Leadership and Organizational Jazz

My teenage son Dave (son number two), a Junior in high school, is studying jazz piano with a professor from Rutgers (who is also a rising star on the NY-area jazz scene).

Not being a musician myself, I watch in awe as my son is gaining in knowledge and skill on the keyboard. My wife, who is a professional classical musician, is also in awe.

As is well known, a core part of the jazz idiom is improvisation. Through my son, I have learned some things about improvisation in jazz, that I had not understood before, including:

- it is based on an underlying structure

- and it follows established conventions of orderliness

Dave said that, when a jazz group rehearses, they focus on the overall piece, the start and the finish, the sequence of players, and the way the piece should "feel" to the listener. When they perform for an audience, they play "in the moment," putting their own spin and interpretation on the piece, feeding off the musical ideas of one another, while the leadership varies from player to player throughout the performance.

Does this phenomenon have any bearing on leadership and organizations? I think so. It seems to me that there are many situations in business where improvisation is called for, particularly when reality throws an unanticipated curve.

But one of the lessons from jazz is that the ability to improvize is not something you can grab out of the air. Rather it appears to be based on intense rehearsal, clear roles, and scenario practice. This discipline provides a foundation upon which the versatile leader can choose various pathways.

Posted by Terrence Seamon, 04/15, 2006


Astha said…
Let me begin by saying how much I enjoy reading your blogs. I find it insightful amongst the informational many that I have seen on these topics.

I was talking with a friend recently, he is a software tester, and he said he doesn't consider himself the creative sort. He is however very good at what he does. When I told him about the concept of innovation emerging from mastery and practice he was hooked. The jazz metaphor seemed to have hit a cord.
Terrence said…
Thank you, astha.


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