The Power of Being Nice

The other day our band had to play on a small music festival. Before our performance a young group was playing. Their musical style? Hard to describe, but let’s call it ‘angry young men’ music. Their attitude on the stage? Let’s call it ‘angry young men’ attitude. And that’s fine for me; every generation needs to have its angry young men and girls. They don’t have to accept automatically everything what the previous generation(s) have put in place.

However, I was somewhat disappointed that also in the back stage area (this festival had a very nice and original back stage area) they kept this ‘angry young men’ mentality and avoided any contact with the other musicians around. I would assume that besides bringing an ‘angry young men’ message, bottom-line they consider themselves also musicians.

I believe that as a musician, independently of your musical style and skills level, you should grab every opportunity to socialize with peer musicians, sound engineers and staff. Not only to be friendly, polite, socialize or to learn from each other; but also to build and maintain one’s network. In contemporary music business – as in any other business for that matter – a large network is important to keep your (music) activities ongoing. It’s an investment in your future business.

In the ‘old days’ rock stars often behaved arrogantly and despicable. Back then, people accepted this behavior perhaps because stardom was rather scarce. Today, with a multitude of online music DIY platforms and social media, in principle everyone can become known and become for instance – with a good strategy and content – a YouTube star. But this requires first of all another kind of behavior. Social media shows us that these days people are looking for the nice and gentle artists (musicians or others). I.e. the person who could be their neighbor or their best friend. Some first names of musicians popping up in my mind are for instance Jacob Collier, Anika Niles, Bob Reynolds and Janek Gwizdala. I suppose it’s no coincidence that In Janek’s room there is a sign on the wall with the message “If you work really hard and are kind, amazing things will happen”. This applies not only for musicians.

P.S. : Mary Spender has a nice vlog with among others the same message but also some other great tips for musicians playing on a festival (ours was not Glastonbury).

Advertisements

Everyone a trend watcher: a call for some more individual alertness

We all know Charles Darwin’s observation: “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.” Yet I see a lot of inactivity around me; except in you would consider complaining, whining, finger-pointing, blaming others, … also activities.

In this short reflection, I want to make a case for a “sense and respond” attitude. With a little more pro-activity and in many cases a sequence of small steps one can realize bigger changes than one would expect.

Too often people react to change from a defensive point of view: before we were protected by …, shielded of …. , we had automatically the right to … Put another way; they consider themselves a victim of change caused by the organization, society or economics, or whatever. They fell asleep in a comfort zone not able to leave it before it’s (almost) too late.  There is the illustrative anecdote of the boiled frog. Placing a frog in boiling water, it will jump out immediately. If you place him in cold water, he perceives the environment as enjoyable and when you than slowly heat the water, it will not perceive the danger and will be cooked to death.

In our VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous) world, things do not get necessarily easier but when the “going gets tough, the tough gets going” as Billy Ocean once sang. Within the boundaries of a range of limitations or difficulties, the creatives get even more creative.

In our uncertain, complex and continuous changing environment, we need to be alert and aware of the changes around us. One needs to be open and alert to detect changes before one can become aware of the changes and to understand their potential impact. Only then one can act. It’s a process of ceaselessly sensing and responding. However, there is a reactive and a proactive way of responding. In the reactive variant, one experiences the change and then react accordingly. In the pro-active approach, one is trying to detect the changes ahead and pro-actively act on them. This is what trend watching is all about, capturing in our environment faint signals and patterns and act upon before they become strong. These can be applied for any political, economic, social, technological, legal and environmental signals or changes.

Some consider trend watching sexy, other consider it a waste of time chasing some new hypes, hypes which will be soon be replaced by other ones. Still other thinks is a meaningless attempt of foretelling, which it is clearly not.  Consider trend watching a basic skill everyone needs to have or to develop. In our VUCA world it is an essential part of our survival kit: sensing our environment in order to respond/react/anticipate/whatever/… in time to changes in our environment, be it changes in our relationship, our work place, our business, our society, or the world. For the time being, we can leave out the universe ;-).

In music you see many musicians complaining how the music business industry changed for worse (e.g. Spotify, illegal downloading of music, etc.) while others see and use the new possibilities to their full potential to get their thing done. Top of my mind is for instance Janek Gwizdala (janekgwizdala.com), an English jazz bassist living in Los Angeles producing Internet online bass courses, vlogging, and organizing himself a solo world tour. Or Bob Reynolds (bobreynoldsmusic.com), a Grammy Award-winning jazz tenor saxophonist currently touring with Snarky Puppy but also vlogging and organizing online music teaching. Two examples of entrepreneurship, brilliant online marketing and creating communities of like-minded people to support them.

In HR we see for instance managers raising their eyebrows when the topic of the new expectations of generation Y/Z is put on the table. Other try to understand their expectations and act on it.

Everyone is talking about the need for agile organizations and business processes. However, in many cases it’s no more than just a lip-service. Let’s take the responsibility to start with ourselves and be in the first place alert and agile on an individual level.

When the going gets tough
The tough get going, tough, tough, huh, huh, huh
When the going gets tough, the tough get ready

From a song by Billy Ocean

 

We are learning animals – learning by taking a plunge

When the famous Spanish cellist Pablo Casals was asked at the age of 95 why he still practiced six hours a day, he answered: “Because I think I’m making progress.” Toots Thielemans was still practicing at an age above 90. Wasn’t it Henry Ford who stated “Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young.“

I recently downloaded a series of podcast to listen in the car. Among them a series of interviews with some respected bass players on how they made their career. These bass players are all great musicians with different backgrounds, education, style and age. After listening to those interviews some common topics became very clear. One is how and when they learned and progressed the most as a musician.

Almost all said that the moments they learned and progressed the most were at times accepting a new “mission” far from their comfort zone (i.e. their actuals skills or style of music). It’s the kind of requests to which they enthusiastically replied ‘YES!’ and then realizing after some minutes ‘oh my god, this I will never be able to play/do’. However, those were the moments they start working very hard to learn and work on the missing skill(s). And perhaps the beginning was difficult and the first shows were perhaps somewhat disappointing; but after a while they managed and brought their skills up to the next level. Others worked so hard they were super prepared for the first gig. Only by aiming for a higher goal, by taking a next step that was beyond their current capabilities, by working (learning, studying, practicing, …) hard, and diving in the pool they progressed substantially. Each time again by working hard they were able to take that next leap.

Perhaps being not a musician this may seem to be a little far fletched from your daily business, but the underlying learning mechanisms are just the same. If you’re not outside your comfort zone, you won’t learn anything substantially new. Without the courage to take the leap, you miss out on important opportunities for advancement.

We have to recognize these opportunities and take advantage, take the plunge. One might discover that what one initially feared is not as bad as one thought and that at the end one will have learned a lot. If a certain change seems too big, we can try with smaller steps. By taking a smaller step, one is still moving forward, which is always better than staying still.

Whether a professional musician, an expert, a consultant, a knowledge worker, a doctor, etc. we all need to keep our skills up-to-date. Taking into account that our competence domains and environment take regularly forward leaps, we have to take regularly a plunge as well. But these are often the moments we progress the most.

Our employability, our ability to gain and maintain a desired job, no longer depends on what we already know, but on what we are able to learn. Our only security is our ability to learn and to adapt.

 

 

Working on your musical foundations – slowly

I’ll confess. I consider myself being unmusical. But at the same I’m incredible passionate about music; it’s just my lifeblood.

Being unmusical I had to work hard for the musical level I’ve reached today, which I’m proud of. And hey, it’s the journey that counts the most. But looking back I think I could have reached this level faster if I would have experienced sooner the two insights I only found recently: the power of practicing slow and working on one’s musical foundations.

Practicing slow

The insight on the importance of practicing slow I found in two books I read shortly after one another: ‘The Practice of Practice’ by Jonathan Harnum and ‘The Practicing Mind’ by Thomas M. Sterner. It does not bring anything practicing something at the speed which you cannot master; this way you only enforce your muscle memory and brains to make the same error(s). On the other hand, if you practice slowly at the speed you can master without making errors – how slow that may be – you are enforcing your muscle memory and brains with the right patterns. From there on you can gradually increase the tempo. But never to a level at which you start making errors. This process can take some time, but you have to trust the process. I already experienced myself it makes a big difference in making progress. Some things I could not master during several years, I gradually can now by applying the slow practice method. By the way, these are two books I highly recommend to every serious musician.

Working on your foundations

During my adolescence I started playing bass without any musical background. It’s only at a later age I followed for several years a musical education (theory, piano, bass). This was a real eye opener on many things (chords, harmony, etc.). However, I made little progress on one of my weakest point: 16th subdivisions. And with the Belgian educational system (Deeltijds Kunst Onderwijs or DKO) being subsidized by the number of students, music teachers are afraid of demotivating students. As a result they avoid the boring exercises of working on musical foundations. And I agree, it is of utmost important to avoid to demotivate students and to kill the joy of playing music. But at the same time a good teacher should be able to identify the students (asking the right questions helps 🙂 !) who want to go to a next level and who are prepared to work on (sometimes dull) foundation exercises to reach this next level. I heard this formulated nicely by drummer Anika Nilles during one of her workshops: “It’s like building a house. If you are happy with a small house – which is fine – you can do with a limited foundation. However, the higher the building you want to build, the stronger the foundations need to be.”

From now on I will be working more on my foundations – slowly.

Generatief leren of leren zoals een muzikant …

Het Creativity World Forum 2014 ligt alweer een tijdje achter ons. Wanneer ik echter het CWF2014 terug voor de geest haal, voel ik nog steeds de positieve ‘vibes’ die er zwierig rondzweefden. De muzikale opluistering door Project B en Goose hebben deze positieve frequenties alleen maar verstrekt. Mijn persoonlijke ontdekking op CWF2014 was Austin Kleon. Met een presentatie getiteld ‘Steal without ending in jail’ naar zijn gelijknamig boek(je) ‘Steal like an artist wist hij onmiddellijk mijn aandacht en dat van het publiek te trekken. ‘Steal like an artist’ had echter ook ‘Learn like an artitst’ of ‘Learn from an artist’ kunnen heten, maar dat bekt minder sexy. Een goede titel of term – herinner je bijvoorbeeld emotionele intelligentie of recenter mindfullness – is reeds de helft van het verhaal en soms ook de helft van het succes. Los daarvan, met ‘Steal like an artist’ illustreert Austin Kleon op basis van zijn eigen werk en zijn persoonlijk leerproces perfect het concept van generatief leren: leren door te doen, door continu resultaten te generen en daarvan te leren, jouw visie eventueel bij te sturen en zich verder te bekwamen en te ontwikkelen. “Make things, know thyself” stelt Austin Kleon. Stelen is in die context dan ook niet letterlijk te nemen, maar wel te interpreteren als ‘zich laten beïnvloeden’. Een muzikant leert van andere muzikanten, laat zich beïnvloeden door zijn omgeving (in de breedste zin van het woord) en zoekt op verschillende manieren naar een eigen stem (althans de master musician, zie Een denkoefening: muzikaal talent en toewijding ). Van de muzikanten in spe die ik vanuit mijn jeugdjaren ken en die zich destijds bewust afsloten van elke muzikale beïnvloeding vanuit de overtuiging zich op die wijze muzikaal uniek te kunnen ontwikkelen, zijn er geen die achteraf iets wezenlijks op muzikaal gebied gerealiseerd hebben. Ik ga hier Kleons presentatie niet samenvatten, men kan beter het boekje erop nalezen. Wel haal ik graag zijn laatste leerpunt ‘creativity is substraction nog even aan. In het kader van muzikaal meesterschap onthoud ik vooral “Embrace your limits and keep moving. … Examine where you fail short. What’s in there that makes you different? That’s what you should amplify and transform into your work.” Ook Austin Kleon’s tweede boek(je) ‘Share like an artist’ is het lezen waard. Hierin komt obligaat “Finding your own voice” aan bod, opnieuw in de context van generatief leren. “You can’t find your voice if you don’t use it. “ Daaraan gekoppeld breekt hij een lans voor het “amateurschap”. “Enjoy being an amateur. … Amateur – the enthusiast who pursues his work in the spirit of love, regardless of the potential for fame, money, or career. … Amateurs know that contributing something is better than contributing nothing. Amateurs might lack formal training, but they’re all lifelong learners, … make a commitment to learning it in the front of others.” In dat kader wijdt David Byrne in zijn boek “How music works een heel hoofdstuk aan amateurs: hun historische betekenis, maar vooral ook de vaak miskende positieve sociale, maatschappelijke en economische gevolgen van het “amateurschap” (en de scholing – in de trant van Waarom muzikaal onderricht meer dan muzikaal onderricht is … ) “How music works, chapter 9 Amateurs!” = verplichte leesvoer voor onze beleidsmakers. Misschien David Byrne op het volgende CWF uitnodigen? Met Oudjaar in het vooruitzicht, laat ons in 2015 voldoende respect tonen voor alle amateurs in de verschillende kunstdisciplines.

“Modern art = I could do that + Yeah, but you didn’t.” – Craig Damrauer

No excuse for not knowing, no excuse for not learning

Although the 70-20-10 model for learning and development of Morgan McCall and his colleagues has been under discussion recently, I’ve always found it a useful framework. The model illustrates clearly that training can take different forms; that we learn roughly 70% from on-the-job experiences, 20% from other people and 10% from courses and reading.

And that last part has changed dramatically!

Learning resources are no longer scarce. The time that this kind of learning took only place in a classroom setting is far behind us. And although classroom training still has its valuable applications, the Internet, portables, mobile devices, content commons, collaborative platforms, and so on make learning possible anywhere at any time. With the Internet there is almost no excuse for not knowing, there is almost no excuse for not learning (of course in the assumption you have Internet access and your basis physical and social needs are satisfied). Those who are driven to learn can find many ways to learn.

Some months ago I started experimenting with digital audio recording technology (i.e. DAW – Digital Audio Workstations). First with Steinberg’s Cubase and now with Ableton Live. Both software programs are loaded with tons of features and possibilities. With no foreknowledge I started learning step-by-step watching YouTube instructional videos made by people ranging from semi-professionals up to – and most of the time – just very enthusiastic users and musicians. For the few very specific technical problems that I encountered the different user fora brought a solution. Amazing and admirable how many people like to share their knowledge. OK, for some it’s part of their personal branding strategy, but you really see a lot of enthusiastic people sharing their knowledge.

In our Western society, working on one’s employability became a continuous occupation. Alvin Toffler already forecasted this in 1970(!): “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn”. Bass players have their particular way to formulate this. Bass player and music teacher Ed Friedland nicely said: “I’m still learning new things every time I play. When you reach the top of one mountain, you can clearly see the other mountains that lie ahead”. Or bass player Charley Sabatino answering the question “What are your musical goals?” in July’s BassPlayer magazine with “To continue to play, grow, and explore until 45 minute after they bury me.”

Speaking about a drive to learn …. If you are doing what you’re loving, who cares. Mastery is about loving the process and the journey, not the ultimate goal.

 

Een denkoefening: muzikaal talent en toewijding

Enkele weken terug hoorde ik op de radio een cover van John Fogerty’s song ‘ Fortunate Son’. Ik ben nooit echt wild van het nummer geweest en het feit dat het ontelbare keren ‘kapot gecovered’ werd, heeft daar zeker geen beterschap in gebracht. Maar deze versie trok vanaf de eerste maat onmiddellijk mijn aandacht. Enkele maten verder werd het me duidelijk dat het een cover van de Foo Fighters was (samen met John Fogerty himself). Nu ben ik ook geen echte grote fan van de Foo Fighters maar het was voor me wel een mooie illustratie van vakmanschap en het belang om als muzikant/ groep een eigen herkenbare voice te ontwikkelen.

Maken we even een absurde sprong: in managementliteratuur heeft men een zwak voor modellen met twee dimensies die dan in vier kwadranten resulteren  (de creatievelingen tekenen een 5e kwadrant in het midden 😉 )  Er zitten daar zeker bruikbare modellen tussen zoals bijvoorbeeld het ‘situationeel leiderschap model’, maar evengoed een heleboel minder bruikbare.

Terug naar de Foo Fighters:  wat – bij wijze van denkoefening – men de eigenschap muzikaal talent ten opzichte van toewijding uitzet en de vier kwadranten moet benoemen? Mijn ervaring leert me dat sommigen van moeder natuur meer muzikaal talent meegekregen hebben dan anderen (de eerste dimensie); dat sommigen met een grotere toewijding aan hun muzikale ontwikkeling werken dan anderen (de tweede dimensie). Toewijding of work ethic is een combinatie van onder andere inspanning, doorzettingsvermogen, attitude, leergierigheid, enz.

Picture1

Vier kwadranten dus. Over het eerste kwadrant valt niet veel te schrijven. En over het tweede kwadrant kunnen we ook kort blijven: a pitywhat a waste of the talent. Deze muzikanten besteden meestal ook geen aandacht aan het vinden van hun persoonlijke voice.

Derde kwadrant: hier vindt men grofweg twee types van muzikanten. De technique geeks zijn zij die dankzij hun talent en de ontelbare uren die ze geïnvesteerd hebben, technisch enorm goed zijn. Jammer genoeg beperken ze zich in grote mate in tonen van hun kunde en staan ze niet ten dienste van de muziek zelf. U kent zo ongetwijfeld: de honderd noten per seconde gitaristen, bassisten, etc. Een tweede categorie in dit kwadrant zijn de master musicians; zij hebben tegelijkertijd met hun muzikale ontwikkeling naar een eigen voice gezocht en (deels) gevonden. Zij gebruiken hun talent en techniek ten dienste van hun voice en van de muziek.

In het laatste kwadrant vinden we opnieuw tweede types. De supportive musicians hebben hard gewerkt om een behoorlijk muzikaal niveau te bereiken maar zonder een eigen ‘voice’ te vinden (misschien ook  niet echt de behoefte gehad). De inspired musicians hebben die wel gevonden. Ook al hebben ze minder talent dan de technique geeks en de master musicians; het feit dat ze een unieke voice hebben gevonden maakt dat ze een herkenbaare plaats hebben in de music scene.

Het vinden van een eigen voice is geen eenvoudig traject. Het ontwikkelen – creëren –  van een eigen, unieke voice is vaak een moeizame, trage route. Het vraagt doorzettingsvermogen om dwars van alle onbegrip, kritiek, hoongelach, etc. vol te houden totdat op een bepaald moment een groter publiek inderdaad het unieke herkent en erkent. Het vinden van een eigen voice is ook geen einddoel, maar meestal een verkenningstocht zonder definitief einde.

Deze blog zat al een tijdje in mijn hoofd  maar toen ik via #MZD13 Dave Grohl  van o.a. de Foo Fighters zijn keynote speech op South By Southwest 2013 (1) vond, was de cirkel rond. Hij breekt in een 45-minuten lange presentatie op een onderhoudende manier een lans voor het vinden van een eigen voice.  Zijn woorden:

  • “Find your own voice”
  • “I’ve done it all by myself. It’ mine, so there is no right, no wrong”
  • “The musician comes first”

Dave Grohl  heeft alvast een fan bij. Hoog tijd om mijn PC af te zetten en mijn bas vast te nemen.

– Jacques Brel : Le talent, ça n’existe pas. Le talent, c’est d’avoir envie de faire quelque chose. –

(1) : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Efv0Y5Fs7m4

Voor een verhaal is men bereid (veel) te betalen.

De introductie van de Fender Precision Bass in 1952 als eerste in serie geproduceerde elektrische basgitaar mag gerust een succesvolle innovatieve doorbraak genoemd worden. Leo Fender ontwikkelde de Precision Bass ”to free the bassplayer from his doghouse” zoals hijzelf de contrabas pleegde te noemen. Weg met intonatieproblemen (vandaar de naam ‘Precision’), beperkt geluidsvolume en gedaan met het ‘gesleur’.

De daaropvolgende decennia werd het concept van de elektrische bas door verschillende grotere en kleinere instrumentenbouwers verder verbeterd. Sommige wijzigingen waren eerder evolutionair van aard (materiaalkeuze, constructie, vorm, …), andere meer revolutionair (toevoegen van actieve elektronica, 5 & 6 strings (“or any number you like for that matter”). Tegelijkertijd zochten sommige vooruitstrevende bassisten naar nieuwe speelwijzen (2 tot 5 rechterhandvingers, slapping, tapping, …).

De meeste bassisten volgden gretig de evoluties en lieten zich vaak verleiden om het allernieuwste te bespelen. Tot de jaren 2000 zagen de meeste bassen op de podia er dan ook ‘nieuw’ uit. De uitzonderingen lieten zich verklaren. Tegen gitarist Rory Gallagher’s agressieve zweet bleek bijvoorbeeld geen enkele gitaarlakverf bestand; zijn zweet was dermate zuur dat het als een soort ‘verfafbijt’ fungeerde. Om dezelfde reden speelt bassist Etienne Mbappé met zwarte zijden handschoenen.

Maar het laatste decennia zien we op de podia en in de studio’s een omgekeerde trend: hoe ouder en afgeleefder de bas eruit ziet, des te beter.

Vanwaar die kentering?

Uiteraard kent de oude basklank een revival. De vintage-trend is nu zeker ook aanwezig in de elektrische instrumentenwereld (wat al lang het geval was voor klassiekere instrumenten).

Maar naast het auditieve element is vaak het visuele aspect minstens even belangrijk. Een afgeleefd instrument heeft een verhaal te vertellen. Het is veel en intensief bespeeld geweest, heeft veel podia doorstaan en heeft misschien veel ‘lovers’ gehad (lees ‘bespelers’). M.a.w. zo’n aftandse bas is lekker rock’n roll, ongeacht welke muziekstijl je speelt en het verhoogt op zijn minst one’s credibility .

Door de grote vraag naar oude instrumenten swingen de tweehandprijzen voor de oudere, goede bassen de pan uit. Fabrikanten spelen hier op in door op nieuwe bassen ‘forced aging’ in verschillende gradaties toe te passen. Tot en met verroeste hardware als je dat wenst. Het zal je niet verwonderen dat de prijs van een ‘forced aged’ instrument meestal een pak hoger is dan die van het oorspronkelijke instrument.

Bij gitaren gaat men nog een stap verder. Men maakt ‘replicas’ tot in de kleinste details van gitaren van bekende gitaristen. Elke kras, schade, verfslijtage, stikkers en andere customisaties. Twee voorbeelden die me zijn bijgebleven: Joe Strummer’s Telecaster en Andy Summer’s Telecatster. Je bent de trotse eigenaar voor een prijs tussen $10.000 …$15,000 (elk afzonderlijk) of zo een factor 10 tot 20 maal (inderdaad factor 20) van de prijs van een goede doorsnee Telecaster.

Uiteraard kruipt er heel wat gespecialiseerde handenarbeid in die instrumenten, maar op het einde van de rit betaalt men toch maar voor het verhaal, een verhaal dat het instrument zelf niet eens heeft meegemaakt. Het blijft een replica, nietwaar?

How’s that for paying for a story?

Lees in die context ook nog even: Tiger Woods and bass heroes; or what do sports and music equipment have in common?

Trust-based music practice: why going slow results in faster progress

Even when you’re performing a lot, there is no substitute for practicing if you want to keep your level of musicianship (or any other skill for that matter) and want to improve.

For the times you’ve little time to practice, I found a good advice in ‘Metaphors for the Musician’ by Randy Halberstadt and which Randy Halberstadt metaphorically called ‘targeted bombing’ (did you ever forget the term ‘emotional intelligence’ after hearing or reading it for the first time?).

The idea of targeted bombing is that if you have only an hour to practice, it’s better to practice something new but small and with the attitude that this will be your only chance to practice it. So ask yourself:

  • What can I do within the next hour to permanently improve my musicianship in one very small but measurable way?
  • What can I do to master this one item so that it will be self-reinforcing, so that it will immediately begin to show up in my actual performances?

This requires trusting yourself; accepting the competences you have today and that you’ll improve step by step (“trust-based practice”). Trying to go fast usually means slow progress or even implies the danger of complete paralysis. Going slow, conversely, usually means faster progress. Slow and steady wins the race in this context.

It sounds paradoxical; but if you take your time and dig in deep to what you’re practicing you’ll actually progress faster. As you climb a mountain with thousand small steps.

Introduce some jazz crispness in your IT organization

On this year’s Belgian itSMF conference I presented “ITSM, building blocks and what we can learn from jazz”. Indeed; this year the conference theme was about building blocks and ITSM frameworks: the pros’s of using them but at the same time daring to ask if ITSM frameworks can become counterproductive in certain circumstances. Having experienced myself how counterproductive processes and frameworks can become for innovation and business agility, and being a musician myself, I found the comparison between a symphony orchestra and a jazz ensemble an enriching metaphor. And playing jazz music I think I was in a good position to do so 🙂 .

The jazz metaphor in business is of course not new. It has been used many times. I remember for instance John Kao’s book Jamming – The art and discipline of business creativity released in 1996. Using the jazz metaphor it was a great book on innovation and presented in 1996 a clear view on the would-be business approach (a correct view as we can experience now).

Pivotal in my presentation is that many of us have a preference to solve problems with a left brain approach, thinking that – referring to the Cynefin model [1] – we can solve problems with a complex nature with techniques and approaches we have used with success for simple and complicated problems. Or that we can still address business needs with an industrial-speed IT approach [2]. But contemporary business needs have a complex nature and can in the current reality not be addressed with an industrial-speed-IT approach. Instead a digital-speed IT approach is required [2]; which I would just call business-speed IT.

So too often we apply the symphony orchestra approach. To create the symphony the conductor is the person with the overall authority to pull the individual parts of the orchestra together. The orchestra cannot do this on its own as there is not the ability to communicate across the stage or even hear what other sections are playing.  Therefor the musicians – restricted to playing their music scores – need to rely on the conductor to make sense of the whole.

Now jazz music is created most of the time without a music score; or with a lead sheet if melody and/or chords are not known by the musicians. Jazz is about creating music in real-time, being explorative and expressive within a certain concept (a framework if you like). Jazz is about listening and interacting; shared or servant leadership and challenging each other.

Following are some basic elements of jazz which we can use in our business environment as well.

STRATEGY: create a clear framework (enriched with values & culture) with just enough rules and processes (KISS). Create emerging solutions by continuously listen for change and react.

IMPROVISATION

Listening/interacting: the value is created in the interaction; in other words use the power of communication, collaboration, networking, knowledge sharing, etc.

Technique: develop and master your competences but letting them loose again at the right moment. The real danger is in the continual cycles of process improvement and optimization of the wrong capabilities.

Experiment: no solo is perfect but good enough; make the difference between doing things right and doing the right things. Use unexpected outcomes as an opportunity and create emerging solutions.

Small teams: multidisciplinary and no duplication, facilitating empowerment and self-organization where everyone can lead by taking initiative. At the same time no team is an island and must be aware of the context.

Groove: maintain momentum and create continuous progress by establishing regular cycles and steady rhythms. The agile project approach is that respect a best practice.

The new mental model of IT should be based in the first place on a strategy consisting of a two-speed IT approach and creating emergent strategies. It should apply improvisation to create agility by:

Listening and interacting: both lead and follow; less control from IT will bring more value
to the business.

Technique: apply contextual awareness which means using more than one mental model or methodology.

Experiment: embrace uncertainty; error is not failure!

Small teams: create small self-empowered teams (including Right-brains) with a strong outside-in view.

Groove: work with short cycles to keep momentum.

In other words, let’s learn how to groove to the business rhythm.

[1]: https://jandillis.wordpress.com/2012/04/22/hello-world/

[2]: Two-Speed IT: A Linchpin for Success in a Digitized World by Antoine Gourévitch, Benjamin Rehberg, and Jean-François Bobier (August 2012).