This week, I’m offering you a business parable about jazz and innovation excellence. As a generalisation, it probably works, although jazz is an enormous genre, so feel free to agree / disagree / extend the story as you wish. It was written about 13 years ago for my 1st book Best Practice Creativity, and has resurfaced recently, since a University academic published an article on jazz and business in The Guardian. If you enjoy this post you may also enjoy related posts on Innovation and The Flow and Jazz.
Let’s warm up with a bit of Herbie Hancock:
The Jazz Band – a metaphor for more innovative organisations
The Jazz band is a loose association of individuals that need no sheet music, since they share a common love for the music, achieved by careful selection of musicians, based on ability and empathy within and on the edge of the band’s style. There is scope for musicians to ‘blow their own trumpets’, whilst recognising the need for the ‘solos’ to be consistent with the overall musical direction.
The informal band leader helps band members reach new heights of musicianship and encourages the swapping of instruments to broaden skills. The band is paid on the quality of the group performance although random bonuses are allocated by group consent for outstanding individual performance from a ‘slush fund.’
The band’s repertoire is wide and both well rehearsed and unstructured, for the performance has both elements of formal musical structure and improvised chaos. Some performances are unremarkable, yet there are indefinable moments when the band seems to know exactly what to do to take the music in a new direction that has never been rehearsed formally in a state of ‘flow’.
Although the band get great enjoyment out of playing the music when practising or performing, off stage the members often disagree vigorously about many issues concerned with the music. In some cases, individual members are not great personal friends, yet this is subsumed to the greater ‘task’ of the music itself. For example, the guitarist tends to be simultaneously gregarious yet aloof, whilst the bass player will often be the one to arrange social events. The drummer is always late for rehearsals as he has to get a lift from the piano player since he is never organized enough to buy a car.
Competitiveness manifests itself in a positive way, in so far as individual soloists attempt to outdo each other with the aim of moving the general level of performance upwards. Although each person could probably play a very impressive piece on their own, the results that the band achieve somehow add up to more than the individual players could achieve on their own. The band also has to compete with other bands for gigs and one of the members carries out the job of getting the band gigs through advocating the band to club owners and using any tricks to make them more visible than other jazz bands.
The jazz band occasionally get asked to play requests. These are done in a dutiful way but often fail to reach the heights of performance achieved when they are in free flow. They claim to be unaware of anything around them including the audience when they are in this state, and they could be said to be creating music in a highly selfish way at these times.
The jazz band parable highlights the need for businesses and organisations to:
- Balance structure and chaos according to the needs of the various stakeholders.
- Learn continuously and adapt to change through the use of signposts which are understood by all.
- Let creativity happen rather than trying to force it. Technique and training helps, but no amount of engineering will necessarily produce the intended result.
- Make personality differences irrelevant by a consuming mania with a shared purpose.
Speaking of improvisation and innovation, I have just been appointed Rock’n’Roll Innovation Editor for New York based Global Innovation Website Innovation Excellence. Run by Julie Anixter, who has written with Seth Godin and worked with Tom Peters. I have been asked to write a number of prestigious articles and interviews – for example, the CEO of Atlantic Records, Sir Paul Mc Cartney, CEO’s who play music and more. Innovation Excellence is the world’s most popular innovation blog with over 10 000 reads per day. I am therefore offering guest interviews and articles to:
- Innovation authors
- Innovative musicians
- Innovative businesses
- Innovation leaders
- Innovation academics
If you wish to publish an article or interview, let me know via this blog or mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Do check out the website All About Jazz for much more on Jazz. To finish, the master of improvisation and innovation, Wes Montgomery: