Point of View
We asked Australian 'cellist
Joy Medley Park
to answer the following question...
Can music-making create better
by Joy Medley Park
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
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
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
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
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
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
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:
firstname.lastname@example.org , or
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
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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.
Posted by Kris (autoversicherung vergleich) on Friday 29 October 2010
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