Music, Insight, and Action

Before I was a management consultant, before I was a corporate executive, before I had a wife and two daughters, I was a musician.  I played in the school bands and orchestras all the way through school, played in a rock bands in high school and college, and in various other bands along the way.  I play flute and piano mostly, and am well trained in both jazz and classical theory and practice.  

If I could have made it as a performing musician, I probably would have.  When Laura and I married we headed down to New York City so she could get her Masters at Columbia, and I joined the union.  I discovered just how hard it was to make a living as an itinerant sessions guy, and the job I took on Wall St. to make ends meet started me on the path I followed to this point in my life, helping others to make their organizations be all they wish them to be and more.  

I remain, in the midst of a very different career a musician down to the tips of my toes.  I relate to the world through sound, I get more pleasure out of a great jazz performance than I can describe in words, and most of all, there is something that happens when I am playing in the zone with other musicians which is unlike anything else I experience in this body.  

When I think about governance and coordination in organizations, I think first of a jazz group. There may be a leader but he does not conduct.  Everyone knows the tune: the melody, the chord structure, the rhythm structure, and probably a few cues about how to begin and end and where the solos are.

Everyone has practiced on his or her own and understands the patterns likely to emerge but when the tune is called on the bandstand what emerges from the interaction of the players is unique in all of history.  It never existed before and it will never occur again.  Great bands sit right on that point of emergence where everyone is pushing their own creativity to its limit while holding the central structure of the tune and fully supporting every other member when it’s their turn to solo.  

How many of us can say we experience that in our teams at work?  An environment that creates a experience of near-bliss as each player gives all he or she has while completely supporting the others within the agreed-upon structure, in this case of the organization.  It’s rare indeed.  But our understanding of jazz and other great music forms from around the world gives us a template, a feeling, and image for what is possible in the interaction of human beings collaborating to create something larger than themself.

If you’re interested in learning more about this topic I can recommend two great books about the subject.  One is an older business book “Leadership Jazz” by Max DuPree.   I just saw a notice that there is a updated edition that has just been released. 

JazzThe second is a new book by Frank Barrett, with whom I studied Appreciative Inquiry,  call “Say Yes To the Mess”.