Monday, 8 December 2014

On The Other Side of Commitment - Day 9

Day 9
9 Muses, detail from Mantegna's Parnassus 1497, Louvre Paris
The Muses' mother was the Titaness, Mnemosyne, goddess of memory
but their raison d'êtres were to help people forget the pain and sorrow of life through the Arts.
Their names and specialisms are: Calliope - Epic Poetry; Clio - History; Erato - Love Poetry;
Euterpe - Music; Melpomene - Tragedy; Polyhymnia - Hymns;
Terpischore - Dance; Thalia - Comedy; & Urania - Astronomy.

Today's post is by Khurshed Dehnugara, a former Commercial Director at GSK, who since 2001 has been a Partner at Relume Ltd - a research and advisory boutique specialising in assessing the patterns of behaviour that underpin leaders and successful businesses. Khurshed is a valued coach and facilitator. He is also a respected author with a number of publications to his name, including "The Challenger Spirit - Organisations That Disturb The Status Quo".. You can follow him on Twittter via @relume1. I do not know Khurshed well, we became acquainted on Twitter, but I greatly enjoy his comments and observations. Having read his Advent piece, I now know that we will become better acquainted during 2015.


There are 14 of us, standing in a circle in a small, long room; I make a feeble excuse, step outside, grab some mouthfuls of fresh air and decide if I am going to do a runner.

I knew when my friend Steve Chapman sent me the invitation to a day of Musical Improvisation that it was something I really, really didn't want to do, so of course I hovered over the delete button and then replied to say yes I would be there. I trust Steve and have been involved in a range of experiences in theatre in the past, but there was something about singing in particular that was disturbing me. I thought it was worth trying to find out why.

Back in the room, I found my constrained corporate self standing in the middle of a group of artistic, media types, all converse trainers, crumpled jackets and shirts that hang out. The idea of this current exercise is that the piano player plays a tune in a particular style and you sing to it - in gibberish - nothing has to make any sense, but it needs to match the musical style of the accompaniment. The person to your left starts singing to you and you have to respond in some way, again in gibberish. Then when you are done the music changes, you turn to your right and sing to the next person in the new style. So we go around the circle.

A musical improvisation group
Photo courtesy of
I am standing about 6 people along the line, working out when and how to make my exit. The first few rounds do nothing to quell my panic, but it is all happening too quickly, and all of a sudden there he is, my first partner completing his piece and turning towards me. We have never met before and have no particular connection between us, I find myself unable to look at him and am turned at a slight angle away. As my eyes travel around the room, I settle on the facilitator who catches my eye. She has been a caring presence since we began the work and I feel comfortable again for a moment. She makes a slight gesture with her hand. Indicating for me to turn my head and look at my partner as he starts to respond to the music... oh for heaven's sake, it is something operatic.

He starts singing and it takes my breath away, the room goes still. It wasn't that he was any good, frankly I can't remember, was he even in tune, I have no idea. The magic was in the degree of commitment he brought to his singing and to me as his partner. There was no question that he would be half hearted in his delivery and, despite my obvious discomfort, no question that he would hold back on his meeting with me. I was spellbound.

And then without warning he finishes, I open my mouth and out comes something I don't recognise, I hadn't planned for it and all of a sudden had lost my self consciousness. Again, I can't remember what the quality was of what I produced except that it was similarly whole hearted. At the moment we build to a duet and finish our piece it seems natural and obvious to give him a heartfelt hug. Two blokes that have never met before, at least one of whom is not very tactile at the best of times.

Woodcut print by Tsugumi Ota
Depicting Dante embracing the singer from his home town
La Commedia 28. Casella from Purgatorio, Canto II
The rest of the day is stimulating and enlightening but nothing else touches that moment. As I reflect back on it in the days and weeks that follow I know it has done something to my visceral understanding of commitment in a way that is impossible for me to forget or unlearn.

I am left asking where, when and to whom in my life I am that committed. Where do I hold myself back? When do I give myself fully? And what is the role of commitment in living a successful, creative life? I am reminded of this quote, I feel like I see it everywhere now and when it first appeared in front of me 20 years ago it made a big difference to the choices I was making.

“Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth that ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one's favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would have come his way. Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin it now.”   ― William Hutchison Murray

What I got from this experience though, was a shift from the other side. What it was like to be on the receiving end of commitment at the moment someone else throws themselves completely into their choice. I had a visceral experience of wanting to move in return, in response and in support. And it was unstoppable, at least in me it felt like it had to happen. 

So wherever your paths way take you in 2015, my wish for you is to commit and be committed to it; to do your version of singing at full volume, to the backing track of your choice, with no thought for your own image and then see what happens.....

Screen shot from the film "Tommy Boy", 1995

About the author:  Khurshed Dehnugara @relume1
Author of Flawed but Willing, Leading Large Organisations in the Age of Connection

The experience that informed the blog was organised by Steve Chapman @stevexoh and facilitated by Joe Samuel and Heather Urquhart who run an organisation called Open Your Mouth and Sing @sponsong.

Joe and Heather


  1. Ah, so you bit the bullet Khurshed. I recall you being something of a music / business denier :-) A good read - thanks

  2. I really enjoyed reading about your experience, Khurshed. As someone who recently (I suppose; well, 5 years' ago) came back to choral singing after 30 years of not singing, I remember the blind panic of perhaps being heard singing by others. As you say, the link between something like singing and commitment and the horror of personal exposure is visceral.

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