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The Official Baldrige Blog

Compose Your World

Photo of Kai Kight Quest for Excellence 33rd Keynote Speaker playing the violin.

Kai Kight's appearance arranged through Gotham Artists.

Why do some people just play notes they are handed while others write new music in the world? That’s the kind of question that fascinates innovative violinist and composer Kai Kight, who will deliver the keynote presentation at the 33rd Quest for Excellence® conference.

Using music as a metaphor, Kight aims to inspire leaders of organizations in every sector to make a powerful mindset shift in order to nurture transformative leadership that can turn unique ideas into reality and empower teams across all industries to reach their creative potential. 

Embark on the Excellence Journey

CEOs and other senior leaders seeking solutions to help their organizations achieve breakthrough performance and results will gain key insights as Kight will dissect core elements of the excellence journey, including how to  

  1. Develop an idea that other people should follow.
  2. Spread their vision in a way that's actually productive.
  3. Manage others and correct them when they’re off their paths.  
Photo of Kai Kight Quest for Excellence 33rd Keynote Speaker playing the violin in the audience.
Kai Kight's appearance arranged through Gotham Artists.


“Music is a beautiful parallel that we can use to explore our fears and anxieties when it comes to actually bringing something new into the world.”

Understand the Systems Approach

The Baldrige framework involves “a segmentation of different moving parts and gears that work together. This maps very accurately to the musical process,” shared Kight recently. As he sees it,

  • Leadership takes the place of the conductor and composer.
  • Strategy (i.e., the vision we all follow) is the sheet music.
  • Customers (i.e., the people or stakeholders we want to make an impact on) are analogous to the people in the audience. 
  • Workforce members are the performers.
  • Operations constitute the whole rehearsal process (i.e., the things underneath the surface that customers might not see but that ultimately determine what happens on stage). 

It’s important to understand that “all of these touchpoints are connected in really thoughtful, intricate ways,” added Kight. “They are necessary in order for a performance to happen at the highest possible level.”

“Performance excellence isn’t just doing a task, hitting a goal, or creating a business.… It’s also about doing those things with a certain amount of sustainability and smoothness.”

Overcome Business Threats

All businesses experience periods of disruption. “During such times, giving yourself the space to learn and become wiser affects not only how you think about new ideas, but also how you lead other people,” suggested Kight. 

He added, “As a composer, for example, writing in pencil means understanding that we're communicating a new vision; we’re communicating [our uncertainty] to people in a time of change … and the volatile nature of those ideas, so that people will be ready to move and adapt with us as we're trying to guide and make decisions.” 

Similarly, as business leaders committed to increasing organizational resilience and sustainability, if you can prepare people—if you can write in pencil—it can be helpful in a pandemic-sized climate like today.

“Innovation is not about recreating systems from scratch. It’s having the audacity to look at the world we’ve been handed and realize that we have the strength to add our own interpretation.”

Encourage Innovation 

Akin to musical performances, “composers often aren't even in the orchestra … but the orchestra needs that composer who's sitting outside to challenge them and to give them new music that will actually stretch their technique and their capacity in different ways,” stated Kight. “And the composer needs the ensemble, because without the ensemble’s music and ideas, it would be impossible for them to bring it to life, because they can't play all the instruments themselves.”

This resonates with business processes as well. “Having ideas and then learning to communicate those ideas are two different things,” he said. Especially as business leaders seeking to build trust and influence, “you need to communicate with them not in terms of what matters most to you, but what matters most to the people you’re trying to engage [i.e., customers, patients, students, employees, staff],” said Kight. “Get outside of your own head and be thoughtful … about the things that matter most [to your stakeholders], and put it into that language.”

“Likewise, in organizations, creating space from the top down [for honest, open conversations] is also really important,” added Kight, because, ultimately, that inspires leadership; “it allows us to become composers—those people with the unique ideas that will actually drive others forward and that the whole ensemble [the whole organization] needs.” 

“Our greatest value is not in us as individuals with separate good ideas. It's in our collective mindset. It's in the diversity of experience, pain, passion, stories, and knowledge that we can connect, combine, and build from together.”

Establish a Culture of Trust

When it comes to creating a culture of trust where everyone feels comfortable sharing and assessing their ideas, it really has to start at the top. As Kight explained, “When a teacher is guiding a student on a piece of music, before the student plays, the teacher will play through the part first. And that means the teacher will kind of know all of the ways in which the music is difficult.… They'll have walked the path that they are asking that student to play themselves.”

And so, as business leaders, in terms of engaging a workforce in that way, it’s about understanding whether we’re putting such “music” in front of other people that we haven't first attempted to play ourselves, because people can sense that. And ultimately, that will get in the way of creating the culture of trust that we want. Individuals need to feel safe and supported even when they miss a “note” in their leader’s presence, because “it is in those moments that learning happens … and from which progress will ultimately stem,” added Kight.

Learn more about Kai Kight.

Join us at the Quest for Excellence® 2022!

The Quest for Excellence Conference April 3-6, 2022 - Register Today!

The Quest for Excellence® Conference

Sunday, April 3–Wednesday, April 6, 2022  |  #BaldrigeQuest

The three-day showcase will feature the current Award recipients, former recipients, pre-conference workshops, senior leader plenary sessions with Q&A, more than 40+ concurrent sessions, conference keynote, and more!


Sunday, April 3
Join us Sunday evening for the Award Ceremony and Reception honoring the Award recipients from the past three years.

Register Today! 

About the author

Michelle Peña

Michelle Peña is a writer/editor for the Baldrige Performance Excellence Program at NIST. Her background includes degrees in English and Spanish from George Mason University, an advanced degree from George Washington University, and more than 20 years of experience in the publishing industry. 

Michelle is passionate about the benefits of personal development in the workplace and helping others become more emotionally resilient leaders in their community. Her blogs provide encouraging perspectives to help employees and businesses thrive and build a culture of continuous improvement.

As a digital marketing enthusiast, she also enjoys sharing motivational social media content and actionable growth strategies that professionals can use to empower their organization.

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