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Point of View 

We asked Australian 'cellist and professional
business researcher, Joy Medley Park
to answer the following question...

Joy Medley Park

September 2008

The Question:
Can music-making create better business organizations?

Response by Joy Medley Park share this - email, favourites, social bookmarks and more

Why would business corporations which focus on 'hard' performance measures like profits and market-share spend resources to enable their employees to make music?

Because it can improve innovation, strengthen leadership and teamwork, and assist in both recruiting and retaining talent.

Innovation, leadership and teamwork - Jazz improvisation as a metaphor
Recently, a global management consulting firm's top 150 experts gathered for a conference to talk about the future - the future of their own organization, their clients, and the strategies and behaviours that would be necessary to thrive in an increasingly complex business world. Innovation, leadership, teamwork and globalization and complexity were all on the agenda. The keynote speaker was not an economist, or an organizational psychologist, or a futurist – it was a musician -- Carl Stormer, creator of JazzCode. Carl pulled together a jazz ensemble who provided a repertoire of real-time musical examples showing how the process of innovation and high performance happens in music. Carl showed the audience parallels between what a Jazz ensemble actually does to create a successful performance, and what each member of his audience, all leaders in their own area of business expertise, actually do when they have to innovate, lead, change, and shift their cultures or ways of behaving to adapt.

A link to the JazzCode website is below, but here’s a quick synopsis:

1. Work with simplicity on the smallest scale possible to do the job
Carl keeps his band as small as possible – bass, piano, sax and drums. Getting four people to play together is relatively easy (“we fit in one cab”) and each time another player is added, complexity grows exponentially. In business, the same is true – go ‘lean’.

2. Manage talent around the scarcest resource and leverage their network
The first talent Carl hunts for in creating a pickup band is the double bass player – because they’re in the shortest supply, and therefore probably heavily networked into the piano and sax community – their network will surface the best of the other players. Take this into a business context, and manage the staffing (or production) around the scarcest element – whether it’s specialized engineering knowledge, deep customer relationships, or a physical commodity.

3. Use ‘shared references’ to speed performance excellence
Jazz band profitablility is partly determined by how little non-paid time they have to invest and still meet performance standards. Good jazz ensembles use ‘shared references’ to reach agreement on the style and approach they’ll use for each piece – quickly. Shared references are their common knowledge of, and reference to the ‘great’ perfomances and recordings of the ‘standard’ jazz repertoire. By leveraging this musical shorthand they can identify and shape their joint performance in minutes rather than hours..

Shared references are key in business teamwork contexts, both on a macro level in understanding their particular organization’s culture and values, as well as on a micro level, where a team can be thrown together with minimal prep time, and by virtue of exposure to common ‘best practices’ and well articulated frameworks, they can reach a higher level of implicit ‘wisdom’ in less time than a team without shared references.

4. Recognise and support the role of leader
Each of the players in a jazz band is the leader and expert for their instrument. They follow a predetermined structure in the order they do their solos, their supporting role when they’re not taking the spotlight, and the etiquette that’s followed that ensures the performance has smooth hand-overs. Leadership surfaces amongst all players at the appropriate time.

There’s a common myth in business that leaders are actually in that role because of some personality characteristics – that leaders are born, and that ‘once a leader, always a leader’. Reality doesn’t support that. Leaders exist in a unique business context – and leaders often lead from behind. Good top-executive teams know when to support, when to push, and how to spot and nurture up-and-coming talent. In reality, leadership in business is a lot more like the jazz ensemble, with intellectual ability balanced by emotional and relational ability.

5. Acknowledge when complexity is good and when it’s bad
Newly formed pick-up bands tend to stick to a repertoire of ‘standards’ – and keep it simple. If one soloist is going out on a limb and trying some risky improvisation, the rest of the band will keep it simple. Simplicity is good. Complexity is good too, sometimes – where a band has been together for a while, they can take more risks, and enjoy more complexity – the best improvisations happen when the band ‘knows’ each other well, and that intimacy can create an amazingly good, complex, rich musical result.

Recent research has revealed that as business becomes more global, complexity increases dramatically. Complexity – the difficulty in getting things done - can be expensive and can erode value. But complexity can also be good – used in the right way, it can protect a company’s competitors from copying its products, and it can deliver a finely customized service that commands a high value.

Carl has taken JazzCode to many corporations and Business Schools throughout the world.

Click here to learn about JazzCode - They will be in Australia in October 2008.

Human Resources and motivating positively- taking cues from a symphony conductor
Human Resources professionals and the learning community have traditionally viewed employee evaluation as a cyclical task which ‘judges’ employees and tracks the kind of remedial training that might redress some of their shortcomings from annual review to annual review.

Appreciative Inquiry (AI) approaches evaluation from a positive lens, looking for the good and amplifying it.

In Paris, a corporate leadership group was inspired to approach their work with an attitude of 'possibility' through the practices which Ben Zander, conductor of the Boston Philharmonic shares with the corporate world. Benjamin Zander and his wife, Ros have articulated a set of 'practices' in their book, The Art of Possibility, which have worked in developing a symphonic community, and have direct relevance to how we conduct our work-life. Some of those practices include 'Giving everyone an A grade up-front' : in coaching a young cellist to play well, Zander could have taken a draconian approach. Instead, the power of positive encouragement lead to a breakthrough performance which the entire audience could see, compare with the original , uncoached performance, and hear what an AI approach can do in revealing the inspirational best that resides within every human.

Another challenge Zander gives is to move from a 'downward spiral' to 'radiating possibility'. Too often managers focus on the negative - on the problems. Shift the frame of reference from being beaten down to one of possibility and it generates infectious energy, amongst co-workers and clients. Another practice is to approach work as invention - take risks and respond with 'how fascinating' to the ones that don't work immediately.

Click here to learn more about Ben Zander and The Art of Possibility

Top Team alignment - HouseWork at Royal Opera House
The ROH has developed a series of operatic experiences, packaged as 'House Work', for their corporate sponsors which enables business colleagues to 'stage' a small section of an opera in real-time, and learn about team work and improvisation. Of course, it's all carefully supported by ROH's artistic and administrative coaches - and the mini 'performances' are performed in a friendly context (to the fellow participants, not the public at large!).

The learnings were principally around how, with good coaching and a clear brief, a group of people without prior knowledge of each other, (or any claim to 'talent') can create a fulfilling musical experience. It would be a terrific exercise to bring together a newly forming (or badly aligned) work team to provide a safe place for building trust.
Click here for more about ROH and HouseWork

Social networking - creating musical communities of interest
When an office population reaches a critical size, it becomes hard for people to 'know' each other and feel connected. When one large office I was a part of in London grew to over 1000, management decided to support , on a very modest scale, the formation of informal, self-selected ‘communities of interest’. With small amounts of funding, these groups participated in 'doing' what they loved and getting to 'know' colleagues in a way that the pace of worklife doesn't normally allow in business. The idea was to socially engineer ways for people to know the names and some common interests of a critical mass of co-workers. Music, chess, running – whatever rocked their boat.

For the musicians, it brought out many people who hadn't played since they left high school, and it gave them a forgiving network of supporters to dust off their instruments or voices and 'begin' again.

7 years later, several music groups are going strong -– rock, chamber music, jazz. Because of their core connectedness, during a time of real organizational upheaval - changes in leadership, vision, and culture – this group used the opportunity to put on a “musical” and involve hundreds of employees, in a watershed event that resulted in a real cohesion and sense of shared values – it said musically, ‘we’re aligned – we can create something greater than what we individually bring to the job!”.

Expanding the musical community globally – for its intrinsic value
The same company decided to broaden their reach and extend the musical community from London to all of its offices throughout Europe. Three years ago a hundred musicians and singers from 15 European offices arrived in a training facility in Austria on a Thursday afternoon, played in a symphony orchestra, or a jazz ensemble, a rock band, or an opera troupe, for three and a half days. Expanding the idea of ‘communities of interest’ from one location to an entire region of the world, it brought together people who worked for the same company but had never met, didn’t share the same language, or have any prior knowledge of each other. Now in its third year, it seems to have gained its own momentum and many useful contacts for job-related connections as well. Though it was done for its intrinsic value, two very real business benefits have been identified: recruitment, and retention.

To learn more about how these events were orchestrated, contact Arts Consultant Matt Andrews, who masterminded the European festivals, now in their third year: mail@matthewandrews.net , or www.matthewandrews.net

Recruitment and retention – the next BIG business issue
If we read the Financial Review, or the Wall Street Journal, or the Financial Times one of the consistent messages for the 21st century – is that recruiting and retaining smart people in sufficient numbers in the workforce is getting harder and harder. Baby boomers are retiring, Gen X and Gen Y have very different values, and the greatest population increase is in developing countries where a deep and sophisticated education is not a birthright.

Recruiting and retaining a talented workforce – music is an indicator
Recruiters I have talked with say that when they are looking for key indicators of exceptional talent on a candidate’s CV, attainment of Grade 8 music counts as a positive check mark, along with strong academic grades, good experience, etc. If people who have grown up with a love of music-making have a choice of job offers, it could be that they’re likely to see an organization that supports making music as an attractive employer. It can be a recruiting tool.

Retention of good talent is another benefit of supporting good musical participation. – I know of several colleagues who have thought of leaving for other work opportunities but decided against it because all other things being equal - no where else seems to offer the same kind of true musical connectedness that matters so much to them.

Let’s seek more opportunities for music and musicians to create happier, healthier and more productive work environments.

© 2008 Joy Medley Park

Have Your Say
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last week our group held a similar discussion on this subject and you illustrate something we haven't covered yet, appreciate that. - Kris

Posted by Kris (autoversicherung vergleich) on Friday 29 October 2010
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