve got the one, like the Starbucks, how do you inspire managers to become servant leaders? How do you curate to stimulate towards those openings? What are you looking for when you do that?

John Cimino: I can’t tell you how much fun it is. It’s astonishingly wonderful.

Karyn Zuidinga: I bet.

John Cimino: All we need to do is add the musical ingredients, the theatrical ingredients, to put it on its feet and then decide how to sequence all of these elements so that it’s constantly surprising. And yes, it has to have a certain logic to it. So you don’t feel entirely lost, but right next to the logic is going to come surprise and novelty and wonder and awe. We want to set the mind and heart in curious exploratory motion.

Karyn Zuidinga: Suddenly I started seeing, Hey almost a meditative playlist in a way like that a person could self-direct through with this thing, is that, does that seem oh, I want to be inspired

John Cimino: Okay. yeah. That would be a way of creating your own personal Concert of Ideas through your playlist. We try to make ours so that there is celebratory, is comradery, relationship building built into the whole thing. Turning on imagination, felt experience, intellect. We work at those things.

But we also want to be able to delve into things deeply, dramatically, with big feelings and large emotions, things that might be painful and difficult. And at the same time, we want to allow people the opportunity to reflect and to be with one another. To share an experience that is both new and meaningful. So that when they look at one another, they might go, yes. And they’re each nodding to their inner experience. Who knows what the other person was nodding to except that it was meaningful.

Rob Brodnick: Let me add a couple of comments One is going to be a question. I liked your metaphor, Karyn, about the meditative playlist, but I’ve seen several concerts of ideas and there’s inevitably a point where people are on their feet with their hands in their air. They’re shaking them and spinning in a circle. So don’t get, Get the idea that it’s like a personal contemplative event. There’s a lot of things going on. All the dimensions, I think of what it means to be human are happening in this Concert of Ideas. It’s fascinating. But the one thing that always happens is as it ends, everyone needs to talk.

They can’t leave that space. And even though John, I’ve heard you say, just leave the room silently with your thoughts and process, because people are still meaning-making. But as soon as they get into a space where it’s unstructured and they’re next to another human being, its just bu bu bu ba. And so tend to follow up the concert portion of this with a way for people to, to express, explore and dive into things through conversation. And maybe you could share, with our listeners a little bit about that important phase two of the concert.

John Cimino: Absolutely.

So the concert will end buoyantly. People will be bursting at the seams to talk about whatever inner experience they’ve had or something marvelous and surprising that happened on stage. And we want to channel that. We want to capture that and harvest it. And typically what I do is I ask people to sit quietly for five minutes. And make a few notes for themselves because once they leave the room, whatever thoughts they’re carrying with them will begin to dissipate, or you’ll be distracted by all of the wonderful thoughts from somebody else. Make an initial record of your own experience. And then as Rob suggested, we move people into conversation circles. Where they’ll have an opportunity for 45 minutes or more to sit with one another and share their experience. We call it a debriefing conversation. We create a set of questions, facilitating that conversation beginning, simply with a an opportunity to bubble and share your impressions.

Then to probe a little more deeply. How did this reflect upon the subject at hand? Did it give you some new tools? What are you seeing or curious about now? And the facilitation questions bring you deeper and deeper into a capture of the more serious thinking and reflecting that is, has been started.

And then that conversation group has the responsibility of doing some note taking as a collective and reporting back some of the high points of whatever happened in their conversation circle through the plenary. We get everybody back and one or two persons from each group gets a couple of minutes airtime and says here’s what happened with us.

And they share it all in the room just gets filled with incredible energy, reflective quality and ideas. When that’s finished, the process is not over, its just we’re ready now to launch into additional phases of discussion and more analytical meetings around our subject matter. We have been activated. We’re on the level of our genius inside. We’re ready for anything now.

Karyn Zuidinga: Awesome. Activate the genius inside.

Sponsor Message: The positive turbulence podcast is brought to you by AMI a not-for-profit innovation learning community. We’ll be hosting a Virtual Concert of Ideas on October 21st, 2021. If you’re interested in taking part, head over to, click on membership tab and fill out the form at the bottom of the page.

We’d love to see you there.

Karyn Zuidinga: We talked a little while ago about what that starting question is. When do I say, oh my God, I need a concert of ideas. Obviously you’ve been doing this for a long time and people find you and they come to you. And there’s some thing that happens. And The two things that I’ve been feeling a lot, if you will, as you’ve been talking is one, what about those groups where, maybe some of the people come in with their arms folded and they’re not so sure about this guy and his what, and then what happens so I’ve mentioned, did these lawyers go in dye their hair purple? Like what happens to them?

Because we talk about business transformation, this is so much deeper than just I’m going to build an intranet and, get my company working digitally. This is deep cultural transformation work that you do with people. And I’d love to hear the before and after. What happened? What was the question? And then what was the outcome.

John Cimino: I think I’ll use one that occurred somewhat recently that Rob was a part of, this was an idea, generating a challenge at the university at Albany for toward their strategic plan. Maybe we’ll start there. The the university had recently lost its president who had gone off to take another job.

And there was now an interim president. His name is Jim stellar. He’s since become a great friend, but he had been provost and it was now interim president. And rather than stop the strategic planning process that had been initiated a couple of months before, in fact, Rob was helping to lead that process, they were at the point in the process where they needed to engage the participation of the faculty. And so they figured they wanted to draw about 350 people together to generate a future plan for the university. It was a need very much of renewal and reconfigure.

The problem was the faculty was at odds with one another and with the senior management. Because of a series of budget cuts, everybody felt that the other department was their enemy and it was going to be the survival of the fittest. And they couldn’t possibly trust senior administration because they were the ones who were cutting the budgets. And yet, they needed to move forward with this process.

Rob was kind and creative enough to suggest, oh, I know somebody here who might be able to help renew the spirit of collegiality with your faculty and then get them to the point of generating new ideas. And Rob recommended Creative Leaps. We were brought into the the room where the key people were trying to solve the big issue.

And they said, what can you do to help us? And so I shared the collection of stories about how a concert of ideas worked. Fortunately, Jim Stellar caught on very quickly. He happens to be a neuroscientist. He knows that we need not just logic, but in the lingo of neuroscience, we feelings, and feeling thoughts. We’re not just logic, we’re not just emotion. They’re all attached and we need to get them together. He was sold on the idea. Rob was there to help me with some of the themes that would be very important in the design of the Concert of Ideas.

We created the event and we’re ready to launch it. And on the way into the auditorium, As faculty members and deans were marching past the provost, interim president, they were all grumbling saying, you’re taking a big risk doing something like this, what’s going on here, this, whatever this is going to be a waste of time.

Karyn Zuidinga: Yeah.

John Cimino: And Jim just kept nodding and smiling. And sure enough, the concert of ideas began. And just as you were suggesting for the first couple of minutes, people were sitting with their arms crossed and their lips tight. Yes. You’re going to have to convince me, but the concert of ideas begin as in a celebratory and enormously friendly and joyous way. And right on the heels of that joyous music, I have the opportunity to say, we are here for you. We’re here to celebrate you and to become your partners in the exploration of the process of higher education. And we explained that the most important thing that will happen here tonight is not what we do on stage, but what happens here in here for you?

And they began to see or begin to see that everything that happens is for their own individual processing. So we jumped right in and they find themselves fun. There’s classical and theatrical music here. That’s not necessarily my thing. I’m not sure I know how to listen to this. don’t even bring that subject up. Instead. We say, let’s play a game together. Let’s explore how to add playfulness to our thinking. We do something we call snippets. Flutist, for example, we’ll play a few seconds of music followed by a question. How does the music make you feel? We don’t care what the composer was feeling or thinking.

We don’t even care what the flutist is thinking or feeling. We want you to answer the question. How does it make you feel. To find the answer you’re going to have to look inward. And so a couple of hands sheepishly are raised and people, will say, oh, I felt melancholy and other person will say, I felt peaceful. I felt inspired. I felt relaxed. The more we do this, several things happen. We have several rounds of this with different instruments, playing short snippets and hands now going up with increasing enthusiasm. People are sharing what’s going on inside of them, even though it’s a very simple process. What’s the emotion that the music brings to you, but they’re also hearing what emotions it’s bringing to other people. Think empathy now at this point, and as they hear that for one person, it was sad, another person, it was thoughtful. They begin to enter into the space of the other. Given 10 or more answers to that they are now increasingly curious for what that next person is going to say. We ask a slightly different question in the second round. What do you see with your mind’s eye or in your imagination when you hear this music? Play a little piece of music, 20, 30 seconds, all the hands start going up. I saw a little girl riding a bicycle down a sidewalk, and it was the summer and it was like the 1950s.

This is wonderful. I’ll say, what color was her bicycle? Oh, it was a pink bicycle. And, what was the weather like? was the middle of summer. Another person will tell their story, enormously different. I was on a boat, sailing in the Mediterranean and I saw a storm clouds coming from the distance and we were concerned that the weather might become really dangerous for us. I’ll ask another question. What kind of boat did you have? What were you wearing? Were you swimming or are you just sunning yourself? The idea of the questions is to give them an opportunity to pay more attention to what’s going on in their imagination. Only by giving more attention to it is there the possibility of it becoming significant, becoming important to them. We want the content of imagination to be valued and ultimately to become part of your resource pool, to be able to turn to your imagination see deeply colorfully in depth.

Another question we often ask is, are you viewing this picture or are you within the picture? Just knowing where the self has placed it is revealing to the person. May not even have thought about it. Are you in the picture or just an observer?

This collection of playful exercises, how does the music make you feel? What do you see with your mind’s eye? This becomes the handbook, as it were, but how do we experience the whole rest of the concert of ideas so that when John is marching around as Don Quixote and singing I am I, Don Quixote, they are asking the question, how does this make me feel? What am I seeing in my mind’s eye? Do I feel like this character of Don Quixote or am I the Dulcinea character he’s serenading. We help people to enter into the stories. That’s the way to listen. That’s the way to experience anything. And ultimately when they go back to their offices and they hear something or hear somebody say something a little provocative, they might say, how does that make me feel? What do I see with my mind’s eye? You’re not passive. You’re co-creative in the moment. You are assessing yourself in the moment.

Rob Brodnick: Okay.

John Cimino: That gives people a process that relaxes them and frees them for the rest of the Concert of Ideas so when we take them deep into a thorny part of the subject, they’re there, they’re feeling it and they’re being imaginative around it.

Karyn Zuidinga: I’m all the way with you playing long. I’m visualizing. I’m now really curious what happened in Albany. So these grumpy faculty came in and they were like folded and you know what the heck now? And I’m also crediting the interim president’s vision and courage and trust in the process to open that door because there was a bit of a leap of faith. Talk about creative leap. Whew. was a big one.

Rob Brodnick: I want John to give the long answer, but I want to give the short answer. This was a design that started on a Friday night and ended on a Saturday afternoon. And I’ll say

John Cimino: Yeah.

Rob Brodnick: there was a lot of processing involved. I’ll say that the next day in the morning, when we kicked off with the discussion circle leaders sharing their experience, since it was an atypical presentation for this culture, there was tears. There was laughter. There was joy. There was expression across divisions. Within this group that I was shocked and surprised and really happy to see because it moved them past some just initial barriers that they could never have overcome. But John give the long answer, that was my experience as an outsider.

John Cimino: You’re right on, of course. Something else happened that Saturday morning, there were another 25 or so people who showed up. Faculty members who had not been to the Concert of Ideas. They entered Saturday morning with all the grumpiness that the folks had the previous day. But instead of seeing all the other people grumpy, everybody else was buoyant and happy and couldn’t wait to talk. And they said, what happened to you guys? What was going on? What did we miss? That was a beautiful moment. In the course of that day, roughly 350 ideas were mapped out by this group of people. They formed self-created conversation circles around easel pads, mapping out ideas, calling all over to one person or another. People could switch groups, working groups, anytime they wanted during the course of the day. It was a fabulously, productive and creative experience. And the interim president, by Saturday morning, was being hailed as a genius. And he became enormously popular. He also joined our team to become part of the creation of what is now a Renaissance Center based on the work of Creative Leaps and that initial experience at the University at Albany.

Rob Brodnick: Earlier, John, you mentioned the Red Cross, and if you don’t mind, I’ve heard parts to the story before, but what happened? What was the pain, what happened with the Concert of Ideas and what transformation did you precipitate there?

John Cimino: I’ll go there. Absolutely. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the couple of hundred people who comprise the Red Cross as both staff and volunteers. were worn out beleaguered and broken. Many of them had lost family members to the storm, lost their own homes. and They were spent emotionally and in every other way. And yet they knew six months down the line there’s another hurricane season coming. What are we going to do? And so they reached out for help. They turn to a group at George Washington University that was concerned with renewal and resilience training.

They worked with them for a few months. That person at George Washington University, he happened to know me from some other projects and said, we’ve taken this group of a hundred or so Red Cross workers so far. They’re beginning to get intellectually what the process of healing is going to be for them over time. How they could regain their confidence, their belief in the value of what they do and their inner strength. They’re beginning to see the pathway, but it hasn’t jelled yet. It hasn’t gotten into them. And Preston said, I know that you and your team can probably bring them across that bridge to more completely deal with their needs. And so sure we were brought into New Orleans. We spent a couple of months designing a very special Concert of Ideas, celebrating their heroic efforts and recognizing the tragedy that occurred and the healing that needed to be part of the future.

When we arrived in New Orleans it was hugely moving. The place was still in shatters. And we received a tour. It was overwhelming to see. They brought us to this auditorium at the university there, about 15 people were waiting seated in the first 20 or 30 rows of this auditorium.

Everybody else was at the back of the auditorium, just standing among themselves. And we invited them down and a couple came, but the vast majority stayed. And it was clear that they felt this is not going to help us. Little music what’s that, we make our own music down here, but we began and we celebrated them and we connected with them heart to heart person, to person.

Within 15 minutes, time, more and more people began to move from the back of the auditorium, into the front rows. By 20, 25 minutes in, everybody was now right down in front and they felt that we were there truly for them not to do something to them, but to be there for them and to be there with them. The Concert of Ideas worked its particular magic. It took them on this journey of exploration. This journey of opening up, of reconnecting with imagination. The Director of the Red Cross ultimately said our failure as the Red Cross was a failure of imagination. And because we’re filled with this grief and defeat and tragedy our imagination is essentially dead. So what we needed to do was to reactivate that with great sense of empathy. And in the course of the concert of ideas, this began to build, there were smiles, there were tears, they were excitements. There was laughter people leaning into one another and say, Hey, did you see what that flutist is? Did. She played a little something on her flute. Then she picked up her tennis racket and showed us what her serve was like and asked us what did the two activities have in common and what habits of excellence do they share? And they, the group came up with 15 different ways that those two disparate activities shared certain qualities in common that moved them toward excellence.

At the end of the concert of ideas, they were up on their feet. There was a huge upwelling of feeling and they wanted more, not more concert. They said, we want to spend more time with you. What else have you got? And we had prepared a collection of workshops, four or five of them that we ran concurrently through the next day and a half. On a repeat schedule so that everybody had the chance to see at least two different workshops. At the end of that second day, they said, you’re not done yet. You have to run those workshops again, because not all of us got to participate in every workshop and these jobs around thinking, perceiving and and leadership decisions, or they were about the hero’s journey as told by Joseph Campbell. What upon kettle drum was roaring and playing and sharing that. And about habits of excellence, about stress the management about racial issues. Everybody participated ultimately in all of the workshops over the course of the two or three days. And then they took us into their city. And they said, we want you to experienced New Orleans in a way that you never have.

And they pulled together. What did they call it? A local musical group. It’s like a line of nine different musicians different brass and woodwind instruments and some percussion. And they’d led us through the city like a parade and we were following them and they showed us the different neighborhoods and people who are from the neighborhoods started to participate. And this all ended back in like a wonderful shared meal together.

Karyn Zuidinga: Yeah.

John Cimino: we did some things, ceremonially and ritually that were very meaningful to people. They were, they had an opportunity to write on a piece of paper, something that had been deeply distressing to them and to be able to toss it into a ceremonial fire.

And to free themselves of it. This was the effort that gesture. And somehow that was phenomenally powerful. We participated in it as well. And then on the fourth day we asked for 20 or so volunteers to spend time with the Creative Leaps team. And there were six or seven of us for a couple of hours that night to design a culminating, what we called, Harvest of Ideas in the shape of a concert, we thought we would be doing all the performing, but they would be the designers of the event. They were the persons who would speak the messages and the music would simply amplify it or lock it into memory or celebrate it. Little did we know there were several musicians among them and they became part of the performance as well.

By the end of that Harvest event, where every word spoken from the stage was from their own lips. With their shared performance, there was a triumph. Everybody was up on their feet and their refrain was we’re back. We are back. And I’m growing a little tearful myself just thinking about this because it was hugely moving. When we went down to New Orleans, we were wondering, gosh, we’ve worked with corporate people with government people. We’ve never worked with any group that was so deeply in pain.

Are we going to be able to do something meaningful for these folks? We had our doubts. But yet we promise to be there fully and 100%. And it was that aspect of it. Our putting ourselves in a place of risk that ultimately welcomed us into their group, into their experience. And so it it’s probably the most meaningful Concert of Ideas experience that we’ve had in our close to 30 years of doing this. The transformation was astounding.

Karyn Zuidinga: Wow. I wish I was there. I don’t work for the red cross and

John Cimino: No.

Karyn Zuidinga: Orleans, but boy, I would love to have been there. It just speaks to the necessity of the experience. There’s a lot of help out there around leadership and around transformation. There’s a lot of books. But until you do the work, the experiencing it work, it’s just theory.

John Cimino: Yes, so right. We’ve come to call it the inner work of art.

Karyn Zuidinga: Yeah.

John Cimino: The inner work that starts to happen when you’re immersed in something artful, whether it’s music or drawing or dancing, the inner work starts to happen. And that inner work actually creates a renewed sense of the self. Such that the inner work of art is the self. If you can imagine that. You think of yourself as an inner work of art, that your life experience helps you to continuously create and to shape. And that’s, there’s a play on words here, which is sometimes a little confusing. The inner work of art is all the work that you do in the presence of art. It sets your inner workings in motion. And in the process, you create a renewed self that’s forever expanding and it’s a self-authoring process.

Karyn Zuidinga: Of the things I kept flashing on while you were talking, John, is that. There’s so much attention in our world about how

Rob Brodnick: Okay.

Karyn Zuidinga: will help us or how, the sciences are so important and they are like, Nope, nobody’s taking anything away from, science and math and physics and all those good things. But

Rob Brodnick: Yeah.

Karyn Zuidinga: I think sometimes in our rush to, to really get those, we give short shrift to the arts and the importance of the arts to like you’re using music to connect to ideas and to hold them people’s minds. It’s not just that momentary learning, but you, snippet of music is going to be forever attached to that idea in your head. As you age, as you change, as you move through the world, will stay because music has a habit of doing that. So I think it’s fascinating that you’re using the arts as a deliberate leap to make these ideas, stick to people. And to open them up to these feelings, to these ideas in the first place. It’s phenomenally powerful.

Rob Brodnick: John’s a little bit of a trickster. We know.

Karyn Zuidinga: Yeah. I’m picking up on, I just thought he was a beautiful human being. I didn’t get this there’s other

John Cimino: Yeah, this is very tricky. Yeah.

Karyn Zuidinga: or he’s out of it,

John Cimino: As you were speaking, I was reminded that some of our clients, as they were trying to figure out whether or not they’re going to hire us, they say, okay, can you cut to the chase? Can you tell us what’s the take home? And the first half, dozen times I was asked this question, I was fumbling for an answer. And then I realized that you are the take home. Because something will be set in motion within you. Some changes, some processes will have begun to unfold and you will be different when you are home with your family home, with your office. That’s the real take home. It’s not simply a new kernel of wisdom when art works plays the thing. That’s a wonderful thought. Yes, but that’s not the take home. The take home is what you were saying. That frame of mind that lives within you and continues to be part of how you live you’re back on the scene.

Karyn Zuidinga: Wow. My hair is blown back and I can’t, I’m looking at the time it has flown. It has absolutely flown by,

Rob Brodnick: We just barely

John Cimino: Okay.

Rob Brodnick: started.

Karyn Zuidinga: We just, it feels like that, John and before I forget, thank you so much for sharing your story today. And just giving me that background I, I’ve said this before to other guests on the podcast who I know through AMI, I just know them as human beings in these interactions. But I don’t know that much about them. I’m finding out all this stuff that I didn’t know was there,

Rob Brodnick: Um,

Karyn Zuidinga: So thank you.

John Cimino: Oh, you’re so welcome. We’re in a moment coming out of the pandemic where renewal and resilience and rebirth Renaissance is the name of the game. And the kind of Renaissance I’m thinking about it is not going back to Michelangelo and DaVinci taking some of that fineness of thought with us, but setting in motion a rebirth, an opportunity to begin again and to bring into our futures, the kinds of things that the times demand. The kind of sensibilities.

So we, we want to be able to think differently so we can do things different. We don’t want to be back where we were two years ago. We want to be in a different place, a better place. And my hope is that the whole idea of Renaissance and Renaissance thinking will be part of the process of renewal for all sorts of organizations, companies, and people more broadly.

Karyn Zuidinga: Yeah. Yeah. Move from build to being a slogan, to being a reality.

John Cimino: Yeah. You said it.

Karyn Zuidinga: Yeah.

Rob Brodnick: Yeah. I love it.

Karyn Zuidinga: you. Yeah. Thank you again, John. That was lovely.

Rob Brodnick: do another hour. Come on.

John Cimino: oh gosh. I can’t thank you enough for being with me and for being my dear friends and being open enough to have this conversation and let fly, whatever might happen.

Karyn Zuidinga: Hey, lovely listeners stay tuned for this episode’s positive turbulence moment coming right up, but first a huge thank you to AMI who have nurtured us in developing this podcast is the source of so many of our guests, and of course the founder, Stan Gryskiewicz is also the author of the original book and dare I say… the Luciano Pavarotti of positive turbulence.

Sponsor Message: AMI as a pioneering nonprofit organization, comprised of committed individuals who foster and leverage creativity and innovation in organizations and society. AMI identifies leading edge innovation shares experiences, sponsors research and recognizes innovation and creative processes. Find out more at

And thank you to Mack Avenue Music Group, our contributing sponsor for providing our podcast soundtrack Late Night Sunrise.

Rob Brodnick: And here’s our positive turbulence moment.

we need another hour or more for your answer, but is there anything you’re experiencing reading, listening to out there in the world you place where you go for turbulence to be refreshed and stimulated?

Anything that you could share with our listeners? Some things that you might want to share places for inspiration. And then, like I said I know you could speak an hour or more just on the works of Buckminster Fuller for inspiration, but

John Cimino: Yeah,

Rob Brodnick: you got for us?

John Cimino: I’ll mention a periodical that I get every month that I’ve been receiving for more than 20 years. It comes out of North Carolina and it’s called The Sun. It’s a non-commercial journal of literature, public affairs, each issue has a theme. It’s like a concert of ideas in a sense. All the articles are thematic to the broad subject, but coming at it from, 50 different angles. And the very last page of every issue of the sun is a collection of quotations from people all around the globe. Shedding a little bit of light on what that central theme is.

That’s immensely thought provocative and refreshing. I read the magazine from the back to the front and it also includes an extensive interview with a leading thinker, male, female. On whatever the subject matter is. No advertising, No. commercials of any kind within the publication. Just fantastic, sensitive writing, fun stuff, profound stuff that makes you think it’s like the sun coming out.

Karyn Zuidinga: That’s old school magazine publishing. I love it.

If you want to share a positive turbulence moment or otherwise comment on what you’re hearing, please drop us a line at We welcome your thoughts.

Rob Brodnick: Be sure to tune in next episode for our conversation with Fabienne Jacquette founder of Innoveve and author of the Venus Genius. We’ll be exploring the feminine side of innovation and the untapped potential there.

Karyn Zuidinga: You can also head over to to find out more about us, get a transcript of this episode, get links to find out more about our guests or positive turbulence until next time. Keep the turbulence positive.