Jazz & the State

Mark S. Weiner was our guest on the March 7, 2014, episode of Trading Fours with Drs. Modeste & Wes. Mark’s most recent book, The Rule of the Clan, is a really smart read; insightful, and filled with the intellectual provocations suggested by his title via the word “clan” and the idea that its ability to “rule” itself (and perhaps us?) is something we should think about carefully.

The idea is that in the presence of a weak State, extended kinship groups (clans) provide necessary protections, resources, and assistance for its people. The role of the State, then, is to integrate into these groups — via laws, enforcement, myriad resources, opportunities, and assistance — in such a way as to present an attractive alternative to clan rule. In liberal societies, the goal is to “liberate” or remove barriers to individual self-expression. So, the laws, resources, etc., are ideally intended to facilitate the process by which individuality is realized, actualized.

This is what jazz does. What you see on the bandstand, what you hear when you listen to jazz, is the process of granting individual self-expression via improvisation within a group. So, liberal society requires diverse voices and structures that enable the freedom of self-expression.

The agreement amongst musicians, the social contract, if you will, is that each person has decided to enable the freedom of self-expression — “we will help each other and won’t get in each other’s way” — is the unstated mantra of the jazz band.

During the Cold War, jazz was viewed as a stealth weapon precisely because if its ability to entice people with the possibilities inherent in the freedom of self-expression. Jazz music represented democracy, literally and metaphorically; and during the ideological standoff between communism and its foe, jazz musicians and their fans were considered threats to a more orderly way of life. Makes sense, jazz and democracy are messy. When everyone has a voice that is deemed valid for meaningful participation on the bandstand and/or in civic, judicial, political, and executive processes; then, decision-making is complicated and can be slow, tedious, and costly. Authoritarian regimes can seem utopian by contrast.

Jazz is Hard. Democracy is hard. Integration is hard.
Clans offer comfort and security, until they don’t. Deep loyalties can mask abuses of every kind, limit or obscure opportunities, and otherwise veil potential. When the State is weak, corruption reigns, and abuses of every kind are rampant. Deregulation is a great idea, until it isn’t. Sure, liberating markets is great but when the effort feeds on itself; we can easily revert to closeted activities — nepotism, sexism, racism, etc., — that erode progress and undermine not only the economy but the strength of liberal society. Integration encourages transparency, revealing activities that might otherwise remain hidden. This inherent checks & balances system makes democracy hard all over again. A strong State promotes and protects individuality. Dr. Wes said it best on Friday’s show, [Duke Ellington would], “enable members of his band to be their best selves—and as a result, by the way, very few people wanted to leave his band.” Where jazz goes; so, too, goes democracy. Let’s swing.

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The Gorilla & the Deep Blue (Ocean) Sea

This is a tumultuous time in the US. The Sanford, Florida, trial that let a murderer walk free reinforced various laws designed to protect assailants and insure the silence of targets of violence. In blatant opposition to public discourse, the judge in the case did not allow racial discussion to enter meaningfully into the proceedings. The outcome of the case has been contested in the media and public discontent stands in stark opposition to the court’s ruling indicating a most troubling disconnect between the public and the laws that govern our lives.

Part of a Larger Trend

This disconnect is part of a larger trend. Our human capital is our most valuable asset. We do ourselves a great disservice when we fail to recognize the potential of our diverse US population in bridging obvious gaps in the cultural capital we need to broker multinational deals in emerging market areas. The world is round, brown, young, rural and poor (by Western economic standards). Global access to the market economy is conduced largely via mobile transactions. This is why Facebook, Apple and Google have been in a push to open Internet access and sell cheaper versions of their devices in emerging market areas. It’s no surprise that multinationals see and appreciate this value; potential for new customers is an ocean that is vast and blue. Blue oceans represent continued growth for multinationals, longevity. However, so many of us don’t see similarly; we are not swimmers, we are afraid of the water and of the enormous gorilla sitting at the shore but more on that in a bit…

Population & Income

Neil Ungerleider notes, “tens of millions of American [US] Android and iPhone owners are struggling to make ends meet – and there are even more who are senior citizens, who live in rural areas, lack college or high school degrees…”

Income & Age
Income & Age

These people most closely resemble the billions of people in emerging market areas. Yet, the startup technology sector tends to preach to the choir – creating apps and opportunities for the “suburban/urban, and middle-to-upper class.” Neil insightfully notes, the “technology world is missing out on a lot of innovation” and tech companies are “missing out on potential profits.” Tech companies simply and unimaginatively create for each other and seem content investing in each other’s ideas; splashing around rather merrily in the backyard pool, they are oblivious to the big blue ocean.

The 800lb Gorilla

Diversity is a term that has become cliché and that’s unfortunate because we miss its nuances and so its value. The history of racial heritage bias in the US is so long and deep that it obliterates more complex discussions, such as the conflation of racial heritage and economics. We are left with relatively simplistic discussions of race that not only lack intellectual nuance but also that leave the structures of division unchallenged and so firmly in place, reinforcing socio-economic stagnation. These days and certainly with the re-election of the nation’s first President of African descent, discussions of race and racially realized power are considered outdated or irrelevant.

800lb gorilla

The 800lb gorilla blocking our access to sustained progress is race and its myriad combinations (gender, sexuality, power, etc.). Our efforts to ignore the gorilla are directly proportional to our delusions of grandeur. We simply cannot be effective players on the global stage if we refuse to engage matters of race in a brown world. So when an adult, whose father was a judge and served 10 years at the Pentagon, carries a concealed weapon and murders an unarmed teenager, the presiding judge’s decision to prohibit discussions of race from courtroom proceedings makes good sense – if you don’t think about it.

Youthful Future

In “Killing our Competitive Edge” I lamented the killing of our human capital. That our youth is our future is not simply a cliché; it’s a matter of fact; and, as the population expands, so does the growth of the nonwhite US sector. Likewise, the world’s population is growing steadily, particularly in emerging market regions. Internationally, growth is projected to be most robust in high-fertility countries such as India, Pakistan, Indonesia, and the Philippines. Additionally, the populations of several African nations are expected to increase by at least five fold between 2013 and 2100. Young brown people, those under 25, comprise approximately 40 percent of today’s overall population and the number of people older than 60 is projected to triple by 2100. Despite this, technology companies create for the relatively few moneyed and well educated, seemingly blind to the existence and so the demands of the 800lb gorilla.

So What Gives?

We discuss diversity in terms that eliminate mention of race and so leave race and its related discussions void of complexity and nuance. We dance around the gorilla. In her well-meaning, thoughtful and even insightful article “Innovation Needs a Lingua Franca” (and by the way, that lingua franca? it’s called jazz) Whitney Johnson discusses the benefits of foreign language (Spanish in this case) and travel (to Uruguay) and describes how being on the “margin of culture” and “reaching out into unknown territory” were invaluable personal and professional experiences. Innovation, Johnson “discovers” happens when we put ourselves in “unpleasant” situations because it “opens a space for truly new ideas.”

Indeed, people of color no matter their socio-economic status live at the margins of culture everyday; and at least since W.E.B. DuBois articulated the notion of two-ness in his seminal work, The Souls of Black Folk (1903), we’ve had a language to describe and critique this allegedly newfound condition of being. When, like Whitney, we acknowledge and then disrupt our largely self-imposed segregated communities by daring to venture into realms unknown – like so many native-born, forced and willful immigrants who courageously integrate into “majority” societies the world over – we encourage creativity and position ourselves to “discover” all things anew. Through “two-ness” (three-ness, four-ness…), we discover the complexity that brings with it the benefit of helping us see more of the spectrum of human endeavor, behavior and desire. Through complexity, we build the confidence and the capacity to face the beast (otherwise known as the blues) and move beyond it into the vast blue oceans that await (knowing all the while there will be other predators to face).

Where Do We Go From Here?

When foreign travel and in-country language training become the recommended solutions for experiencing so-called diversity; when technology companies create apps, products and services for those within their own elite communities; when justices silence racial commentary from entering into legal discourse, we feed the gorilla while continuing to deny its existence and so reveal the breadth and depth of our delusions and essentially admit to the world our inability to partner effectively on matters of global consequence. We also perpetuate “otherness” and relegate diversity to a trendy “add-on” experience for the moneyed and well-educated and distance ourselves from the global reality of a growing youthful, brown and non-moneyed population. So when, as Mary Driscoll notes, we discover “major supply-chain disruption” in multinational corporations due to “unforeseen events” the problem is indeed blindness, cultural blindness to “many crucial strategic risks.” Ralph Ellison wrote eloquently on the dangers of these so-called “sleepwalkers” in his 1952 classic, The Invisible Man. Sleepwalkers are ill-prepared to contribute effectively to matters of global significance. I know it’s scary but it’s time to acknowledge the gorilla and call it by name — these are the first steps of change.

Big Data, Change, and Swing

How Big Data is Different” — by Thomas H. Davenport, Paul Barth and Randy Bean (henceforth known as DBB) was published in the July edition of MIT Sloan Management Review and explores the question:

How do the potential insights from big data differ from what managers generate from traditional analytics?

DBB: “Very little of the information is formatted in the traditional rows and columns of conventional databases.”

Global Jackie: We  need people who think in nontraditional ways, who are trained in fields beyond STEM

DBB says: Companies want “To understand their business environments at a more granular level, to create new products and services, and to respond to changes in usage patterns as they occur. In the life sciences, such capabilities may pave the way to treatments and cures for threatening diseases.”

Global Jackie: It’s not just business people and scientists who engage such processes! Jazz musicians understand their environments on a “more granular” level” every time they play the blues. Amidst the complexities of rhythm changes, time and key changes, audience cheers, applause and activity, bandstand dynamics, nightclub culture, and an assortment of randomly occurring disruptive forces, jazz musicians “respond to changes in usage patterns as they occur” and create classic if not legendary compositions and solos. (Listen to Louis Armstrong’s extended solo from 12s – approx 1:44) 

DBB have three on-point recommendations for improving data-handling capabilities and since they, somehow, left out jazz musicians (gasp, shock, horror) and the associated culture, I’ll improvise on the changes they’ve laid out…

DBB:

               1. Pay attention to flows instead of stocks: In real-time monitoring contexts, organizations need to adopt a more continuous approach to analysis and decision-making based on a series of hunches and hypotheses. Social media analytics, for example, capture fast-breaking trends on customer sentiments about products, brands and companies.

Global Jackie: Jazz is social. Improvisation happens in real-time, there are no second chances, no do-overs. Musicians must process information continuously, coalesce it and  articulate it in a way that makes sense (remember, they must respect time, key signatures) and sounds good. The “hunches and hypotheses” occur as musicians craft  improvisations and new hunches and hypotheses are integrated into each new performance. These are skills that can be learned, honed, and performed in the corporate sector.

DBB: 

               2. Rely on data scientists and process developers instead of data analysts: “Data scientists,” as these professionals are known, understand analytics, but they also are well versed in IT, often having advanced degrees in computer science, computational physics or biology- or network-oriented social sciences. DBB notes that this type of  “upgraded data management skill set” also requires, “business acumen and the ability to communicate effectively with decision-makers.” DBB admits,  “This combination of skills, valuable as it is, is in very short supply.”

Global Jackie: Wow, ya don’t say? A whole team of data scientists and traditional IT people with advanced degrees? Well, I guess I can see why this is an improvement over using only data analysts but geesh, no wonder business can’t swing. Great to train tech people to build social skills but why not also take those trained in design, the creative arts and culture and train them to adapt or apply their skills and ways of thinking, processing and evaluating information to analytics? Not only will you create the disruptions necessary for innovation to occur but you’ll integrate thought processes that can lead to more effective team building, and realize hidden talents within your team. Not to worry, your organization can be trained to build a culture of resilience, innovation, and swing.

DBB: Early users of big data are also rethinking their organizational structures for data scientists. Traditionally, analytical professionals were often part of internal consulting organizations advising managers or executives on internal decisions. However, in some industries, such as online social networks, gaming and pharmaceuticals, data scientists are part of the product development organization, developing new products and product features.

Global Jackie: I like this… a lot because there’s a great deal of integration happening.  Rethinking organizational structures is fun for creative people; designers, musicians, and the like find this fascinating. Making data scientists “part of the product team” is a major step in the right direction. We’ve moved past racial segregation in the US (just go with me on this), let’s address the segregation of knowledge.

3. Move analytics from IT to core business and operational functions. The traditional role of IT— automating business processes — imposes precise requirements, adherence to standards and controls on changes. A key tenet of big data is that the world and the data that describe it are constantly changing, and organizations that can recognize the changes and react quickly and intelligently will have the upper hand.

Global Jackie: A key tenet of jazz is change. Musicians deal with uncertainty every day in every performance and in every articulation of a song. Musicians deal with pitches that vary, disagreeable reeds, sound boards affected by changing weather or internal climate conditions, etc. Constant change, uncertainty and all its associated anxiety, is an inextricable part of US cultural identity. Dudes, it’s called the blues and when individual angst is integrated into complex structures — like jazz, like corporations — we retain the “granular” even as we flow towards Six Sigma like efficiency, even as we swing.  

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Train Whistle Diplomacy: Blues-Based Jazz & National Identity

Train Whistle Diplomacy: Blues-Based Jazz and National Identity (47 – 67)

  • Blues and swing, 48 – 51
  • Blues-Based jazz, 51 – 53
  • Business strategy and corporate culture, 54 – 56
  • Government and Governance, 57 – 58
  • The President, 59 – 60
  • The Significance of Culture, 60  – 61
  • Spain: 61 – 62
  • Mexico: 62 – 64

Thanks to the Editorial Board and the Advisory Board for your helpful comments and suggestions in brining this article to print.

The Necessity of Global Swing

Swing is a matter of coordination – finding and sustaining equilibrium – a rhythmic flow. The recent G-20 meeting in Mexico was an example of the shifting global terrain. The ebbing of Western dominance must be balanced with nations not historically integrated into the global power structure. This year, BRIC nations asserted their voices globally by contributing 75% of the International Monetary Fund’s firewall. Similar articulations resonate in the healthcare sector where India, for example, has had a major impact on reducing the price of HIV/AIDS treatments and essentially eliminating its country’s polio epidemic.
Swing

The need to compete

Getting the world to swing will require coordination across and through regions. As with a jazz ensemble, each section or region has its own sound, its own expertise. Mutual respect within sections and between them informs the performance of the chart. Divided into chairs or individual roles within the section, each musician – like each geographic region – has a role to play that can be noncompetitive within the section/region and certainly across instrumental divisions in the same way that Taiwan will differentiate itself (market segment, military, cultural offerings and consumer preferences, etc.) from South Korea and from Hong Kong. Likewise, a first-chair saxophonist cannot compete with a second chair; they play different parts. A saxophone and trombone are, of course functionally different and play in different keys though both are needed in an ensemble.

When the virtuosity of one instrumentalist challenges that of another within his section; increasing the number of chair positions can accommodate the internal or sectional differentiation. The more chair positions (think globally here and think diversity) the greater the ability to capture nuances of sound, to recognize individuality. Geographically, when the virtuosity or expertise of one region is articulated, it differentiates itself from other regions.

Blind & Deaf

Superpowers no longer rule the world. Today’s construct is not a dialogue but a conversation disrupted by a multiplicity of voices. BRIC nations, African countries, and Latin American nations have integrated into and diversified the global dialogue, and have created a polyrhythmic global conversation that requires more nuanced hearing, different listening, and more complex and attuned responding. Nicholas Kristof’s NYT article on Africa and its promise is instructive. As he notes, the media typically covers the famine or genocide dichotomy all too familiar when reporting on African nations. This “black or white” divide is all too common in US political, legal and economic history. When these polarities guide discussions, they mask underlying potential of people and individual nations; turning a blind eye and a deaf ear to nations and entire continents where talent and vast resources are left unrealized. By seeing and hearing differently the US might – like the Asian countries Kristof mentions – build mutually beneficial relationships in Africa.

Jazz as a conversation

Conversations enriched by multiple points of view can – like jazz – create the conditions for new ideas to emerge and innovations to occur. Each new bit of information integrated into a conversation, each new instrumental voice incorporated into a jazz score increases the differentiation. Each new disruption requires us to seek balance again by acknowledging and responding to the disruptive force. For example, the common 4/4 time signature is disrupted each time the blues weaves its way into the sonic efficiency. Improvisations also challenge equilibrium. Culturally this is the process by which we integrate diverse national, religious, gendered, etc., voices into conversations ranging from global governance and multinational management strategies to local politics and school board elections.

Artful impact

Seeing and hearing differently increases our consciousness and can change our perspective. Take, for example, Scott Shane’s NYT article “as Islamists Gain Influence, Washington Reassesses Who Its Friends Are.” The author correctly assumes that Americans don’t see clearly or listen carefully. Why should anyone be surprised when a nation of Muslims elects an Islamist government? Yet, those accustomed to binary opposition are suspicious of the gray area regarding inquiries by the newly elected President into the release of an Egyptian sheik. On this point Representative Peter T. King, chairman of the Homeland Security Committee asserts, this is “the kind of talk you hear on the street – not from the president of the country.” Well, yes, Peter and that’s actually the point. Learning to listen to the crowds and not simply voices emanating from the elite sectors of government (or the C-Suites in business) gives us vital information that could be instructive. (Think Jamie Dimon).

Middle East experts like Michele Dunne, however, are attuned to nuances. In her view it should not be assumed that the “rise in Islamists puts the United States in greater danger from terrorists.” In fact, she thinks the opposite may be true. “Major Egyptian terrorists” she notes, “were shaped by their rage against the [Hosni] Mubarak dictatorship” – a secular Western-leaning leader.  “The movement of Islamists into mainstream politics should reduce the terrorism threat.” Thinking musically, this makes sense to me because when the voices of the people are integrated into the policies that govern their lives – the score – the policies are consistent with their views. When strategy reaches the frontline, productivity increases due to large-scale “buy-in.” The integration of voices into and across sectors disrupts the one-way flow of information. But there’s more – when multiple voices are integrated into the flow of information the dichotomy is disrupted and an enriched conversation occurs.

Is this hard to manage? Of course! Short term, dictatorial styles are highly efficient but if you’re committed to democratic formation or long-term business viability and relevance, it’s wise to be slow and steady. Coordinated efforts increase engagement and dissention but they also diffuse tension over time and create the conditions for sustained organizational flow, or swing. Michele Dunne’s advice is instructive, “If Islamic groups like the Brotherhood lose faith in democracy” — when your citizens or employees think their voices are not being heard — “that’s when there could be consequences.”

Get ready to swing…

What’s this mean for you? Get more art in your life. Art is disruptive; it forces us to emote, to demonstrate our humanity. Moreover, art gives us examples we can use to deepen our understanding of the world.

Disruption anyone?

Consider the following clip: Alan Gilbert directs a masterful program, the “Philharmonic 360” a spatial performance that features three separately situated orchestras in New York’s Park Avenue Armory. Philharmonic 360This ain’t no concert hall. The Armory is the size of a US football field with an 80 ft (24m) vaulted ceiling. Think about the three separately situated orchestras as geographic regions and consider their efforts to perform their very best rendition of a chart, the way in which their sounds diffuse into the air, and are received by audience members. Now consider the challenges of conducting or governing these disparate regions, each with its own identity, personality, strengths and weaknesses, etc. Now consider the importance of trust and having your strategy/chart reach the “frontline.”

Classical changes

Disrupting organizational structure is unsettling. Coordinating seemingly disparate voices is an anxiety-ridden endeavor and the outcomes are not assured (though Gilbert’s program was brilliant). Gilbert’s program was exceptional in the classical realm. Jazz at Lincoln Center’s largest venue, Frederick P. Rose Hall, features a stage where part of the audience sits behind the orchestra.

JALC Rose Theatre

 You see, jazz is about mobility and integration and so in the concert hall designed specifically for its performance, audience engagement was a key factor. In Gilbert’s program and in the Ode to Joy Flash Mob, classical music is seen doing what art always does – disrupting our sensibilities. Jazz does this all the time but classical? Indeed, the tectonic plates are shifting. Let’s find our footing and swing.

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.

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 […]

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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