Note: This article is part five in an ongoing series about mastery.
Renée Fleming is one of the most famous living opera stars who currently performs. Some of her master classes recently gurgled to the top of my YouTube home page, and they are a treat to watch.
Fleming is gracious and effective in this video, and the student is excellent. But something that struck me about Fleming’s approach is how often she focuses on tools: first, a straw to connect the student to her ribcage and support, then a pencil, to help her find a higher and more effortless vocal resonance, and in passing, the idea of singing while lying down.
This focus on tools differs from the other master classes I’ve posted in this series. Thomas Hampson’s principles were a quick-get but hard to remember in the moment. Matthew Aucoin’s methodologies provided structure but could lead to unpredictable discoveries and decisions. Joyce DiDonato’s processes could guide one away from familiar habits and into better-if-more-difficult ones.
By contrast, tools just make everything easier.
If you already know what you’re doing.
And if you choose the right tools.
The right tool—for the job
It’s tough keeping up with tools these days. The technology ecosystems we use to do our jobs are changing constantly. It’s impossible for any organization, consultant, or marketer to keep up with every tool.
Specializing in a popular tool is helpful in the short term but dangerous in the long term. E.g., if you specialize in SugarCRM or Tessitura as a CRM system, are you also staying abreast of everything Salesforce can do? If you specialize in Tableau, how will that skillset port to Google Data Studio? And what new tools are emerging?
A more sustainable long-term focus instead of “knowing the right tool” is knowing the right tool for the job. When the job to be done is clearly specified, the right tool is frequently obvious.
Admittedly, straws and pencils are pretty simple tools, compared to technology platforms like Airtable, Atlassian, Salesforce, Marketo, Hubspot, PowerBI, and others. Those take longer to roll out and for organizations to adapt to them. A leader must guide the implementation or else the culture reverts to whatever tools and habits are already-familiar.
In the video above, Renée Fleming knew immediately what tool was needed because she’s Renée Fleming. She grokked the full situation and reached for the solution that she knew would work, and applied it skillfully and quickly. When choosing important tools, be sure to talk to a master (in operatic singing) with broad and recent experience, and not just a specialist (in pencils).
Be a Renée Fleming, or find a Renée Fleming.
Then you’ll pick the right tool and get the results you’re looking for.
Next article: Results