Have you noticed how songs play out in your head? Do you pay attention to these tunes?

What song, for example, plays in your head as you walk through the reception hall of your office block as you arrive at work?

What tune rings out in your mind as you are walking in to a meeting that you know will be a tough one?

What music fills your subconscious when you’re asked to describe the culture at your company?

These questions may be a bit too esoteric for your liking, but hang on with me here, I’ve got a point and I’ll get to it …

I’ve just started reading Oliver Sack’s book Musicophilia. In it he explores the links between music and our brain and shares some amazing stories of cases where people have developed sudden musical ability as a result of brain trauma, amongst other things.

The chapter entitled Music on the Brain has me thinking about the musical imagery that plays out in our minds and what the linkages are to narrative and metaphor. Also, it has me wondering about gathering musical imagery as a diagnostic tool.

Sacks spends some time exploring the associations we make between melodies, songs and music and our everyday experiences. In short, those songs that play in our heads are in fact linkages to experiences and they play out for a reason.

He quotes a psychoanalyst in this regard:

“Melodies which run through your mind may give the analyst a clue to the secret life of emotions that every one of us lives … whatever secret message it carries, the incidental music accompanying our conscious thinking is never accidental.”


This reminds me of a recent organisational culture project I worked in within a bank. We asked each of the teams we worked with to develop a short video presentation to the management team as a visual expression of where they felt the team was then and where they would like to be. It was a creative exercise, designed to push traditional bankers into a new space.

I was struck by the music that most of the teams chose to accompany their videos. Without having conferred, they had used Queen’s Under Pressure as the theme music. It seemed like a nice coincidence at the time, but Sacks has me wondering about the musical imagery and associations the staff had of the culture at the time and how they expressed it (either intentionally or not) through music.

Whoever said that bankers can’t be creative?

Anyway, besides the (what I think is) profound use of musical imagery in the videos, I suspect there may be some merit to using this dynamic as a form of diagnostic for culture work. We’ve experimented through our Metaphorology offering how you can surface and gather metaphors as an effective and useful diagnostic in understanding complex human phenomenon. Now, I wonder about gathering the musical imagery people associate with their organisations?

So, what if you knew what songs were playing through your staff’s minds as they arrived at the office?