Organisations should mimic jazz bands as well as orchestras


"They need to be able to collaborate and perform with precision like an orchestra, as well as embrace the disruptive element of jazz" Do you realize the level of emotional intelligence required to ...

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Speaking at a London HR Connection event Dominic Alldis used music as an analogy for corporate life

The most successful companies in today’s climate are those that most resemble a collection of jazz bands rather than a traditional orchestra, according to musician, conductor and business speaker Dominic Alldis.

Alldis used this analogy to show how the arts can be used as part of organisational development at a recent London HR Connection event – where he and a jazz band demonstrated different ways of performing and working together.

He began by showing how critical the conductor (or leader) is to a team’s performance, and the very different effects controlling, disengaged and engaged styles of conducting might have. Conductors, like leaders, must think: “What can you do to bring out the best in people and the team at the exact right moment?” said Alldis.

An engaged and motivating style of leadership should convey: “I have every trust in your ability to play beautiful music, how can I help?” he said.

Alldis then went on to explain that “people in an orchestra are rather like people having to make sense of things in a large organisation”.

But while orchestral musicians have a score to guide them, employees “not only have to deliver a flawless performance, but in an environment of external turbulence and change,” said Alldis. “You don’t have the symphony that, as long as you get it right on the day, will sound beautiful. You’re having to make it up as you go along.”

For this reason a good musical metaphor for the corporate world is a jazz band, said Alldis. “The perfect analogy for that aspect of the business environment is the world of jazz,” he said. “It's very different the culture of an orchestra.

“We’re improvising within constraints, within protocols and a common language… The wonderful thing about having these simple constraints is that it leaves a lot of freedom within that.”

The most powerful aspect of jazz as opposed to classical music is the opportunity to take risks and experiment, said Alldis. The trick, even with very unconventional-sounding free jazz, is to have just enough structure and rules to hold things together, he said.

“It’s a journey: we don’t know where we’re going, but we know where we’re coming from,” he said, describing a free jazz performance by his band.

He said: “[It’s about] giving people the opportunity to fail… But jazz is not always squeaky clean; sometimes it works out, sometimes it doesn’t. But that’s what makes it interesting. We are allowed to take risks, because jazz without risks is really boring.”

For this reason, organisations of the future need to strike a balance between a jazz and classical approach. They need to be able to collaborate and perform with precision like an orchestra, as well as embrace the disruptive element of jazz, concluded Alldis.


"They need to be able to collaborate and perform with precision like an orchestra, as well as embrace the disruptive element of jazz" Do you realize the level of emotional intelligence required to achieve this? Very few organizations are systemically structured to empower this kind of learning. How do you get an organization to cross-functionally improvise like this This is beyond self. The only way business will achieve this level of efficacy is through the realization that it is commerce itself that shapes and changes the lives of people in the world- more so than any art form ever will. Look at Rwanda. An estimated 500,000 to 1,000,000 Rwandans were killed during the 100-day period from 7 April to mid-July 1994. Today's Rwanda is almost unrecognizable from the ghostly shell that survived the relentless wave of brutality. Now one of the world's fastest growing economies, it's the country's emotional rather than financial recovery that is its true miracle. How did it happen? My colleague Dr Michelle Buck with whom I conduct Leadership Development workshops using Jazz at The Kellogg School of Management was part of that process. She went to Rwanda as part of a team that worked to bring commerce to the ruins of the Rwandan society. It was not the Machiavellian model of capitalism that they fostered but rather a model based on the same principles that jazz is based upon. The principles of Ubuntu- “I am only a human being through another you.” “A person is a person through other persons.” “I am human because I belong. I participate, I share.” A systems based model that can only function when everyone is enabled to actualize their potential Wishful thinking? NOT Take a look at Square. Square is a company that is quietly and incrementally redefining the meaning of Capitalism. Because my daughter is an executive at Square, I cannot share with you what I know but I can tell you after 20 years of using jazz as a model for organizational improvisation with companies like Credit Suisse, Vodafone, The Mayo Institute, General Dynamics, The United Nations, Cargill, Proctor and Gamble, Seimens and many others- Square is a company that truly embodies the practices of Organizational Improvisation. That is why they are producing products and ideas that will colonize the future. Michael Gold, Phd Jazz Impact

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