Music, empowerment, and teamwork
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The Insightful Leader Logo The Insightful Leader Sent to subscribers on March 22, 2023
Music, empowerment, and teamwork

Do you have any rituals that you use to prep for a big presentation or important interview? Maybe you’ve got a lucky shirt to wear or a calming mantra to repeat. Or perhaps you’ve got a favorite song that you always listen to to pump yourself up.

If music is part of your ritual, you’re not just being superstitious, according to some of my favorite research from our archives. You might actually be changing your behavior. Today, we’ll hear more about research into music—and musicals—and what business lessons they have to offer.

Using music to feel powerful

Athletes, of course, are famous for using specific rituals to prep for big moments. Indeed, this was the inspiration behind research into music by professors Derek Rucker and Loran Nordgren and colleagues.

“Athletes often arrive at the stadium wearing earphones,” Rucker says. “And these athletes often emerge from the locker room to the sound of music pounding. It is as if the music is offering a psychological coat of armor for the competition about to occur.”

Can music provide such armor? Along with their colleagues, Nordgren and Rucker designed several studies to find out.

To start, they asked participants to listen to songs and rate each one’s ability to empower. The winners—Queen’s “We Will Rock You,” 2 Unlimited’s “Get Ready for This,” and 50 Cent’s “In Da Club”—were compiled into a “high-power” playlist. Three other songs, similar in style but rated as less empowering, became the “low-power” playlist.

A new group of participants listened to either the high- or low-power playlist while completing different tasks. For example, they were shown word fragments like P _ _ ER, which could either be completed as a word related to dominance (e.g., POWER) or as an unrelated word (e.g., PAPER). Those that listened to the high-power playlist were more likely to complete the fragment using power words than those listening to the low-power playlist.

In another experiment, the high-power playlist changed the way people said they would act. After listening to music, participants were asked whether they would prefer to go first or second in a debate. The high-power-playlist group opted to go first 34 percent of the time compared with those who had listened to the low-power playlist, who chose to go first only 20 percent of the time.

“Some prior research suggests that people who feel powerful are more prone to make the first offer in negotiations,” Rucker says. “Essentially, in some situations, feeling powerful can incite a propensity to act, to take charge of the situation.”

You can read more about the research here.

What Broadway musicals can teach us about teams

Perhaps your power song is from a musical. (Might I recommend My Shot from Hamilton or One Day More from Les Mis?) It turns out that musicals have more to offer us at work than just a rousing tune. They also provide an important lesson in how leaders should assemble teams.

Professor Brian Uzzi wanted to understand the best way to assemble teams within tight-knit fields where the same people often collaborate with each other or have only one degree of separation between them and previous collaborators. Broadway musicals offered the perfect lab.

Uzzi and colleagues looked at over 100 years of playbills to map out the networks of the small creative teams that produce musicals. They wanted to understand how having repeat collaborators or those with close associations on the team affected a show’s success.

They found that both critical acclaim and financial success peak when there is a medium level of these tight-knit connections: Too much, and new ideas don’t flow in. Too little, and there aren’t enough of the common bonds that allow teams to establish trust and enable members to vouch for each other’s innovative instincts.

You can read more research on the science of teams here.

And, if you want to hear more from Uzzi, he’ll be featured in our The Insightful Leader Live webinar next week. He’ll be in conversation with David Ferrucci, the AI researcher who started and led the IBM Watson team from its inception through its landmark Jeopardy success, discussing the inner workings and social ramifications of today’s AI—and tomorrow’s.

You can sign up here for the free webinar, which takes place at noon central time on March 30.

“It’s not just that disability discrimination hurts people in the labor market. Disability discrimination begins much earlier, and it actually affects the educational opportunities and options available to students, especially in a context of school choice.”

— Professor Lauren Rivera, in Insight, on research that shows public-school principals are less welcoming to prospective families with disabled children—particularly when they’re Black.