Roger Nierenberg: [00:00:00] What you need to do is to marry your own personal destiny, the things that you really love, the things that you believe in, the things and ways that you want to spend your time. You have to marry that with the world and the things that it needs.

Andy Molinsky: [00:00:23] Welcome to From the Dorm Room to the Board Room, a podcast where we provide insights, tips, and inspiration for college students and young professionals, so they can make a really successful transition from college life to the professional world and beyond.

Andy Molinsky: [00:00:40] My name is Andy Molinsky, and I'm your host. I'm also a Professor of Organizational Behavior in International Management at Brandeis University's International Business School, where we record and produce this podcast.

Andy Molinsky: [00:00:54] Okay. My guest today is Roger Nierenberg, who was born in New York City, graduated from Princeton University, where he received High Honors in Composition. He holds Graduate Degrees in Conducting from the Mannes College of Music and the Juilliard School. For many years, Roger served as Music Director of the Stanford Symphony in Connecticut, The Jacksonville Symphony in Florida, and as a guest conductor for many symphonies around the world.

Andy Molinsky: [00:01:29] But today, Roger is, perhaps, just as known for a very innovative program he's created to bring insights from symphonic music to help companies, organizations manage organizational change. Roger's had a fascinating career spanning and connecting very different industries and experiences. And we're very happy to have him here today on the From the Dorm Room to the Board Room Podcast. Welcome, Roger.

Roger Nierenberg: [00:01:56] Thank you, Andy. It's good to be here.

Andy Molinsky: [00:01:59] Yeah, I'm very happy to have you. So, I'd love to start by hearing a bit about what you do now. What's your job? How long have you been doing this job? Do you like your job?

Roger Nierenberg: [00:02:11] Well, it's a very unusual job because one foot is planted firmly in the world in which I grew, which is the classical music world, but the other is equally firmly planted in a world in which I did not grow up, which is the world of business and the way business is evolving.

Roger Nierenberg: [00:02:32] So, I'm engaged by business organizations to come and do a presentation at their meetings. And my presentation is customized, entirely customized around whatever it is that they want to accomplish in that meeting, which is about what their aspirations are and what their challenges are. And I consult with them to find out what that is.

Roger Nierenberg: [00:03:00] At the meeting, I appear with a live symphony orchestra, which is the local orchestra wherever the meeting happens to be, and with whom I've worked for just one hour rehearsing the music. And the room is set up in such a way that the audience anywhere from, let's say, 50 to as many as a thousand participants, they're all sprinkled inside the orchestra. So, they're looking at the process from the players' point of view.

Roger Nierenberg: [00:03:29] And then, I design role-playing exercises that spontaneously cause the issues that are alive inside the business organization to spring to life in the symphony orchestra, so that by listening to the orchestra play, actually, it becomes like looking in the mirror for the participants, and they see their own behaviors and their potentials with greater clarity than they do in real life because life unfolds at a certain speed. And it's slow. And, sometimes, it's hard to connect the dots because it's too long a time between an action and what the result will be. But in music, things happen much faster; and, therefore, you can immediately see the relationship between a behavior and the result that it brings about.

Roger Nierenberg: [00:04:33] So, it turns out that it's very enlightening. And it's enlightening not only for the participants who have engaged me but, also, for the musicians because it causes them to reflect on their own professional lives in a way that they haven't before. And that's called the Music Paradigm. And that's what I do.

Andy Molinsky: [00:04:53] Very creative and interesting. So, let's rewind. Where did you go to college? What did you major in? Did you like it? And just, sort of, tell us a bit about your college experience.

Roger Nierenberg: [00:05:05] Well, I went to Princeton University, and I majored in Music Composition. And that was what, from about the age of, let's say, 12, that was what I wanted to do. That was what I thought I was going to do. And indeed, that was what I did. But I also played in orchestras, and I really adored conducting. And I did some conducting even when I was in high school. And through college, I conducted a lot of the works that I had composed.

Roger Nierenberg: [00:05:35] But by the time I was ready to graduate, having been informed by every teacher that I ever had that music was a very difficult career, and I thought that if I was going to embark on a difficult career, it ought to be something that I really loved. And I thought that I just love conducting more than I did composing. And so, then, I made a decision to pursue a career in conducting. And that was indeed what I did for the first, at least, two decades of my life, maybe longer than that. And that's my history.

Andy Molinsky: [00:06:13] Do you remember the very first time you -- I guess it's not after college but after your advanced training when you first started conducting, do you remember what it was like at very first? Was it -- I'm trying to, sort of, draw a parallel between maybe a student who might leave college or even leave a master's program and jump into their first job. Do you remember what your first job was like?

Roger Nierenberg: [00:06:40] Well, there's conducting the art, and then there's the conducting the career. And I was very unknowing about the career. Unlike some of my colleagues who grew up in musical families, there was nobody in my family who knew anything about the music career. And so, I was really flabbergasted, and confused, and at a loss. I just had absolutely no idea how to advance. And so, it took me many years before I, kind of, got on my feet, and finally won my first job.

Andy Molinsky: [00:07:20] And tell us a bit about that very interesting transition that you've made. It sounds like it didn't end up being an either-or situation. So, either conducting or doing the interesting work with companies that you described earlier but kind of both end. How did that develop? And what, sort of, was the spark that, sort of, pivoted you in your career?

Roger Nierenberg: [00:07:44] Well, that's a really good question. First of all, I never intended to be doing what I'm doing. I really didn't have any desire to help business organizations. Instead, I was very interested in the world of classical music, specifically orchestras, and the drift that I saw in society, which was definitely moving away from the values on which our art form is based. Shorter attention span, more competition for entertainment time. Many changes in society were making it ever increasingly difficult for symphony orchestras to survive. And that was a problem that I was interested in because I felt that to the extent that my institutions will thrive, I could achieve more of the artistic goals that I had.

Roger Nierenberg: [00:08:43] And so, I, kind of, posed myself the question, was there a way that I could get people who didn't really have much interest in classical music, could I not only attract their attention, but could I give them a really artistic, powerful experience of what listening to music would be like? That was my goal. And that was what I was pursuing.

Roger Nierenberg: [00:09:08] But I did it in a creative way by combining and bringing together many different elements of my life, like the teaching of conducting that I did at Juilliard. And then, there was a children's concert that I did in Stanford in which I placed the children inside the symphony orchestra, and many of the educational concerts that I've done, and even some of the speeches that I had made. And I, kind of, combined them in such a way that this thing was born.

Roger Nierenberg: [00:09:40] And only after it was launched for the purpose of expanding audiences did I get any idea that it was actually useful to businesses and how useful it was. That was kind of a big surprise to me. I had never expected that.

Andy Molinsky: [00:09:57] And when was the first time that you actually went into a business or that a business invited you to do one of the presentations that you're talking about?

Roger Nierenberg: [00:10:07] I don't remember exactly that date, but I think it was around 1995.

Andy Molinsky: [00:10:11] And did it take a while? How did you find that?

Roger Nierenberg: [00:10:13] Well, I was curious because I was routinely giving free concert talks with both of my orchestras. And then, there was a CEO from an insurance company who was a regular member of the concert audience, and he invited me to come and speak to him at his business meeting about the teamwork in the orchestra because he was doing a reorganization in his business that was shifting the way that his people acted in teams. And I said to him, "I'd be happy to do it, but I wanted to understand what the context was."

Roger Nierenberg: [00:10:53] And then, based on what I learned, I designed an experience for them in which I brought a string quartet with me because I thought the string quartet was the perfect metaphor for how they needed to think about themselves. And then, that was so well-received that, then, I started getting asked to do it by other organizations, and I did it with the orchestra. And that was even more successful. And then, I was encouraged by one of the board members in one of my orchestras that this was sufficiently important that I could even do it in other places.

Andy Molinsky: [00:11:35] Very interesting. Serendipitous even, but it sounds like you looked out for opportunities and took advantage of them. So, I think that's a great lesson. So, it's now time for the advice section of our discussion. We'd love to hear the advice that you have for students and young professionals, sort of, about to leave college, enter the professional world, and really embark on their career. So, first question is, from your vantage point, what two to three real misconceptions you think young professionals have when entering the workplace?

Roger Nierenberg: [00:12:10] When you're in school, the path that you're on is pretty delineated and has been delineated from the first time you went to school as a child. But the the world that you enter into when you leave school - at least, this was the case for me, and I think it's even more so now - doesn't have such clear paths.

Roger Nierenberg: [00:12:39] And especially now because things are changing so rapidly. And when you think about it, it's something which is as important in the world as Facebook and how quickly that happened. It used to be the case that for important international organization to grow up way, it would take decades, but this happened so quickly. And empires are built, and they fall extremely rapidly.

Roger Nierenberg: [00:13:11] When I started doing this, one of the most powerful and important organizations that was my client was Sears. And the notion that that could have ever gone bankrupt in that time, it was unthinkable. So, today's world, things, opportunities are being discovered, and empires are being disrupted. Disruption is very important.

Roger Nierenberg: [00:13:36] So, I think that a good feel, a good instinct for where opportunity might be. And what you need to do is to marry your own personal destiny, the things that you really love, the things that you believe in, the things and ways that you want to spend your time, you have to marry that with the world and the things that it needs, either it needs right now or that it could need. And to find some way of building a bridge between the two, so that the contribution that you're making has the power of your own creativity, your own beliefs, the things you value because, I think, like Steve Jobs very famously said that, that you start off with what you really feel passionately about, and that's where your biggest contribution is going to be made.

Andy Molinsky: [00:14:39] So, looking back then from college, it's interesting. So, you have gone on a bit of a different direction. And I'm sure that the music composition and conducting that you did in college is, obviously, directly related to that side of your work. How about what skills and knowledge from college ended up being useful for, sort of, this other unexpected side of your career, the Music Paradigm?

Roger Nierenberg: [00:15:02] Well, when I look back at college a  from the musical skills, I think, in college, I learned a lot about how to communicate, how to organize my thoughts, and how to kind of make it make a clear argument, if you will, or to make a case for a particular idea that I had. I think that was  important.

Roger Nierenberg: [00:15:33] Another thing that happened to me, it didn't happen in college, but it happened much later is that  just took a couple of a classes with named Ed Berkley at the Aspen School, which is a music took some acting classes, and because of that, even though I only took maybe a dozen of them, I became a much more persuasive communicator. And I think that  really transformational. I think the ability to communicate, connect with people is really important, and it's universal, and a power no matter what you do to be to get people to, sort of, see and feel what it is that you see and that you feel.

Andy Molinsky: [00:16:28] That's actually a good segue  my next question, a question number three, which is it's a bit of a grandiose question  from your vantage point, where you sit, does it mean to be a great leader?

Roger Nierenberg: [00:16:41] Well, I think it means many things. Ultimately, a great leader is somebody who contributes to people achieving great results. Well, that's really the essential truth about it. It doesn't say very much, does it?

Roger Nierenberg: [00:16:58] So, I think, great leaders have a talent for connecting the present to the future. And that means that have to be firmly rooted in both. I mean, a of people are more rooted in -- fundamentally, they're more rooted in the present and in the past. And I'm not talking about  18 I'm talking about like the past experiences we have, and we relate to the world through the lens of our past. But there are people who at the fresh eyes, a they're they're very attracted to possibilities. They're seeing not only what there is in front of them, but what what could be.

Roger Nierenberg: [00:17:49] And so, a leader is somebody who has a vision of what could challenges himself or herself to find a way to bring where we are now towards that possibility. So, that's fundamental, but also fundamental is the ability to inspire others to see the same thing that you've seen. And then, them in such a way that they can actually  to reality what it is that bridge that you've imagined.

Andy Molinsky: [00:18:28] So, it's now time, actually, for our student  And question comes from Kevin, who is a student majoring in Business. And so, let's hear Kevn's question.

Kevin: [00:18:42] Hi. My  Kevin [inaudible]. And I'm a college student majoring in Business with a minor in Legal Studies and Anthropology in Houston, Texas. My question is everyone has a unique skill they can bring to the workplace. Upon entering a professional world, how did you utilize your abilities to distinguish yourself in your work?

Roger Nierenberg: [00:19:03] So the question is, how did I distinguish myself through my abilities?

Andy Molinsky: [00:19:10] Your unique abilities, I guess.

Roger Nierenberg: [00:19:12] My unique abilities, I think, a really important ingredient is persistence because especially if you're starting something new and if you're inventing something new, you're going to have a lot more failure, or let's put it, a lot more rejections than you will success. And you have to, sort of, brace yourself for that and have a very strong sense of belief in what it is that you envision.

Roger Nierenberg: [00:19:42] And then, you have to just stick with it. And that was really important. And, for me, it was a question of finding the opportunities where I could just get my foot inside the door. Once I did, I had to be able to make a persuasive case for that. But I found the making of the case not so difficult as it was to find the opportunity and to just get an opportunity to present. And that was just the question of trying again, and again, and again.

Andy Molinsky: [00:20:17] So, in some ways, it's persistence. It's that grit that's critical, right?

Roger Nierenberg: [00:20:23] I think persistence is enormously powerful. And, of course, there's nothing really -- there's nothing sophisticated about persistence. It's a very simple idea. It's just that you keep on trying, and you keep on going back, and you try another thing. And the thing that has failed two or three times, you keep on trying that because, eventually, there may be a little opening. And, I think, it has to be really kind of -- you have to have a sense for where there might be an opening because the door is not going to be thrown wide open for you. Likely, there's going to be some kind of crack that will appear. And to recognize that, and then find a way to get the opportunity.

Andy Molinsky: [00:21:06] Oh, I think that's absolutely right. And I think it's true in all sorts of professions. It's funny, when you were talking, I was thinking of cooking. I love to cook. And the idea of like trying to create a master recipe for something, you're going to fail. You're going to fail again. You're going to fail again. But there might be that glimmer within that recipe of something that really does work. And then, you can build around that. So, I don't know. That's just what came to my mind. But, I think, it's a very, very good piece of advice for college students.

Andy Molinsky: [00:21:33] Okay. So, we're nearing the end of our chat, and it's now time for what we call the Quickfire Round. So, these are pretty quick answers to five quick questions. Are you ready?

Roger Nierenberg: [00:21:43] I am.

Andy Molinsky: [00:21:44] All right. Number one, what gets you motivated at work?

Roger Nierenberg: [00:21:50] Well, I'm always at work. And what motivates me is beauty, and imagination, and creativity. And I'm so hungry for that at all times of the creating of something, which is beautiful that I never have any difficulty finding motivation.

Andy Molinsky: [00:22:08] What's a piece of advice someone gave you earlier in your career that you didn't take, but you wish you did?

Roger Nierenberg: [00:22:15] I really don't -- I don't know how to answer that question.

Andy Molinsky: [00:22:22] Maybe a piece of advice that someone gave you that you actually did take, something early on?

Roger Nierenberg: [00:22:28] It's very difficult to see the things when you're young before you've seen them that people are telling you about. So, I got all kinds of advice that I just simply wasn't mature enough to receive.

Andy Molinsky: [00:22:42] Well, that's that. There you go. That's actually a very important point for people to hear. What makes a good mentor, in your mind, for young professionals?

Roger Nierenberg: [00:22:50] Let me just fill on that last question for one minute because it's important. When somebody gives you some advice, and it doesn't strike you as correct, or it doesn't strike you as relevant, what I've learned is that takes some time, and really think about that, and file it away. Don't dismiss it because there may be something very important for you in that advice that you can either implement now or you might be able to implement later.

Andy Molinsky: [00:23:21] So, keep a catalog, Keep track of that advice, even if you don't know if you can use it, or even fully understand it now, it might pay dividends in the future.

Roger Nierenberg: [00:23:29] And ponder it.

Andy Molinsky: [00:23:32] Ponder it.

Roger Nierenberg: [00:23:32] Ponder it, exactly.

Andy Molinsky: [00:23:32] Ponder it. So, the third question, what makes a good mentor for a young professional, in your mind?

Roger Nierenberg: [00:23:41] Somebody who's capable of seeing the potential in the younger person and who is rewarded by helping that person to grow, by nurturing that person, by having a sense of what kind of experience does that person need? And, also, by somebody who will help that person expand his or her network because everybody grows, in part, through not only subjects that they know and skills that they have but relationships. So, a mentor will constantly be opening the door to new relationships and new people, and a new diet of stimulation.

Andy Molinsky: [00:24:26] What were the worst and the best parts of your college experience?

Roger Nierenberg: [00:24:32] Well, one of the worst parts was going to a school that was not for education. I went to an all-male school. I went to Princeton before it became became coed. And that was one of the worst aspects. I think when you're in your late teens, in your early 20s, that's not the time to isolate yourself from the opposite sex. But that's not really what people are interested in. Ask me the question once again, What were the worst parts of my college education?

Andy Molinsky: [00:25:00] Yeah. Just off the top of your head, the best and worst. The best and worst of your college experience.

Roger Nierenberg: [00:25:06] I think I went to a place that was a very powerful academic environment. And so, ideas, and concepts, and all that, everybody was very conversant with that. More practical things and the kinds of things that you'd never publish, you wouldn't write about, but especially for a musician, the developing of kind of skills, just basic fundamental skills, I don't think they were as emphasized as would have been helpful to me. I think it was assumed that I could just take care of that myself, but I couldn't. I needed more guidance.

Andy Molinsky: [00:25:48] And then, finally, last quickfire question, if you could go back in time, what's one piece of advice that you would give to the 20-year-old college version of you? And you sort of covered that a minute ago in terms of trying to appreciate the advice that you were given, but is there anything else that you might -- if you could go back in time and talk to that 20-year-old version of you that you might -- the advice you might give to yourself?

Roger Nierenberg: [00:26:15] Well, I think what I would say is the way you see yourself and the way you see the world may have a lot of delusion in it. So, there's so much that you haven't experienced when you're young. And people, sometimes, they get notions about the way they put it together, the sense they make of it all. And it's very difficult to see when you're misguided.

Roger Nierenberg: [00:26:44] And I think I could have had a more open-minded attitude about just making a different sense if I had known that there are other ways of making sense, and that I would have benefited from understanding them, and not being quite so dismissive. Because young people, they can be dismissive of things that they don't agree with, that don't resonate with their values. But I think that, in time, those things may turn out to be the most important of all.

Andy Molinsky: [00:27:23] Well, this is really, really useful and interesting. And I know it's going to benefit the people listening. And so, we're at the end of our chat. And I want to thank you so much for being our guest. Can you tell us how listeners can find out more about you, your work, if they're interested? Do you have a website? Social media? What would be a good way to connect with you?

Roger Nierenberg: [00:27:42] Well, there's this a web site, which is And there also -- I mean, there's this Facebook page. And then, there's this Twitter and all that stuff. There's also a book I wrote which is called Maestro: A Surprising Story about Leading by Listening that, I think, articulates the ideas. And all that is readily available.

Andy Molinsky: [00:28:08] Excellent. Well, thank you so much again. I really appreciate it.

Roger Nierenberg: [00:28:13] Thank you.

Andy Molinsky: [00:28:16] Thank you for listening to From the Dorm Room to the Board Room. If you're interested in learning more about the work that I do in helping people step outside their comfort zones and transition successfully into the professional world, please visit my website, That's A-N-D-Y-M-O-L-I-N-S-K-Y dot com. And, also, feel free to email me directly at with any feedback or ideas for guests for feature podcasts.

Andy Molinsky: [00:28:47] This podcast is brought to you by Brandeis University's International Business School. By teaching rigorous business, finance, and economics, connecting students to best practices, and immersing them in international experiences, Brandeis International Business School prepares exceptional individuals from around the globe to become principled professionals in companies and public institutions worldwide. Thank you so much for listening.