Facebook, Jazz & the Possibilities of Global Scale

It seems to me that Facebook aspires towards the same openness and global reach as jazz. Moreover, it seems these trajectories converge with diplomatic efforts that seek to grow democracy or sustain relationships with established democratic nations. Each effort is plagued by concerns over the issue of privacy. Exposing vulnerabilities through the release citizen information is a sensitive topic in general but has particular resonance in countries with a history of dictatorship. How do we define the value of Facebook, measure it, and scale it upwards? How do we define the value of jazz, quantify it and make it grow? Hmmmmm

Facebook’s value short-term can be realized locally. People sign-on to connect with one another. This builds and sustains relationships, empowers local citizens, builds and strengthens community-based organizations, local businesses, educational ventures, healthcare facilities and the like. Brian Solis’ notion of leveraging interpersonal relationships and continuing to “explore the intersection of technology and liberal arts to build and ship in ways that continue to define or redefine how people discover, connect, and share” connects the dots to global markets by potentially sharing local preferences amongst global actors.

Peter Sandberg, 5/18/2012

Peter Sandberg 5/18/2012

Facebook & the Blues

Solis’s nod to liberal arts is intriguing because, like the blues, it recognizes people as key actors. Mark Zuckerberg’s mission to “give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected” reveals the power of Facebook; its value is in giving people a voice and when realized collectively, their power is compounded, they can even topple dictatorships. Likewise, and remembering the blues is not the music of despair but of its transformation, the blues empowers people. When used as the foundation for jazz, the blues represents human agency amidst various complexities. The blues is disruptive; people are fickle and the uncertainty they wield is difficult to manage.

Privacy and Transparency

These are serious issues for Facebook. Through openness, transparency, or the honest expression of emotion vis-à-vis the blues, individual agency and collective power are realized. No wonder Zuckerberg is having such a difficult time getting Facebook into China. No wonder Twitter is on again/off again in Pakistan. No wonder Communist nations tried to block the infiltration of jazz during the Cold War. Jazz is the music of collaboration and, like Facebook, represents collective strength. The blues or “people power” is the highly individualistic fulcrum upon which sonic equilibrium hinges in jazz and upon which the power of authoritarian governments rests. Diplomatic efforts to build and/or strengthen democracies also open markets. Facebook is a key facilitator in this effort. Where Facebook goes – where jazz has gone and goes – so, too, do products and services. Facebook has solid long-term value.

The Market Value of Jazz

Patrick Jarenwattananon wants to increase the audience for jazz. He wonders why the immense increase in spending on jazz education failed to produce an increase in the audience for jazz and laments, “Why isn’t there a correlation?” Jason Moran is concerned about the, “functionality of the music” and asserts, “Sometimes we lose sight that the music has a wider context”; indeed, we do. Like Patrick, I’d like to increase the audience for jazz but I’m not so sure it hasn’t grown steadily over the decades. My understanding of audience extends beyond ticket sales and performance venues, a finite number. I am swayed, however, by Jason’s idea and want to give it some more thought.

Pivot

Let’s change the questions, perspective and metrics. Let’s begin with what we know:

Assumptions:

1. Jazz originated in the US in the early 1900s

2. Jazz is an open platform

3. Jazz is embedded in US culture

4. Jazz has been effective as a soft power tool in diplomatic endeavors promoting democracy since the Cold War

Now, let’s identify key concepts in jazz – such as collaboration, improvisation/innovation, and resilience – and measure the extent to which and the ways in which these are employed within and across key sectors (let’s try business and education) locally and globally. So, the question is not “Why did the investment in jazz education fail to increase audience size?” because the investment may have actually succeeded in achieving this finite goal. Instead, we’d evaluate the trajectory of collaboration, innovation and resilience in key sectors annually and over time by monitoring the correlation with business cycles in these areas. Has the “audience” grown over time? If so, to what degree and what are the projections? What happens when we correlate the spread of democracy with jazz and measure the openness of societies, the openness of their markets, and the revenues generated?

Follow the Money

My thought is this: “new money” lies in emerging market areas and these are also areas where democracy has yet to take a firm hold. Facebook’s ability to grant individuals the opportunity to connect and its commitment to openness facilitates collaboration and is akin to the blues and the collaborative elements of jazz. These features of individuality and collaboration are also hallmarks of the current US diplomatic effort. As nations support emerging democracies, in part by investing in open platforms like Facebook and jazz, they will also facilitate the opening of markets. That said – companies and organizations that move towards a more open and collaborative style or structure would be best poised to capitalize on new market areas as they emerge and would also increase their brand value locally.

“I’m Putting All My Eggs in One Basket”

Run, go do this now!

1. Invest in R&D. Get some polymaths on your team, quickly.

2. Increase efforts in corporate social responsibility because these engage local communities horizontally and encourage collaboration. Tie these efforts to key areas such as: education, healthcare and serious humanitarian issues, locally and globally. Staff these teams with local educators, healthcare workers, and civil/women’s rights activists and the like who work with their counterparts on teams in-house with those steeped in corporate culture. This increases the value of your brand locally and works to balance public disaffection with big business.

3. Grow these efforts through social media.

4. Train your middle mangers and senior-level executives to effectively communicate and collaborate across and through perceived/real organizational and community barriers.

Keywords: Facebook,  Jazz, diplomacy, democracy, open markets.

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Streetcar and the Desire for Cultural Competence

A Streetcar Named DesireI was all geared up to write an article about corporate social responsibility today. What, with the $2B loss at JPMorgan Chase and the news that Jamie Dimon won’t have to split the duty of being both the bank’s CEO and Chairman, I had a lot to discuss! However, a recent and ill-informed write up of A Streetcar Named Desire came back to haunt me last night and I had to weigh in.

Ben Brantley is a noted theatre critic for the New York Times. I am no expert in the dramatic arts but see as many theatre productions as I possibly can. I especially like Shakespeare in the Park. In any case, I don’t “follow” reviews as such. So, when I read Ben Brantley’s review I first thought, “Wow, I don’t like how that feels” but I deferred to his expertise. What do I know? A trained writer, his review seems fair enough at first read but leaves the bitter aftertaste of having consumed bacteria-laden milk. However, once the Tony nominations came around and Streetcar was nominated for only one category, Best Costume, I had had enough and decided — it’s time to write a letter.

Now what you have to know about me is that, I appreciate human interaction. My second-grade teacher, Ms. Nathanson, inscribed my report card with the curious term “social butterfly” and in so doing, she branded me for life. So, I wrote a letter to Ben and sent it to him via email. I’m posting my “Response to Ben Brantley” letter here today because it’s actually on topic — social responsibility and cultural competence aren’t just for corporations, even those trained in the arts can suffer from cultural Glaucoma.

So, Ben… this one’s for you.

Dear Ben,

With all due respect to your acute theatrical insights, you missed the nuances of culture in the current multi-racial casting of “A Streetcar Named Desire” that would have likely enriched your review. Your assertion, “I wouldn’t care if all the performers were green” suggests that you accept the US as an “incontestably mulatto” nation (Albert Murray, The Omni-Americans, 1970) and that your interest lies only in the quality of the dramatic performance. Professional integrity notwithstanding, your timid nod to cultural history in noting the “easygoing ethnic eclecticism of the New Orleans quarter” was woefully insufficient. A deeper understanding of US cultural heritage might have led you into a more substantive analysis of the play.

Terence Blanchard’s original score shapes the play’s action. Through the intimacy of the blues (listen to Duke Ellington’s song of the same name) and the complexities of jazz, African American culture forms the foundation of the play. You notice “none of the spontaneity or urgency” of William’s version but also miss the subtleties in the current play. Your focus on Underwood and Parker’s good looks, the “many hours at the gym” you imagine he’s spent, Rubin-Vega’s “pin-up” girl sultriness and Wood’s “likable gangliness” is not only topical to the point of stereotyping but is amateurish. You allowed desire to mask your cultural ignorance and missed the edginess of the blues. Its lamentations contained within the complexities of jazz indicate the triumph of the spirit amidst life’s intricacies. The flashes and explosions of action you crave are culturally inaccurate; rather and instead, the actors meet life’s inevitabilities with grace, elegance, and inherent hopefulness – the very “stuff” of the blues. To be sure, historically marginalized people the world over have devised strategies for surviving and thriving in spite of the most inhumane circumstances. What you saw but missed on stage was the ability of talented, culturally sophisticated actors to relay a story of triumph despite rape, domestic violence, financial hardship and the like. Nicole Ari Parker’s masterful depiction of Blanche endows the role with the tragicomic consciousness of the blues. She may be down, but not for long. You offered a glimmer of insight in noting, “You don’t have to interpret Blanche’s fate as tragic.” Indeed, the nervous breakdown of previous iterations is a relic of a different time and place. So, too, is your review.

Ben, you let us down. From the pulpit of one of the world’s leading periodicals, you had the opportunity to demonstrate the global relevance and timelessness of art, cultural expertise and professional courage. Instead, you displayed professional timidity and the cultural ignorance of the most distant “outsider.” You shirked your responsibility to provide an informed review for your reading public. Ben, this was your “break” your moment of truth and you failed us miserably. As Albert Murray has written, this was your chance to “improvise, to do your thing, to establish your identity, to write your signature on the epidermis of actuality” – and so you did.

Finally, your ill-informed write-up speaks to the need to diversify the talent pool of theatrical (at least) reviewers. We need writers who bring depth of perception and courage to the reviews they offer. This is a requirement of the global economy.

Respectfully,

Jacquelynne Modeste, PhD

Black Star News

* * *

Watch this clip

CAST: Blair Underwood (Stanley), Nicole Ari Parker (Blanche), Daphne Rubin-Vega (Stella), Wood Harris (Harold Mitchell), Amelia Campbell (Eunice), Matthew Saldívar (Steve), Rosa Evangelina Arredondo (Matron), Carmen de Lavallade (Mexican Woman/Neighbor), Aaron Clifton Moten (Young Collector), Jacinto Taras Riddick (Pablo) and Count Stovall (Doctor).

The Inverted Front Line: Listening to Polyrhythms

Essentially Ellington is an annual international high school jazz band competition sponsored by Jazz at Lincoln Center. Members of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra (JLCO) shared the stage with high school students at various points and also performed charts for the upcoming season’s competition. The JLCO’s performance of Duke Ellington’s “Second Line” was compelling and got me thinking…

Second lining is very important in New Orleans. It’s part of a parade and is even part of funeral processions and helps transform the sad occasion into one of celebration. In a traditional New Orleans funeral procession, the front line is composed of the group of family members and friends who have convened for the purpose of laying a loved-one to rest. Musicians may play a dirge as the pallbearers carry the casket through the streets and before long, upbeat music begins. The second line is the crowd of revelers that follows behind the front line, performing a highly syncopated, rhythmic stepping-sliding dance. The first line and second line are intricately connected but what’s clear is that the front line is the leader, the reason why the second line can exist.

Traditional Front line

If we think of a company’s front line, managers who represent core beliefs, execute strategies, and engage directly or are close to the customer level; then, consumers make up the second line. When strategies change, the second-line dancers or consumers respond accordingly. With agility, they adjust their steps, or preferences, in such a way as to accommodate sonic shifts or shifts in corporate tactics due to change in leadership, global markets, the competitive field, etc. Consumers, like second liners, are vital in the feedback loop and give businesses the type of detailed transaction-level data discussed in Sam’s interview. Consumers, like second liners let companies know which, whether and to what extent implemented business strategies are effective. They allow the company to keep doing what it’s doing.

Inverted Front line

What happens when we think, instead, of consumers as the front line? What if consumers were believed to be the holders of core beliefs and the executors of strategies for engaging the marketplace? Businesses would then form the second line and have to be nimble, like dancers, to adapt to ever-changing consumer desires. Here the consumer defines demand and businesses must create the rhythm/tempo or product/service stream that supports the consumer’s preferences or the dancer’s steps. The corporate behemoth must learn to anticipate consumer demand and become agile enough to support the consumer/dancer’s complex moves. Hmmmmm…

But wait! Wait! Doesn’t this mean the business will have to sacrifice its core beliefs in order to provide “rhythm-on-demand”? Consumers are fickle, how can a business remain vital long-term given such uncertainty? Doesn’t this work better for small businesses whose size is an advantage?

I’m glad you asked.

The short answer is, “No. Companies don’t compromise their core beliefs by providing on-demand services” and “Agility builds the skills necessary for resilience, thriving amidst change.” Remember, too, “Size does not indicate flexibility.” Core beliefs don’t change, strategies do.

By providing “on-demand” services or products, companies don’t forgo their core beliefs; rather, they strategically align their beliefs with consumers or end users whose preferences are similar. Instead of retaining a tight hold on customers they already have and so intensifying business to business competition for a finite number of consumers, businesses that dare to dance lay to rest strategies that served the older model; they diffuse B2B tensions and take advantage of the opportunity to reach the next billion consumers by altering their strategies and extending their reach into new (let’s call them, global) markets. There is much cause for celebration here. No longer the “gatekeepers” of a product or service, businesses that invert the front line must articulate their brand identity forthrightly in order to devise strategies sufficient for securing new potential consumers. By identifying their “onlyness” businesses differentiate themselves from would-be competitors, become stronger and better able to manage change. While some traditional customers may be lost in the shuffle, businesses have the potential to attract many more and capitalize on the benefits of globalization.

Social media fuels this change and helps companies realize greater potential even as the familiar consumer base shifts. Companies most successful at anticipating consumer desire (think Steve Jobs) will be most successful long term because their operations will serve as a template for leveraging social dynamics to corporate advantage and thereby make businesses more nimble operationally. They will be able to anticipate, integrate themselves into, and perhaps lead the “next big thing.” Agile companies are poised for innovation because they are resilient amidst change, they know how to provide the music that supports a dancer’s steps in real time. (Be sure to see the clip below)

Panic stricken corporations

Recent corporate downsizing and the ongoing reluctance to hire is an indication of corporate panic. Behemoths can’t dance ( S/O to Code Mizell) and so their response to uncertainty has been to shed as many employees as possible to protect revenue, to hide their lack of agility. However, when we invert the model, we see the need for employees has grown. Companies need people who can read, interpret and translate data into viable strategies that reflect not only the company’s core beliefs but who can also provide an appropriate response to the changing environment. Companies need people who can adapt easily to today’s global polyrhythms and who can teach others how to participate most effectively. Consider the music from emerging democracies or emerging market regions and how different it sounds from say, Western classical music. The polyrhythms of jazz and of New Orleans jazz in particular are a composite of the complexities of our global environment and the collective improvisation inherent to New Orleans jazz culture is the sound and the template for the global collaboration and nimbleness needed to sustain successful multinational corporate and diplomatic efforts today.

So, how do you define your front line?

This clip of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra is from a December 2011 performance at City Center in NYC and features the Alvin Ailey dancers. Note, the band is performing live on stage while the dancers perform. This is extremely difficult because the band must anticipate the dance steps (and vice versa). Both sides must be poised for change at every moment or the performance will fail.

Here’s Duke’s “Second Line

1. Listen for the integration of sounds. In the beginning, the rhythm section (piano, bass, drums) is led by a clarinet who articulates the melody. The voice of the clarinet is neutralized by the crowd of instrumental revelers who join in (at about 23s) but re-emerges (approx 1m) and reasserts its voice, forthrightly, throughout the song.

2. Listen for individual instrumental expressions (especially the trombones and trumpets) as they take advantage of the opportunity to articulate their sound. This enriches the score, giving it texture and power as it progresses.

3. Listen to the clarinet. Follow its journey from beginning to end; its clear melodic cry in the beginning, its nearly muted sound that struggles to be heard in the middle sections of the score, and its periodic vibrant wail from mid section onward and exhaustive but jubilant cry at the end.

Now listen to Wynton’s clarion call to join in a traditional Second Line parade and practice your dance steps!

Blues You Can Use – Lesson #1

Ma Rainey – “Deep Moaning Blues” (1928)

Blues You Can Use – Lesson 1

“While it’s hard to find people that do the technical things, it’s even harder to find people who can interpret them, who can use creativity to ask provocative questions, who can think about experiments to run that would be interesting.” – Sam Ransbotham

We’re not looking in the right places for talent. It amazes me how many times I read about innovation, creativity, performance, talent, soloing, collaboration, etc., in business journals, blogs and such but rarely come across an engaged or sustained discussion about the performing arts. Do these high-level corporate executives and MBA types really use the words without getting the connection? I’m beginning to think so.

Business leaders need to engage artists, and vice versa. Businesses could gain valuable insight into the much-touted creative process and jazz musicians could begin to identify ways their creativity and talent for innovation could open new professional opportunities. Sam says businesses want people who can think creatively. So, in addressing the “expertise shortage” and in response to a void in management skills, companies are “sending people out to explore what other people are doing and trying to simulate some thinking in that way.” Huh?

Who can blame business leaders for using business leaders to seek out other businesses to see what they’re doing? It’s not their fault; we all do it. We seek the familiar because it makes us comfortable. Besides, in the US art is consumed as a dilettante experience and one largely reserved for the elite. So, the take-aways from artistic experiences are ethereal; people sit, enjoy, clap and leave. Here’s the thing: the differentiation made possible virtually through social media and that yields the highly-coveted detailed data Sam discusses is actually part of our lived experience.

Here’s why: the detailed data – transactional-level, customer-level or front-line information – is the stuff of the blues. The blues is a highly individualistic music that addresses the most mundane needs and a full range of emotion. There’s a blues song for just about everything and while the lyrics reveal the specifics of a situation (a lost job, lost lover, and the like) and so constitute the transaction-level information we need; the music itself is the “big data” the guiding structure of the blues, the choruses, call-and-response and repetition. But there’s more – the individual nuances of the song, both instrumental and vocal, indicate complexities that cannot be duplicated. The blues signal our onlyness and differentiates us even if we experience the same malady. Musicians can talk informatively on this stuff all day – just ask.

While initiating a conversation between business leaders and artists may be really interesting, it’s unlikely to result in much if any immediate quantifiable change. (We’ll need metrics for that but SLOW DOWN! These things take time; and besides, we don’t yet know what questions we should ask; now do we?) Having the conversation is only the beginning to building reliable and trusted networks, relationships that can guide growth and be mutually beneficial long-term. Business leaders need results. Guess what? So do musicians. They “need” to compose songs, perform at gigs, master certain techniques or phrasing, hire personnel, etc. They are continuously engaged in the process of differentiating themselves. All this and more is necessary for professional viability. Musicians, however, know mastering their instrument takes time. Do you want to master the art of change? 

So, what do we do? I’m so glad you asked!

  1. Convene an integrated group of business leaders and musicians (various artists would be great).
  2. Set the agenda to include such things as: basic introductions; brief descriptions of each craft; professional trajectories and skills sets.
  3. Identify common topics and discuss.
  4. Business group – translate lessons into the language of business and move to incorporate these into practices, associated trainings and workshops. Artists – translate lessons into the language of your specialty. Move to incorporate these into new marketing strategies, management techniques, administrative efficiencies, and the like.
  5. Do joint activities so that talent pools mix, bonds are strengthened, and assessments can be conducted.
  6. Follow-up! I cannot stress this enough. On-going conversations and trainings yield the best results because like musicians, businesses are invested long-term. Think of this as a Board of Trustees, the group must demonstrate its commitment to advancing the collaborative enterprise; and yes, we are building “trust.”

What can you do right now? I’m glad you asked.

1. First and foremost, listen to the blues… listen for call-and-response patterns and for repetition of lyrics and instrumental voices

2. Read Sam Ransbotham’s interview in MIT Sloan Management Review (April 2012)

3. Buy and Read Albert Murray’s, Stomping the Blues (pp.45 – 54, 93 – 128; don’t worry, it’s mostly pictures)

Bessie Smith – “Oh, Daddy blues” (1923)

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