There are so many powerful business lessons we can learn from the world of jazz. This fluid, improvisation art form is all about taking risks and trying new things. Going out on limb can be scary, but it is where the magic happens. Extending yourself outside your comfort zone is where the best rewards will be discovered.
Jazz is also about listening. Listening to your fellow musicians, the audience, and your own creative voice. In business, that means listening to your team, your customers, your competitors, your industry, your suppliers, the latest trends and best practice, and of course, your own creativity. Through focused listening comes adaptation. Allowing the environment and your collaborators to influence the outcome as a group. Seeking inspiration and creativity from others, and adapting in real-time to your own Creative Challenge.
The most in-demand jazz musicians are not typically the ones with the most blazing technique or dazzling solo ability. The ones who always find work are those that support the collective output rather than being a diva. What makes jazz performances memorable is not breathtaking speed or technique; it is all about establishing a connection and crafting true, artistic, musical expression. It’s about creating something special that resonates with your audience.
The same is true in the business world. The best leaders and the people who get promoted are not selfish, me-centric show-offs. Instead, the new era of business rewards those that collaborate and work to serve their colleagues and their customers. Individual brilliance is great, but purposeful group engagement is worshiped. Any one person can be strong, but a tightly integrated group becomes unstoppable. As the African proverb states, “When spider webs unite, they tie up a lion.”
Finally, look out for what I call “The Jazz Trap”. This is the situation where musicians get so caught up in a look-what-I-can-do mindset that they lose connection with their audience. These musicians add complexity for the sake of it, and are so busy showing off their technical brilliance that their art suffers (as does anyone who happens to be listening).
Don’t forget that your creativity must always be directed at a specific business challenge. You should be focused on solving problems in the best way, not the most complex way. There have been many ad campaigns that have won awards but failed to sell any products. Let your creativity flow completely unrestricted throughout the creative process, but don’t forget to ultimately select the solution that will create the best results, not the one that is the most dazzling.
Jazz improvisation is like a fluid conversation among friends; you make it up as you go. There’s no script, and the best discussions are never rehearsed. Think of yourself as a jazz musician, taking risks and using these techniques to improvise fresh and original ideas. Imagination will flow. Inspiration will hit. Sparks with ignite. And that blank page will be no match for your unbridled creativity.