TED Talk: Watch Me Play…the Audience!


In this TED Talk, musician Bobby McFerrin uses the pentatonic scale to exemplify human expectations in the context of neuroscience. Use this fun, short video to explore a variety of leadership principles.

What You’ll Learn

After completing the work on this page, you will be able to:

  • Recognize the relationship between trust and desired outcomes
  • Describe leadership styles that resonate with you
  • Create a simple definition of leadership
  • List exemplified leadership competencies
  • Know the advantages and disadvantages of expected and non-expected behaviors in the context of leadership

Dig Deeper

After watching the video, reflect on the following questions. Jot down your thoughts. Consider sharing this video with a colleague or a work group for an insightful discussion.

  1. How does Bobby McFerrin demonstrate leadership in this video?
  2. How does Bobby McFerrin establish trust with the audience? How much time is needed to establish this trust? How important is trust to accomplishing the desired outcome?
  3. Based on the video, develop a simple one-sentence definition of Bobby McFerrin’s leadership style. How does this style resonate with you? What leadership styles do you prefer/not prefer?
  4. Using the 2007 Office of Personnel Management Competency Dictionary, Proficiency Levels for Leadership Competencies, list all of the leadership competencies that Bobby McFerrin exemplifies in this video. Choose one or two of these competencies and discuss how Bobby McFerrin uses them to achieve the desired outcome.
  5. What happened when Bobby McFerrin split his legs between two notes? How did he recover and re-establish leadership? Discuss expected and unexpected behaviors in the context of leadership. What are the pros/cons of each?

Write a Review

  1. Bobby McFerrin performs a relatively simple feat that requires significant cooperation from a large number of people. In part he uses his position of authority to get the audience to act but he also creates a simple framework and the cooperation is immediately rewarded. Lots of ideas to ponder with just a short video.


  2. I enjoyed how McFerrin guides with positive interaction, demonstrated examples and affirmation of success. He establishes trust almost immediately after beginning the pentatonic scale; trust is crucial or he would have out of tune, off beat chaos. Very fitting to the workplace and being part of the team dynamic.

    IMO, he leads on the key of we. I liked it; even watching, you felt part of something – a unique contributor, yet part of a group. McFerrin demonstrates leadership that is part interactive and not solely instructive.

    Great, succinct idea in a tight video – highly recommend!


  3. I love how Bobby takes such a simple process and turns it into a valuable lesson in leadership. Using music, a universal means of communication, to address the principles of team building, strategic thinking, and resilience is spot on and can be applied in so many situations. Setting parameters and standards, but leaving the audience with artistic license is a powerful technique used by many leaders. Great video, concise, and powerful. Two thumbs up!


  4. This video makes me smile. I love how Bobby instantly grabs the trust of an ENTIRE audience by inviting them to try something fun. Incredible how one person on a stage can get immediate engagement, with no words at all!


  5. This is a highly recommended resource. It uses a Bobby McFerrin musical moment to examine leadership qualities. Examining leadership was not the original intent of the moment, and because of that, it is all the more successful. Examine the first 20 seconds, how Bobby McFerrin captures the audience. Rangers have the same capacity when we realize the power of our uniform (with most audiences). Also note that our presence, how we hold ourselves, is more important than our words (how many words does Bobby McFerrin use?). This is a fun short video that allows for multiple windows into engaging leadership.


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