Welcome to the Jazz Age!

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Cover image for  article: Welcome to the Jazz Age!

To remain relevant today leaders and companies that have often been classically trained need to realize we are in a jazz age and re-invent some of the ways we conduct ourselves and business.

Classical vs Jazz

While both classical and jazz are highly complex styles of music which are held in high regard there are some key differences between them.

1. Fixed Hierarchy vs rotating leaders

Classical music in many cases involves an orchestra or a multi-person assemblage which has a central leader known as the conductor. This hierarchy also cascades down into every instrument section with a first, second and third violinist or clarinetists.

Jazz ensembles sometimes have a leader but even when they do there is little hierarchy with different players often taking the lead.

2. Fidelity to a score or a "way" vs agility and improvisation

Classical performances are traditionally based on pre-composed material, revitalizing scores from years past, whereas jazz is fresh with each performance with musicians extemporaneously re-composing in real time using improvisation.

Because most classical musicians and conductors follow a score often written hundreds of years ago there is limited flexibility to interpret in personal ways outside of playing faster/slower or quieter/louder while accentuating certain passages.

Jazz music is often about improvisation, with each rendering often very different from every other, and with the players having great degrees of freedom to iterate and invent on the fly as the spirit, the situation and their fellow players move them.

3. Greater emphasis on the musician and individual in jazz

Since jazz tends to have fewer players who are improvising and who share leadership, the talent of the individual is emphasized versus the scale of the collective in orchestras. There is more spotlight on individual talent versus large numbers of people who can be switched out for other people in large orchestra sections.

Why increasingly companies and leaders need to be less classical and more jazz-like

Over the past decade or two the four shifts of demographic, mindset, technology and boundary have re-written the business landscape. (See The Four Shifts.)

1. Size and co-ordinated movement of huge enterprises matters less as new types of technology and platforms from AI to cloud-based software as a service ensure plummeting prices and access to cutting edge quality, scale of manufacturing and global marketplaces to small companies and individuals.

2. Speed and agility has grown in importance where responsiveness and customization of products and services becomes a key differentiator.

3. Flexible ways of working and managing grow in importance as four generations work together at the same time, work is now done at different locations, and cultural and individual differences must be incorporated into decision-making.

When companies and leaders struggle to adapt it is often because they are organized or trained classically while the new landscape and expectations of the new generations are crying out for a jazz-oriented approach.

The good news is that many of the best jazz players were classically trained and some of the best classical music including Rhapsody in Blue (The United Airlines theme) or Dvorak’s 9th Symphony (New World) are infused with jazz-like structures so there is nothing holding back today’s companies and leaders from adapting to tomorrow.

Some questions to ponder

1. Is hierarchy holding the company back? Are bosses followed due to their zone of control and title or are they leading via a zone of influence and updated skills? In some organizations such as the Armed Forces and others hierarchy is a feature and not a bug while in many others it is less relevant and so they have out-of-date conductors swinging a baton at an orchestra that is looking somewhere else.

2. Are companies re-thinking things with a blank sheet of paper versus replicating ways of operating that made sense when our companies were founded or made sense at a different time? In this week’s What's Next? podcast we hear about how productivity recently was significantly improved at Shopify when CEO Toby Lutke had all meetings removed from everyone’s calendar and people had to decide whether they needed them and if they needed them as often, as long and with as many invitees -- or they could be done away with altogether. This is just one way that companies are re-architecting from the ground up rather than making small adjustments that while easy to do have little impact.

3. Is there significant time and budget allocated to training talent to better self-manage or to help management adapt to lead better? The future of leadership is continuous learning, coaching, empowering people and delegating to more junior employees or employees closer to clients and the business battlefront so they can improvise as the situation calls for.

The 4X4 approach to thriving in the Jazz Age

The recipe of success of Jazz Age companies and leadership will be to focus on a 4X4 approach. Four of these are built around talent and four are built around rhythm so that talent plays well and can improvise with each other to create real value and growth.

The Talent Four: a) finding and honing the best talent, b) emphasizing teams/team work, c) investing in growing skills and d) encouraging improvisation.

Increasingly a combination of AI, access to global marketplaces and other breakthroughs will reduce most moats that companies have created leaving talent as one of the key long-term moats along with other such as brand. Companies that attract superior talent, enable them to steer rapidly and communicate clearly and fearlessly while collaborating flexibly are likely to be the long term winners.

The Rhythm Four: Growing talent while key to companies and leadership alone will not be enough and a significant value of firms and leadership will be to set a) strategy/vision, b) clear deliverables, c) evaluation metrics and d) a methodology/language to improvise around to ensure that it is music and not cacophony that results from a more flexible and fluid approach.

Welcome to the Jazz Age!

Posted at MediaVillage through the Thought Leadership self-publishing platform.

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