What's Jazz got to do with it?


With the recent launch of JazzMind, I’ve been pleasantly surprised with the positive feedback. Interestingly, some of the comments have included a key question: What’s jazz got to do with making my organization more competitive and successful? It’s a great question, which I asked myself many times as I built the JazzMind concept. Each time I challenged my underlying hypothesis for JazzMind, it became clear that jazz music is an excellent catalyst towards sustainable business success. There are many reasons why the ‘jazz catalyst’ works. Perhaps the most crucial one is found in the thinking of jazz musicians, who are always challenging, collaborating and innovating within the form and structure of a song. If you think of a song as the metaphor for your business strategy you might appreciate why that is such a powerful concept.

To better understand JazzMind, consider the underlying challenges most companies struggle with – a business environment that changes constantly, due to our digital economy. Today’s strategy may be irrelevant tomorrow and related processes become a hindrance, instead of a benefit. As a result, change management becomes vital when grappling with nimbler competitors.

Many companies I’ve known operate around a procedural model with little flexibility. Strong processes can be major hindrances to competitive responsiveness, but they also play a major role in the quality of output and cost management. I believe this paradox is why most firms grapple with new competitors.

The inflexible processes that inhibit your response to competition are like habits – some are good and some are bad. Take most bands and orchestras. Once they learn to play a new song, it rarely changes from performance to performance. You might retain a loyal base of fans, but you’re at risk of becoming stale, similar to rock bands who ‘re-hash’ old material.

In today’s digital economy, playing the same song over and over has led many corporations to fall to the wayside. Eastman Kodak, Blockbuster and Borders are a few examples. Whether they felt the need to cater to ‘loyal fans’, or were paralyzed by their rigid processes, they found it impossible to adapt more broadly and deeply. They kept playing their ‘song’ the same way.

Using the jazz metaphor, your ‘song’ should be viewed as an opportunity to innovate. Jazz musicians will never play it exactly the same way each time, but they will ensure the musical form defined by the composer or arranger is intact.

By applying this thinking to the corporate world, a company’s strategy can be viewed as the ‘song’ you want to play. The ‘song’ is your strategy. Your strategy could change, but more importantly, each strategy has a distinct form and structure management wants to follow. How the strategy gets implemented and ‘played’ can make a huge difference. You can tell your ‘musicians’ to play it the same way every single day, or you can empower them to improvise and make the ‘song’ better each time they play it. This takes effective leadership, collaboration and innovation.

How do you introduce a new approach to being responsive and ever-evolving, without sacrificing the beneficial parts of your company’s culture and processes?

By thinking like a jazz musician. Jazz musicians embody the ideal attributes for creating a new mind-set for doing business. Structured, disciplined, supportive, inclusive, dependent, independent, spontaneous, respectful, creative and improvisational.

This is why JazzMind and the world of jazz is relevant. Our change management methodology takes those attributes and creates specific workshops and processes to focus on making you more competitive and successful through leadership, collaboration and innovation.

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