How World Class Innovators Create the Unexpected
Dr. Edy Greenblatt creates fusions of:
- body & mind
- trapeze & teamwork
- dance, medicine, ethnology, & organizational behavior
They fly through the air with the greatest of ease, the executive team on … the flying trapeze?
It’s a bit extreme, yes, but is a highly-effective way to increase team trust (or fall 20 feet into the net), also also improve team members’ listening, collaboration, and self-awareness (or fall 20 feet into the net).
Who would think of using trapeze to develop executives and management teams? ‘Someone with a background in dance, sports, management, ethnology, neuro-psychopharmacology, and more — with a creative, integrative worldview.
“My worldview was dramatically shaped by early training as a teacher of world dance. ‘Though I was 9 when I started, by the time I was only 10 years old, my teacher started training me to be a professional instructor. I was taught not just to dance precisely and make careful distinctions in movement. I was also taught to have respect for the cultures-of-origin that were not ‘mine’ and to learn the styles of each nation and region — to dance a Bulgarian dance like a Bulgarian and a Turkish dance like a Turk. Early on, I learned to avoid sensitive historical and political matters in social settings. For example, don’t go to a Greek festival or wedding and ask the musicians for a Macedonian dance (even if you know that it is danced by Macedonians in Greece). You have to be constantly mindful of person, place, context, politics….”
Beyond minding individual sensitivities, she also learned that (for the most part) people are just people — not representatives of their government’s politics. There were problems on the ground in many of the countries whose dances she and her cohort performed. There was communism in the Eastern-bloc countries, Serbs versus Croatians during wars, anti-Israeli tensions. But at international dance events, they would dance Israeli, Lebanese, Croatian and Serbian dances together.
Their dance events created unique social spaces. Nowhere in the world did people achieve the same integration politically that the dancers were creating socially. The dance events and the social ties they engendered taught her that good things come from openness to taking what exists and moving it around, breaking rules, forgetting about the politics, ignoring the bigger picture, dealing with the individual level, and solving the current problem. In their case, the “current problem” was that they needed to dance, connect, and be joyful for a while — together.
Borders may change, but communities remain intact, and music and dance patterns have common roots that don’t shift because of politics.
“The drummer knows it’s the same rhythm and the same dance when you cross the border.“
Edy notes, “In any given moment, what you think is uniquely yours and what he thinks is uniquely his is actually both of yours. So, you keep your eyes open, you integrate the patterns, and pay attention to details. You get sensitive to what matters to people. Through world dance, you learn something superordinate that we all have in common.”
That said, it is sometimes necessary to maintain distinctions. Integration is not always the solution. For example, when Edy choreographs an Israeli dance suite to demonstrate its diversity, she knows to include the intact dances of the Yemeni and Chassidik communities and not blend their instrumentation, signature steps, and melodies.
So, world dance formed a critical part of Edy’s education — physical and intellectual. Understanding at depth allowed her to see what’s the same across boundaries — of music, of dance, and later, of other fields. She also found that openness, sensitivity, and a willingness to integrate (or maintain distinction, where appropriate) are key to the next step — creating something across boundaries.
After spending her senior year in high school dancing and working for a software company 3,000 miles from home, Edy started studying pre-biology/pre-med at University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA). She was admitted to the College Honours Program without a high-school diploma.
But dance was still her first love. Some of the world’s premier world-dance professionals told her that yes, she was at the top of her field in the US, but no one would believe she learned these dances in the native style in America — it wasn’t credible.
So she dropped out of UCLA and, “…headed for Bulgaria. But I never got to Bulgaria. Instead, I got off the train in Skopje, Macedonia, found my mentor, Atanas Kolarovksi, and started learning. I danced and (unknowingly) did anthropological fieldwork. I studied Macedonian language, lived with a local family, and went to villages to document weddings. I worked with master-teachers and danced all the time. I did that for about 6 months and travelled a little, and when I came back, I knew what I wanted to study.”
When she returned to finish pre-med, she discovered UCLA’s World Art & Cultures program (music, dance, theatre, folklore, mythology, art, and anthropology) and decided to do both. To support herself (and soon, her mom), she taught dancing and swimming, worked in travel, and at some point in time got a California real estate license.
Then her mother got sick. And no one could diagnose her.
Edy dropped out of UCLA to study anatomy, physiology, and advanced anatomy at Santa Monica College, trying to figure out what was wrong. For a school project, she interviewed doctors to help diagnose her mother’s problem and drew heavily on her skills in managing sensitive social situations — in some sense, combining dance (choreography) and medicine:
“The doctor who was attending to my mother refused the treatment I wanted, so I choreographed an encounter …
… with his supervisor, in the pharmacy that my friend runs. I read medical journals to find treatment hypotheses, then went to my mother’s doctor and said, ‘She needs this.’ The doctor said, ‘No, no, you can’t do that,’ and I said, ‘Oh, but I read these journals and here’s why it makes sense….’ The doctor would ‘dismiss’ me from his office, and I’d ‘run into’ his supervisor at the pharmacy and start chatting. I’d mention the article and ask if he thought the approach was worth a try. When he said, ‘That’s a good idea,’ I’d go back to the hospital and tell the attending doctor, ‘You know I was talking to Dr. So & So, and he thought it was a good idea.’ So my mother [finally] got treated. And it was the right approach.”
Edy figured out what was wrong, convinced the doctors, and before she finished her undergraduate degrees, her mother’s course of surgeries was complete.
By the time Edy finished at UCLA, she had taken classes in every building — from Nobel Prize Winners and masters in science, arts, humanities, chemistry, physiology, biology, dance, music, theatre, mythology, and English Literature. In her third stint at UCLA, she finished the interdisciplinary degree training, and the school offered her the biggest scholarship ever offered for a Master’s in Dance Ethnology.
She turned down medical school and took the offer.
By this time, Edy had continually stressed her body as a dance professional. She’d stressed her mind in the broad array of disciplines she mastered. She’d stressed herself emotionally to help with her mother’s healthcare. She’d also stressed her finances to pay for school, healthcare, freedom to pursue the arts, and life itself (for herself and her mother).
Ironically, office-tired dance students who revived their joy and energy in her classes marvelled at what a joyful, energized life she must be living. If the students have fun for an hour, the teacher must be having fun all day, right?
So how could she be tired? How could she be burning out? Was it time to head in a new direction?
A casual conversation one day with a childhood dance friend was a turning point personally and professionally. Dr. Drew Harris who, along with his brothers, had performed with Edy in the same ethnic dance festivals in Florida more than a decade before, helped her see that her dance “products and services” were more than dancing. They were aligned with the cutting edge concepts and best practices in organizational behaviour (OB) and team effectiveness he was encountering in New York University’s Entrepreneurship PhD program. He told her that ethnography and culture were critical parts of OB and leadership training. As a classically-trained ethnographer, she got curious, investigated, and found her own training to be more rigorous. Further encouraged to apply to top-tier programs by some of their lead faculty, she applied for a joint program (of course) to use her deep skills in ethnology in fields she hadn’t yet conquered: business management and psychology.
She joined Harvard University’s Joint PhD program in Organizational Behaviour, given by Harvard Business School and the Graduate School of Arts & Sciences (Psychology and Sociology). She found her own symptoms of burnout to be common in many professions and growing more so, robbing people of joy in their work-lives and draining massive amounts of productivity out of companies, communities, and economies.
Every piece of her background gave her a unique perspective on the problem of burnout.
From medicine, sports coaching, and dance (performing and teaching), she was specially qualified to understand how our bodies and minds — including the chemistry of our brains — interact. She understood how body and mind respond to working conditions, task order, sleep, sunlight, and more. From group leadership and caregiving, she understood the demands of emotional labour and how our energy levels, work, and emotions are tied together. From ethnology and pre-med quantitative training, she had the skills to rigorously investigate, critically analyse, and deeply understand social situations, including personal states at work.
She chose an extreme case in which to study burnout while controlling for work schedules, facilities, quarters, food, etc. (not easy to do with fire-fighters and emergency-room staff, who go home to very different lives).
The case was burnout among Club Med workers (GO’s). Studying the 24/7 staff providing training, service, care, and entertainment to guests under ideal vacation conditions not only reflected her own life but also revealed to her how we deplete our energies, how to manage for maintenance and restoration, and how our body-states and mind-states influence each other and our productivity. Her research was foundational to the resilience movement and led to work in television, radio, teaching, executive coaching, and consulting.
Dr. Edy helps her clients re-integrate pieces of themselves they separate into “work” and “life,” professional and personal, mind-at-work and body-that-goes-to-the-gym. Instead of flinging parts of themselves to the public forefront while the rest lies scattered on the floor, she teaches people how to care for their whole selves all the time, and how to increase their total energy, happiness, and productivity, not just trade one for the other.
For example, using strategic sequencing and her PRM© assessment, she shows people how to map their energy levels throughout the day, identify activities that contribute and deplete energy, reschedule their days so they don’t over-deplete, and match activities with energy availability so tasks are done better and faster. She helps people understand the brain chemistry and neurology behind their typical workdays, social interactions, and physical activity (or lack thereof) and identify ways to modify their mindsets and behaviours to naturally improve their own chemistry.
She herself uses different forms of exercise for different purposes. Her day starts with exercise (of course), but if it’s a day that needs a lot of creative work, she’ll begin with lap swimming, an inward-focused exercise during which ideas hatch in her head. Afterwards, she heads back to her office to record ideas with her laptop before something interrupts her creative flow.
Water aerobics gives her a similar workout (so similar chemistry), but there’s no “staff meeting” inside her head and subsequent creative flow (so different neural activity in different parts of the brain). Her mind is focused outward — on teacher and fellow students — not inward for creative inspiration. This set of behaviours and conditions engenders cognitive rest and social restoration.
Beyond integrating individuals, Edy integrates groups, including MBA students in troubled teams, start-up founders, corporate teams, and even her colleagues at Rotman’s Desautels Center for Integrative Thinking.
Similarly to individuals, integrating groups requires integrating whole people — body, mind, and emotions. All group members must be included. As Center Founder Dr. Mihnea Moldoveanu noted:
“She’s had a massively positive impact on the dynamics and ethos of the emotional landscape of our team.… She notices people that somehow escape the notice of others and brings them to the fore. And she integrates them through very natural means like food. She organises events that bring people together to share a meal, and she guides and structures the dialogue. Things that we don’t usually talk about are brought to the fore. And the people that we don’t usually notice are recognised, which is massively important. Precisely the ethos we want to build.”
Seeing from others’ perspectives (cognitive empathy) and integrating multiple perspectives (integrative thinking) are essential to her work with executives and student teams. According to her colleague, Dr. Maja Djikic, “She has no trouble understanding what each person in the team is going through and integrating that information…. From the perspective of each individual student, they don’t have a way out.”
But Dr. Edy finds ways for them as a team, seeing at once from the perspectives of all.
Edy is remarkably adaptable to others people’s styles. A student, Bonnie Bachenheimer, noted, “When Edy dances with the choreographer, she dances that teacher’s style. When she teaches, she embodies and transmits the choreographer’s intent. When the curriculum is her creation, she adapts her own style to the audience. She brings that same talent to working with leaders and teams: Respecting what is unique, always bringing the best of herself, and integrating to create innovative and meaningful results.”
Adaptability has been essential to Edy’s mastering a wide variety of disciplines, fitting into new circumstances, and choreographing a new approach to a problem. However, her most important lesson was on adapting to self, not others:
“At UCLA, as a graduate student and teaching fellow, I participated in Margaret Hill’s freshman ballet class. Ms Hill had been the principal dancer and senior ballet mistress of the Royal Ballet of London — a ballet master for over 30 years when I met her. On the second or third day of class, she took aside all the 18-year-old students enrolled in the Bachelor of Arts degree program in dance. To anyone else, they were all perfect-looking young ballet dancers. She looked at the first one and said, ‘You took [a certain kind] of singing lesson between the ages of 5 and 10, and as a result, it changed the shape of your ribs. If you’re going to dance ballet on the stage, you have to adjust your arm this way when you turn to your right.’ And then she went to the next perfect-looking dancer and said, ‘The ratio of your thigh to your calf is 1/3 too great, and as a result of that, you’re likely to develop [this type of] knee problem. So, when you do your barre-work, you’ll need to do it this way.’ For the next hour, she continued to show each ‘perfect’ woman exactly how her body was not perfect for ballet and what she needed to do to be successful. In short, she taught each one the most important lesson I learned in school — one that gave me more humility, and better compassion for everyone:
“No one has the perfect equipment for what needs to be done — no matter how it appears — and everyone has to learn to dance in his or her own body. Even companies have to learn to dance in their own bodies.”
After decades of learning, creating, and leading, Edy has in many ways become like the ballet master — able to see, diagnose, and help others dance in their own bodies, as individuals, teams, and companies. She’s attuned to what’s around her, including disparate perspectives and emotional dissonance, yet at the same time in synch with it all and integrating it, internally — a state of openness both outward and inward and at ease with that dissonance.
Dissonance is essential to music. Tension is inherent in trapeze balance and dance. Making them dynamic is essential to flow — be it creative flow or the flow (and flight) of our personal and professional energies. Edy learned how to manage her own creative flow and energies and has raised the capabilities of thousands of leaders, who themselves impact many more lives.
The Man on the Flying Trapeze lyrics begin,
“Once I was happy, but now I’m forlorn
Like an old coat that is tattered and torn.”
Although the song is actually about a lost love, feeling tattered and torn can also describe burnout — having lost the love of what we do.
Edy integrated her diverse background and skills to the problem of burnout and found rejuvenation in the new tools and techniques she developed, as well as the act of developing, itself.
Are you managing your whole self for high energy and creative flow?
Is it time to form a team, climb a trapeze, and fly?
1. one who innovates across domains of industry, field, country, social class, etc.
◦ s radical innovator, interdisciplinary creator, T-shaped person, borderless freethinker, boundary-crossing integrator, oddball;
Dr. Edy Greenblatt is one of the World’s Top 100 Executive Coaches (Marshall Goldsmith 100 Coaches), as well as Founder & President of Execu-Care Coaching & Consulting, Inc. and Visiting/Adjunct Faculty at Rotman School of Management & The Center for Creative Leadership. Her experiences as one of the world’s top Dance Ethnologists & Master Teachers were foundational to her pioneering work in Resilience and Embodied Leadership, as well as her Ph.D. research at Harvard University. This author, former McKinsey consultant, and TV & radio host is “from” Canada, Israel, Macedonia, the USA, and Yugoslavia (lived 6 months+, countries listed in alphabetical order). For more information on her work, see her book (Restore Yourself) and LinkedIn, edygreenblatt.com, & execu-care.com.
I thank the participants in this study (Fusioneers and Friends) for your insights, sharing, help, and patience. You inspire me, and I am honoured to know you. Special thanks go to Gladys Lee for her marketing excellence and video- and podcast-production brilliance, as well as the host of creative professionals involved in producing the videos and podcasts (you’re all listed on YouTube, iTunes, etc.). I extend a warm thanks to Fusion Research Assistant Dr. Lee Poh Chin for her continually-wise and dedicated contribution to this research, as well as i2i Executive Shareff Uthuman for managing the rats-nest of global research travel and budgets. I thank Nitish Jain and the S P Jain School of Global Management for supporting this research — you’re the foundation that enables the whole project. You are all God-sends. It takes a village to write a paper.
Photo/video cuts courtesy of Dr. Edy Greenblatt, Depositphotos, and our own creative team.
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