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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