What Leaders Can Learn From Jazz
Human Nagafi

Human Nagafi

I visited a jazz bar in Prague and when I sipped a cocktail and enjoyed my surroundings – sitting in a small basement in Prague’s old town listening to music – one of my main passions.

In my world (one would probably call it “business world”) we use words that feel so ordinary that we forget the original meaning. Words like “orchestrating” teams, for example, I will never forget that one of my superiors superiors described his management style as a  “conductor.” His opinion was: “I have many good and clever individual experts, and my job as a conductor is to tell them where to go. “Without him, the orchestra would be a mess. A collection of instruments that play without harmony and direction, just concentrating on fulfilling their function. Everyone in the orchestra plays only in their mindbox and follows the instructions of the conductor, who therefore follows a strict plan.

Go with the flow.

The first violin might serve as the “high potential,” and there are others who make some notes during the play. But now I’m sitting in this cellar in the middle of Prague’s old town listening to this jazz band. And there it was: no conductor! But instead of just great music. five people play and jam together. Oh no, a seventh person spontaneously joins the group and quickly synchronizes with the flow. And all this is happening so smoothly. But how does that work?

There is no individual guidance, but just the flow, groove or beat (however you want to call it). And now and then someone else takes the initiative to take the lead, like the piano, the bass or the saxophone. No detailed preliminary planning. The result? It can change every night. One of the guests next to me said he was there last week. Although the band and the “program” were the same as this week, the result is different.

Of course, it is a fantastic experience to go to the theater and listening to all the great masterpieces created by an individual genius. But the chances of innovation during the play are comparatively small. Going to a jazz bar is a whole other thing. Here it is not the individual who is the genius, but the collective. Maybe they have some notes, but apparently, they have been trained to become an artist. So, when you next think about doing something in your organization that’s supposed to be innovative, ask yourself: Are you more of a jazz group? All the different, but guided by a common flow in which everyone can take the initiative so that real innovation can emerge.

At 1789 we founded a jazz band. In a radically new direction, the group is now directed to a group. Sometimes these people stay permanent. Sometimes we call them “clients.” The crazy thing is that each of these “clients” has a decisive influence on our group. So let’s see where the flow takes us in the next weeks, months and years!

I am Human, Partner at 1789  Innovations — Beyond Revolution , a strategic consultancy with a focus on helping organizations create new structures and empowering teams. Do you agree or disagree with my thoughts? Do you want to share your story? Please leave a comment below!

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