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Insights from the difference between Jazz and Classical Music

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I recently attended a week long conference.  As part of the conference group dinners were planned for Thursday evening at a nearby restaurant. This is always a good opportunity to have some good dinner conversation late into the evening.  The key is to find the right dinner partners.

Finding the right dinner partners is part plan and part serendipity. Some people I knew only by reputation. This was a business conference. But, the real find are those people who have interests, knowledge, expertise, and insights that would go far beyond the tip of the iceberg that were the planned topics of the conference.

Snagging the right dinner partners

I worked a bit to snag a table with a woman who I discovered, quite by accident, was a professional classical musician.   The conference had nothing to do with music. I know nothing about music.  I am 100% a consumer of music – I am not a producer of music nor do I have any musical ability whatsoever.  To me, music is like magic. Who better to share a dinner table with than a trained professional classical musician?  I would be in the company of someone, who for me, did something I could not do and found to be  incomprehensible.

Professional classical musicians & Jazz artists

So, as luck would have it, the table of dinner partners had an extended conversation about music. During the conversation we found out that the woman who was trained and performed classic music had a husband that was a jazz musician. Further, she informed us, he could not read music.  As if the gods were playing a joke in a marriage she informed us that she could not play without sheet music. For a musical family, what an interesting combination.

One other person at the conference picked up on this difference between classical and jazz musicians and related it to innovation. She wrote this on an internal corporate blog.

I agree jazz is a good metaphor for innovation. I’m not an expert on jazz, but I am a jazz fan. This is how I see it. Jazz has a basic framework for the music: a key signature (so notes will harmonize), a meter (a beat or cadence to set the speed of collaboration), and a basic melody line (that sets the theme). Within that framework, jazz musicians improvise to enhance the melody. Every musician will hear it and play it a little differently and all will contribute to a wonderful collaboration of sound called jazz. It can be relaxing or driving. It can be stimulating or sad (blues), but it is always an expression of the minds creating it. Many variations are produced, depending on who is playing and interpreting the tune.

Such is the case with innovation. With a framework as a guide, we “open our minds” to new ideas and concepts that could create a whole new offering. We generate new ideas individually and then collaborate to shape them into something special. For the ideas that don’t bear fruit, we simply enjoy the stimulating process and remember and learn from the experience and then move on and try again. Remember, Edison successfully discovered 99 times what would not work before he invented the light bulb.

Another person responded with this…

Following on with the similarity with Jazz which I absolutely agree with. It also demonstrates why some musicians are great at jazz with all the improvisations whereas many professional musicians would stay away from it and keep to formally composed music. So just because you can play music doesn’t mean you can do both.

In any company we  must recognise that many individuals will be much “better” in either an innovative or standard environment

The real secret of LEGO’s, Tinker Toys, and Erector Sets

We can go a bit further with analogies of innovation.  It applies to Tinker Toys, Lego blocks, Erector Sets, and the like.  The key to the success of these toys are the pictures of what a child can build with these toys.  Without a picture of what can be built many children don’t really know what to do with these things and lose interest.  (See note below)

The Take

Some people can “make something out of nothing”.  These are the jazz musicians, kids that successfully play with Lego blocks, tinker toys, and Erector sets, without a diagram.  These people are also the innovators and entrepreneurs in business.

Other people need the sheet music, the script, or the diagram and the orchestra leader (manager) to get their work done.

The key is to realize that people are very different in their natural capabilities and talent.  To put sheet music in front of a jazz musician would be as unnatural as trying to make a professional classical musician improvise.

The insight, for a company is this.  Sort these people out – play to an individual’s natural strength.  Don’t expect an innovator to play by the rules.  Don’t expect people who need sheet music to perform without a very explicit plan in front of them and someone to orchestrate and manage the performance.

Written by frrl

June 14, 2012 at 5:03 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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