What do a musician and a leadership development manager have in common? Creativity. Laura Carmichael, who has embraced both careers, is the perfect example of how innovation is much more than connecting the dots. As a clarinettist, she has played with top-notch orchestras and contemporary ensembles like MusikFabrik and MAE. Now in her 50s, she works predominantly with corporations in the field of organisational development combining culture and systems. The change happened ‘organically’ after she spent time learning design thinking while exploring how performance artists can help corporate people develop collaborative leadership skills.
All my life as a professional musician, a bass clarinettist to be precise, I’d been drawn to the experimentalist streak – she explains-. I’ve always been interested in technology and music and how the body and technology interface with each other, and how our mind and emotions work together to tell stories. I’m a big fan of life-long learning and I like pulling in ideas from my performing arts background to help develop leadership skills that serve organizational needs. This cross-fertilization of tech and ideas was what brought me to my second career in my 50s.
Of course, her new journey was by no means obvious to her at first. Big tech companies wanted her to develop certain team behaviours, “but people are measured and rewarded for individual output“. The challenge became how to align systems and co-create change in all those steps in between.
“As a performing artist, I learned to see the interconnectedness of culture and systems – she explains- and it has served me well as I have been able to transfer these abilities across to the corporate world. This is what businesses want nowadays – to know how to thrive in the midst of uncertainty and ambiguity, to be agile leaders – and I feel really comfortable dealing with that“.
Collaborative creativity is the way forward for Laura, even though she recognises it’s not always easy to accomplish.
Sometimes I see that women and minority background people don’t always get into leadership positions because they don’t fit the mainstream mental model of what is legitimate – she says-. They miss having the influence and impact they could have. Multiple intelligences need to be recognized and valued, and organizational systems need to be inclusive. I believe change comes on a cohort level and from changing systems inside the business world. When that happens, it can be magical. When leaders and their teams cascade meaning and purpose, it can be a positive way of spreading change throughout an organisation.”
Motherhood has also contributed to propelling her towards new challenges: she became a mum at the age of 44 despite she suffered a broken back in a serious car accident in her teens.
My idea of myself and my life context underwent a transition and my identity evolved into something new as I was stepping into the unknown – she explains-. Sometimes it was great and at other times it was not great. I didn’t find it easy in many ways but I guess I felt the same as those who were doing it and were 15 years younger than me. Now that I have more time, I have so much more to give and want to leave a positive legacy behind.
Music still keeps her busy. Playing might be demanding but in the end, she believes it’s what helps you keep in shape; something great for both mental and physical fitness. “The clarinet keeps my spine straight and I find it the fastest way to get body and mind into gear. Practising is what I’ve done most in my life – Laura says-. Hours and hours every day. My advice in midlife is to practice something. A language or a martial art or a musical instrument. Practice and practice well and always learn. Learning is what keeps the brain in tune“.
Midlife, in particular, is the right time for Laura to consider all the experience we have honed in our life. “Be prepared to up-skill and repurpose your talents into a new area -she advises to our midlife bloomers-. You may need to do some experimentation along the way to bridge the gap and make it understandable to others, but never dismiss what you know”.
Along the way, what she has learnt for sure is ‘how to strategically bear the discomfort of ambiguity in order to invoke originality’.