Jazz, collaboration and business?

I’m not exactly a jazz fan. Admittedly, I could pick the saxophone (but not the saxophonist) from a police line-up every time, but that’s about it.

However, last night hanging out at Chalkers in Toronto watching some extremely talented musicians do their thing, I was blown away:

  1. they’d never played together before – they may never play together again
  2. they invited people to play with them through the evening for just a song
  3. when new talent was better, it made the group better
  4. there wasn’t any talking – whatever signals were being used to make key decisions were being communicated by eye contact, intuition or some kind of mental Bluetooth that isn’t on the market yet.

It was inspiring. It got me thinking about how this MIGHT apply to business and where it might ALREADY apply:

  • Small, talented high performing groups
  • Diverse skill sets and expertise
  • Short bursts
  • Collaboration vs. leadership

My friend Dave, who was there last night and knows exactly 100% more about jazz than I do, added this is an email this morning:

“There is typically a structure to a song, whereby there is an underlying melody that gets played (and what makes it so incredible is when these musicians are able to read the music to that melody so quickly, often for the first time and play it exactly as it should be) and then there is a point where each player is given a ‘free’ turn at extending the melody on their own. Each player typically has a set number of bars of music that they play at that time, although they certainly take loads of liberty and go beyond that time allotment. The gesturing usually happens when they are queuing the other players that in 4 or 8 bars they will be finished and they should rejoin.”

So – and this makes sense – they aren’t just winging it. There is an underlying structure – a set of tracks if you will, that enables collaboration, co-operation and even accountability.

The end product is a high quality outcome that probably can’t be exactly duplicated and is a little unpredictable.

Self-Directed Groups

What’s so intriguing about watching the jazz process last night is that it appeared to have multiple leaders on one hand (the sax player at times, the drummer at others, the guest pianist when he showed up) – and no specific leader at other times.

‘Self-directed groups’ is a basic element of the Agile process for Steve Jobs book, the teams at Apple must have figured out some higher form of collaboration to deliver on Jobs’ extreme demands for both timelines and perfection.

Collaborating for a reason

Which raises a final thought. If jazz-like collaboration has a place in business there must be a goal. It cannot be merely for the sake of collaboration.

Last night what I saw was a great product, delivered very efficiently (they just showed up and performed).

That sounds like a worthwhile outcome!