The Mind of a Jazz Musician

Jazz musicians are a curious breed. They study for years to master the rules, only to break them as quickly as possible. They approach their craft with intensity and purpose, but then can let it go and just groove when the feeling is right. I’ve known musicians that are bold and expressive on the bandstand, yet shy and tempered in conversation. Let’s get inside the mind of a jazz musician to see how they really think, and how we can apply those lessons to the business world.

Prodigy jazz saxophonist Jeff Ponders looks at creativity as two-fold: first, creating something fresh and new. Secondly, adapting to a given situation – to take what you’re given and make it better. In his stunning performances, Jeff uses the concept of contour to connect with his audience. He intermixes blazing fast and complex lines with soft and sensitive passages. He uses the element of surprise to keep his audiences at the edge of their seats.

Each time he performs, Jeff seeks to be different. He seeks to break the mold and put his previous performances to shame. Rather than clutching to a past solo, he forges ahead. He focuses on inventing something new.

The culture of jazz groups is one that encourages risk taking and shuns sameness. As a result, jazz groups are fertile ground for creativity. They are set up in way that enables it. When you think of a jazz combo you realize, in fact, that their purpose is to be creative. Oddly, most businesses don’t connect their purpose and creativity. They have mission statements in the lobby filled with buzzwords while completely missing the point of their existence.

Companies that win in the future will function more like jazz bands. They will constantly reinvent their work and seek fresh, new approaches. They will reward risk-taking and originality, which will be the currency for success. And while the concept of leaders will still exist, they will become more flat and ensure that everyone has a voice. Jazz groups demand it, and the business world has begun to.

Jazz musician and PhD Michael Gold links jazz music with business performance. He agrees that what makes jazz groups successful translates to business. He uses the concept of: APRIL to bridge this gap:

Autonomy – How team members are in control of their own performance, experience, and results.
Passion – Being driven by something bigger than just the task at hand
Risk – An environment that celebrates risk and failure
Innovation – Where new ideas are rewarded
Listening – Raising awareness and connecting to the environment

How does your organization stake up against the APRIL principles? Do you encourage autonomy or seek control? Is passion a buzzword, or do you demonstrate and reward it? Is risk a four-letter word? Who owns innovation, those at the top or is forging new ground an assignment for everyone? How do you communicate with your colleagues, supplies, and customers?