Radiance and Fascination: The Zander Effect

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Yesterday, I sat in an airplane hanger with 4,000 CEOs and thought leaders from around the world, listening to a line-up of world-class speakers. The event was the HSM World Business Forum. And I’ve had the privilege of “covering” it for the last 3 years as a blogger.

Every year, I leave inspired beyond word. Not just by the ideas and conversations, but the quality of the speakers. As someone who aspires to speak to larger and larger audiences on larger and larger stages, I love to see how the best in the business do it.

But then, there are always those moments during the two-day event where extraordinary ideas converge with a radiant personal energy to create magic.

For me, Boston Philharmonic Orchestra conductor, teacher and speaker, Ben Zander, was that moment.

He was alive, literally floating through the audience. In fact, he started in the audience fluttering, skipping, dancing and prancing up and down the aisles. And, with the exception of running up to the stage to play piano in short bursts, he stayed in the audience for nearly two hours.

Minutes in he had 4,000 stuffed shirts singing happy birthday at the top of their lungs, gesticulating with their arms, animating their faces, laughing. Even more conservative genius marketing types like Derek Halpern (who happened to be sitting next to me) joined in. Not out of some awkward sense of being forced into a contrived experience (I’ve been to those, too), but because Zander swept us all away. Resistance was futile.

His life-force was infectious. Utterly immersive. Radiant.

Zander was so clearly and deeply in love with what he does and so utterly passionate about his message (embracing music and possibility), and who he was sharing it with (he hugged and kissed half the front row after speaking) that he literally could’ve said anything and we would have been human putty.

And this is even more astonishing, Zander’s energy at the end was indistinguishable from his energy at the beginning. I’m betting he could’ve gone another two hours without flagging. I’ve no doubt this comes in part from learning that, when he conducts, often for hours, every person in the orchestra will feed off the energy he radiates. If he starts high, then slowly empties, so will his musicians…and so will the audience. So, it’s his job to be radiant.

But, you can’t go to that place where you literally glow on a level that makes people say “I want THAT!” if it’s just your J.O.B. It’s got to be an organic extension of your very being. Zander isn’t a conductor, a teacher or a speaker, he is music, light and energy embodied. Raw, transparent, fully-aligned with what makes him come alive.

Stuart Wilde said if you want to make more money, raise your personal energy. When you do that, more people will show up, when they do, bill ’em!

We spend so much of our lives trying to learn how to market better, make better products, build better companies, train in operations, sales, marketing, process and innovation. But, it’s all for nothing if we don’t also spend equal, if not far greater time and energy, exploring, then building around the people, the activities and the experiences that allow us the opportunity to fully align our actions with what makes us come alive.

Because when you do that, you begin to radiate energy. People want to be around you. They become enchanted. They want to follow, lead and support you. And, you’re not supposed to say this out loud, but they want to be you. Or more accurately, they want to have that same inner glow.

Being in the room with Zander brought this home like never before. And it very likely inspired some deeper thought about where I’m going with my career and life.

But, Zander also shared a window into the mindset that allows him to go to the place I aspire to first visit more often, then inhabit. Beyond passion, beyond alignment with what makes him come alive, he creates very deliberate filters that allow him to view occasions that shut most people down as opportunities for wonder.

When you commit time, money or energy to something and it falls short of your hopes and expectations, most people call that a mistake and say, “man, that sucks.”

Not Zander. His response…

“How fascinating.”


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42 responses

42 responses to “Radiance and Fascination: The Zander Effect”

  1. Right on, Jonathan. My experience, as well, sitting two rows in front of you. Ben Zander is a total inspiration!

  2. Thank you Jonathan for this inspiring post. This came to me at a very important time for me in my life. As always, you rock.

  3. Barbara Winter says:

    Oh, how fascinating! I’ve never been in a room with Zander, but have read Art of Possibility over and over. Thank you so much for sharing your experience. I can just see him running around the room. Brilliant.

  4. gail conn says:

    Just reading this made me smile. I feel the energy through my desktop. Thanks for sharing the inspiration. I will sing happy birthday after a close a deal!

  5. mark kaplan says:

    Raising personal energy is a key to appreciating life and having gratitude. I find taking care of oneself with food, exercise, and pursuing passions gives one gratitude and generosity. I still seek that inner glow and uncontainable energy you speak of with Zander.

  6. Hi Jonathan, Great Post and it sounds like you have been well and truly Zandered! For your readers who haven’t had the pleasure perhaps this link http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/eng/benjamin_zander_on_music_and_passion.html to his last TED lecture will spread a little of the joy!

  7. Jeff Munn says:

    Great post, Jonathan–

    I had the privilege of seeing Benjamin Zander speak a few years ago, to a stuffy room of HR consultants and executives. And the energy was amazing. Just as you put it, the audience was putty in his hands and left in an altered state of “I can do anythingness”.

    The challenge is how to get out of our own way so that our own energy comes through. With joy instead of fear. Not caring about the reaction. Only in sharing our own enthusiasm, our own depth of commitment, without editing, without filtering, can we have create the reaction that Ben Zander creates every time he speaks. It was truly a gift to participate.

  8. Debbie says:

    Your words had me in the audience watching the dancing, singing and kissing.
    You transported me and I am sure most others who read this Post! No greater Gift!
    Great reminder that the Light must come from within.

  9. Richard says:

    Loved this. One of my affirmations is: “Everyone is warmed by the radiance of my attitude.” You have given me another role-model. Was ‘yesterday’ 5 Oct 2011? Richard

  10. Ben’s bright yellow Art of Possibility is the best! Thanks for this reminder.

    As I switch from just working with private clients to getting strategic project leadership out to non-profit project leaders I’m making every ‘fascinating’ mistake there is and dude, it is painful!

    Focusing on who IS there at your little tiny event rather than who isn’t there makes all the difference and energizes you as much as everyone you work with.

    And you never know where that energy is going to go. Here I was worrying about non profits in my city, and I start getting requests from Africa from leaders of community programs who want to take the program on scholarship. It’s those moments that remind you why you’re passionate, and what a difference you can make.

    Between Steve Job’s encouragement to be foolish, and Ben’s enthusiasm to make mistakes, it’s hard to feel anything but proud to be fighting these good fights.

  11. Marguerite says:

    “How fascinating” indeed. I love that outlook and I strive for it as often as possible. It’s that outlook that’s allowed me to give small talks on the importance of keeping passion in your life…not only in your love life, but in your life as a whole. Life is infinitely fascinating and full of wonder. I think the greatest mistake many people make is in letting life live them instead of them living life. Love this one, Jonathan!

  12. Sandi Amorim says:

    “it’s his job to be radiant.”
    Maybe dharma (duty) is a better word, but oh, what a way to live! From the first time I read The Art of Possibility I’ve loved Ben Zander’s work. Lent the book out twice; had to keep buying new copies! I didn’t care, I understood. That book makes me happy just looking at it. Silly perhaps, but it does. Reading this post gave me the same feeling and I’m so not surprised it came from you Jonathan!

  13. Fran Sorin says:

    You’ve made my heart sing describing Benjamin Zander and the effect he had on this crowd. Experiencing someone with such a profound essence,I believe, can literally have a transformative effect on anyone who is open to receiving his soaring, playful soul.

    As a keen 10 year old pianist, my life was changed when I saw a gawky Andre Watts fill in for Glenn Gould, with Leonard Bernstein conducting the NY Philharmonic sitting on the floor in my parents room watching him on TV. As an adult when I became friends with Andre and explained how he changed my life, he looked at me with a shy, quizzical smile and brushed it aside.

    The Benjamin Zanders of the world are our angels. They remind of us how we can ‘be’ in this lifetime.

    What you have given in the sharing of your experience is warming my heart; it will remain with me forever. Talk about the ripple effect of magic, energy, and love! Warmly, Fran

  14. Hiro Boga says:

    I loved reading The Art of Possibility, which is infused with Zander radiance. It’s lovely to read about your direct experience with him, Jonathan. Thank you for sharing so eloquently.

    Presence, radiant energy, is powerful, and essential to success — not just because it is magnetic, but because it helps establish a field of resonance in which everyone’s energy frequency rises to meet its true potential.

    Energy technologies, many of which have been around for thousands of years, raise personal frequency through precise skills and practices. They are the secret agents of cultural, organizational and personal transformation.

  15. Allison says:

    I felt like getting up and skipping myself after reading this (the singing I’ll save for the shower). Thanks for always writing such inspirational posts that always seem to hit just the right chord. 🙂 Thanks, Jonathan!

  16. I did a workshop with Ben’s wife, Rosamond a few months ago–truly life changing.

    As I watch Ben’s TED talk and worked with Rosamond, it occurs to me that we can all be like the Zander’s. We all have passions, ideas, things we want to share, gift, sing to the rooftops. The Zander’s inspire me to be…ME. And that is the best gift of all.

  17. Shaun says:

    Hello Jonathan, I’m here too, actually I just saw you walk by. Zander was so inspiring and brilliant and transformational. His TED talk online gives you a small taste. I bought his book on Audible when I got home and started it this morning. Great also.

  18. Amy Oscar says:

    Oh, Jonathan – once again, you are doing just what you write about here – your energy is so generous, so expansive and inclusive. Every time I read one of your posts, there is a moment when I grin or actually laugh out loud. It happened again today, when you described the way Zander raced around the room, hugging and kissing the front row. I fell in love with him – and until today, I had never even HEARD of him. (PS thanks for the Stuart Wilde quote: Printing that on a great big sheet of oaktag and taping it to the wall of my office. )

  19. Al Smith says:

    Wow ! Thanks Jonathan. What an amzing and inspiring blog post. I felt like I was there. Made me wish I was there and also to know I am on the right path with the CARE Movement. I want to speak and turn the audience to putty in my hands, as you put it. i feel like i am ready to do it. i just got your new book and am looking forward to reading it. No more uncertainty. I was born to do this. It is time. Dare to CARE. And Share.

    Thanks again, brother. Great writing and Continued success.


  20. susan kuhn says:

    Fabulous! Here;s a Zander-ish thought: Is Steve Jobs’ death only a loss? Why not be fascinated by the process of what happens when an outsized genius passes? After a forest fire that takes out the big trees — lots of new growth comes in? You inspire me to do a “Zander check” on my thinking…

    BTW my three copies of Uncertainty came yesterday…it is awesome and catapults you to the front ranks…Sethdom. Congratulations! Sending two copies out to do good in the world.

  21. Farnoosh says:

    Jonathan, quite possibly, your best writing of all here today. It makes up for the sadness that is over me from the loss of Steve Jobs and drives home a very important point yet again. Thank you.

  22. Mary says:

    I played in his youth orchestra as a high school kid, and I’ll never forget how amazing it was to make music with him. Great post.

  23. Randy says:

    Simon Sinek mirrors this post in his TED talk when he said: “People don’t buy what you do, they buy WHY you do it.”

    Get others to see and feel what you see and feel…and they’ll follow you anywhere.

  24. Sylvia says:

    I was privileged to see Ben Zander speak a few years back and he had the whole audience sing ‘Ode to Joy’ in German, and everyone loved every minute of it.
    Here’s a Ted clip of him I really like and just thought I’d share in case you haven’t seen it.
    Thanks for your great post today.

  25. Linn says:

    JUst got my 3 bundle of the new book “Uncertainty”!
    WOW! I have neve, ever, gotten anything like this before. The publisher says these 3 copies are FREE!!! My regular 3 bundle are comming later.
    Wellllll….I would rather pay it forward!
    DO NOT send me my regular 3 copies….instead offer them FREE to 3 people who could not have afforded them. My crteria is”
    people who have less than $1,000 month income and are either on Social Security or Disability income.
    So run a call for people who fit this and after the responses come in choose 3 to get their FREE copy!

  26. I studied conducting in college – both vocal and instrumental – with two different teachers that took entirely different approaches to the music.

    For one, it was about the mechanics: hand positioning, stance, the analysis of the score, and how to “read the mind” of the composer.

    For the other, it was about making the music come alive – pulsing, throbbing, and enduring in our hearts and spirits long after the last note of the final crescendo had dissipated from the room.

    The irony is that we also had to study conductors in action during our course. The “mechanical” instructor took us to watch a fellow instructor who had recently retired. The irony is that as we watched, it became incredibly clear that she didn’t follow the mechanical rules of creating music, but instead, lead with her heart and infused every gesture, inflection, and breath with what it means to live as music.

    To this day, I’m not much on the mechanics of conducting. I can keep a beat pattern, and I know how to beat multiple meters simultaneously (a requirement to graduate the course), but I’d much rather cruise around the podium, massaging the music from my ensembles – as they come alive under my baton.

    Great post, Jonathan!

  27. Sukhi says:

    Zander is a bundle of energy! He completely lit me up when I heard him speak years ago. The biggest piece I got was that he cultivates curiosity where most default to judgement. And that’s made all the difference in my world and believe his too.

  28. Ron Renaud says:

    Dude, off the hook! You have no idea how perfect the timing of this is for me. I’m a high energy guy who trains, speaks and coaches. I’m 39 and have for as long as I can remember, had people telling me to talk quieter, more slowly, to chill, etc.

    I’ve got a good friend who I’m getting marketing help from (I respect and appreciate him) and …I’m feeling totally squished, like I’ve got to be something I’m not. I’m masculine, yes but I’m also a bundle of joy and energy. I want to hone who I am w/o crimping an ounce of my passion.

    Thank you, Ben. Thank you J!



  29. Jane Crosbie says:

    This was awesome I absolutely loved it. Success in a nutshell – very simple isn’t it – be radiant – be in love with what you do – and the rest will come naturally. Thank you. Every post you do is awesome but this just takes the cake. My favourite post of yours – ever. Thank you for the reminder to be in love with what you do and then you will radiate with infinite energy..

  30. Jenny Fenig says:

    Love this, Jonathan! I had the pleasure and privilege of seeing Ben Zander speak at a conference a few years ago. He was amazing. I could feel the energy pulsing in the room. Probably the only speaker more impactful was Tony Robbins (I used to book speakers for a living). Great speakers are a force of nature.

    It’s interesting because from your description, it sounds like Ben’s speech didn’t change much from then to now. And it doesn’t have to. If your message is powerful and your delivery is even stronger, then you can just keep doing what you’re doing. It works.

    I actually decided to have “Ode to Joy” played at my wedding as a result of Ben using it in his speech. His effect on me was lasting … and joyous! He’s a true example of living your passion and learning from your “mistakes.”

  31. todd schnick says:

    been a fan since i saw his TED speech…

  32. Purav says:

    My personal experiences following writers like Jonathan or speakers on TED have been a defining moment in my life.It leaves such a profound impact that it has changed my entire thought process.
    His quote of “How fascinating” emits positive energy in every individual.I also recommend the other family members of this blog to listen to Salman Khan’s khan academy free education program which is inspiring.

  33. Executive X says:

    I love Ben’s stories and you can easily see his passion for what he does. May we all design a life and career we love as much!

  34. Luna Jaffe says:

    I have been inspired by Benjamin Zander ever since reading the Art of Possibility– and I love your description of him captivating the audience for 2 hours by dancing up and down the aisles. Thank you for this, and for your new book which, I believe, you must have written specifically for me 🙂

  35. Darren Poke says:

    Thanks for sharing this Jonathan,

    I love Ben and his style of presenting is incredibly unique and inspiring.

    I’ve yet to see him present live, so I’m a bit jealous of those who have. I’ll just have to settle for trying to be as passionate a presenter as he is.

    It will take a while, but I’ll have fun trying.

  36. Jonathan,

    Nicely, very nicely indeed, written piece here. It sounds like this Zander guy is worth looking into. I am about to start reading his book, which he co-wrote with his wife, “The Art of Possibility”. That ought to be a good start.

    Wink wink. Thanks for the inspiration.

  37. Sean M Kelly says:

    Hi Jonathan

    Excellent article! I had the honour of meeting Zander one time myself at the world memory championships in London which I was competing in. He was there (if I remember correctly!!!) as an example of someone who demonstrates a phenomonal memory – all the music he recalls and the intricacies of having an orchestra perform to the highest level.

    As you say its all about doing that which makes us “come alive” and there in lies the greatest seed to all our greatness.

    Great post

  38. Kate says:

    “But, you can’t go to that place where you literally glow on a level that makes people say “I want THAT!” if it’s just your J.O.B. It’s got to be an organic extension of your very being… [Zander was] Raw, transparent, fully-aligned with what makes him come alive.”

    So much of life is about getting to this place, finding your passion, as it were. At work or at home, genuine enjoyment shines through not just in your enthusiasm, but also in your dedication to your craft, your tasks or your product. Thanks for highlighting this for us once again!

  39. Linda coles says:

    It was a magical day indeed. I was in row 10 with a birds eye view of his shining eyes and magical spirit, the only person who could keep Bill Clinton waiting 30 minutes for his slot.

    Invest in your own education, if you can go next year, do so.

  40. I absolutely love Zander as well. He could practically be a motivational speaker!