Tania De Jong AM (Member of the Order Of Australia) sits at a very unique intersection that successfully combines the arts with business, health and wellbeing. She is an acclaimed VCA trained soprano and the founder of a suite of organisations that fall under the umbrella title, Creative Universe. Among other things Creative Universe curates the annual Creative Innovation Conference in Melbourne – three days of Deep Conversations, Master Classes and other events with thought leaders from around the globe.
We sat down with Tania to discuss entrepreneurship, what creativity really means and how singing can solve our problems.
It was necessity, Tania De Jong says, that led her down her current path. Like so many people she was told at a young age not to bother being a singer. One of her teachers went as far as saying that she would never make it past the chorus. It was difficult for her then to perform for the national opera company, which would have been the traditional career path.
For these reasons, she had to confront the fear of failure and the inner voice that plagues many of us with thoughts of not being good enough. She made the decision to develop her own enterprises, beginning with the highly successful musical entertainment group Pot- Pourri. The success of Pot-Pourri led to the creation of Music Theatre Australia, an events and entertainment company that helps other performers find work in the corporate and events sector. She then set up her first charity, The Song Room, as a result of seeing too many children missing out on music as part of their formal education. Since its inception The Song Room has reached hundreds of thousands of disadvantaged children.
She founded her second charity, Creativity Australia, five years ago. It is designed to use singing together in choirs as a tool for improving mental health and wellbeing, building mentoring skills and providing employment opportunities.
Many people have been silenced, Tania says. They become afraid to speak in public, afraid to sing and they believe they are not creative enough. As a result, we don’t unlock our full creative potential. Receiving these kinds of messages stifles our ability to be creative. It literally blocks the capacity of the right side of the brain. The thinking is, the left side of the brain is about logic and analytics, whereas the right side is more about intuition, emotion, creativity and fantasy. We spend about 85% of our time in the left side of our brain, Tania points out, and this drains our mental battery.
The right side of our brains needs to be recharged, she continues, and singing together with others is a very effective way of doing that. Singing alone has its benefits, but research shows that when we sing with others our brain chemistry literally changes.
In life we can be exposed to various experiences that can have the effect of dulling our minds. Through tools like singing together, the right temporal lobe of the brain starts to light up, neurotransmitters are re-ignited and they start connecting in new and different ways. It’s for this reason that music therapy is used to help victims of strokes to reclaim their spoken language. When you start to sing and connect the pathways in different ways, you can speak again.
Tania points out that there are still other effects, such as an increase in oxytocins and serotonin, which makes us feel good, and immunoglobulin, which helps the immune system. Not only do you start to breath together as a group when you sing, but studies have also shown that performers’ hearts start beating together as well.
Through her Inspiring Minds Leadership Programs, Tania also conducts creative leadership workshops with corporate teams. The goal is to help remove people’s self-limiting beliefs. “It’s about helping them to get into an ‘I can do’ headspace,” she says. “If I can do this (singing for example) what else can I do as an individual but also with my team and with my organisation.”
There can be a lot of fear within organisations. We tend to be very risk adverse. Through this kind of work people can become courageous, let go of worrying about what others think and find their own unique voice. It’s about acknowledging that we are all creative, Tania points out. And just because someone is an artist does not always mean they are creative. Being a musician does not guarantee that you are more creative than someone who is in business. It’s about giving ourselves permission.
Tania reminds us that for Steve Jobs, for example, creativity is just about connecting things. She goes a step further to add that the richer and broader your experience is, the more things you have to connect – this then becomes your toolbox.
For Tania, it’s important to have diverse networks of people, and diverse experiences. The more you have what she calls “positive human collisions” the more ideas you can draw upon. When you need them or want them, you will have them available at your fingertips.
Creativity is more about lateral thinking than it is about art. Perhaps we need to redefine creativity altogether, she says.
Each week through Creativity Australia and its “With One Voice” program one can see the effects of bringing a diverse group of people together to sing. Participants get new skills and jobs, find friends and improve their mental health. It happens not just because of the connections they make with each other but also because of the mindset the experience puts the participants in.
The program brings together executives and other senior people with migrant job seekers, people with depression and disability. There is a wish-list program where participants can ask each other for help. There is always someone who can help and if they can’t, they will find someone who can, Tania confirms. The reason a lot of wishes can be met is because participants are in a right-brain headspace – they feel connected to others. Compare this to a left-brain headspace where we are all separate from each other.
When people come to sing they are already taking a leap of faith anyway. The program takes away the taboo. About 85% of people have been told at some point that they can’t sing. At a program such as this one, they start singing, gain confidence; their endorphins start firing and the brain chemistry changes. This then makes other things possible.
For aspiring entrepreneurs Tania encourages people to “just start”. That is the main thing. She encourages people to get a few others around to be your advisors or support group, and just start. If it’s a great idea it will probably catch on anyway, she adds. There are a number of interns involved in her organisations and she points out that they have started. They are thinking in a different way, doing something new and are giving something different a go.
This language challenges the tall poppy syndrome that many argue still pervades Australian culture. “We celebrate the underdog,” Tania says, “but we should also celebrate success.”
You can learn more about Tania De Jong and her work at taniadejong.com
The annual Creative Innovation Conference will be held on November 27 – 29 at The Sofitel, Melbourne. Learn more about it at creativeinnovationglobal.com.au
Tania de Jong will be speaking and singing at TEDxMelbourne’s Seeing The Unseen Dec 3rd
Cece Ojany is a writer and life coach. Her passions are creativity and contribution. She is the Writers-In-Prison Officer at PEN Melbourne and founder of The Main Protagonist. Her poetry has featured at several events including Federation Square’s Light In Winter Festival and The Dandenong Laneway Festival
You can follow her at mashariki.wordpress.com