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If Miles Davis Taught Your Office to Improvise

Posted by Marisa Muller
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The old saying goes, “The only thing constant in life is change.” And with the current pace of change in the workplace, there is a demand for businesses to be ready for anything and everything. In order for business leaders to thrive in today’s market, they must be receptive, responsive, and adaptive. But how can business leaders prepare themselves for the unexpected?

 

Frank J. Barrett, Professor of Management and Global Public Policy at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California, suggests that business leaders take a cue from jazz musicians and practice improvisation.

 

In his article featured in Fast Company, the skills jazz musicians develop while improvising can also be helpful working in the office. Through improvisation, one nurtures spontaneity, cultivates creativity, encourages experimentation, and facilitates dynamic synchronization- all traits that are becoming increasingly necessary to succeed in business. By harnessing these qualities, businesses will be better equipped to tackle challenges that come their way.

 

Barrett proposes the following practices to help business leaders replicate the environment of a jazz band jam session:

 

Treat each task as an experiment

 

Every time a jazz musician improvises with a band, he or she tries different combinations of notes and rhythms over the chord changes of a song. As the musician performs, he or she is aware of his or her actions, listens to what works musically, and is receptive to others’ responses. Each spontaneous composition, therefore, becomes a learning process.

By adopting this experimental approach for the office, Barrett believes you will obtain a mind-set focused on discovery. Because you are constantly proposing new ideas and testing new hypotheses, you are more receptive to different ways of thinking and encourage breaking the routine. By consistently approaching projects through this process of trial and error, you become more aware of yourself and your own experiences, and you consequently learn more.

 

Resist the Glamour of No and Go with the Flow

 

Wishing the situation was different is one of the greatest hindrances to creativity and improvisation. Instead, do what jazz greats do- assume that you can make the situation work somehow. With this affirmative mind-set, you are more likely to accomplish the task at hand and find a positive pathway.

 

Encourage Serious Play

 

Musicians play on stage and you should play in the office, too. Although work and play seem diametrically opposed, the addition of legitimate play into the workplace can be a fruitful and meaningful activity. There is a sense of surrender in play, a willingness to suspend control and give yourself over to the flow of the ongoing events. Playing and practicing in situations where it is acceptable to try new things and fail provokes and open thought process and reinforces the experimentation process.

 

 Everyone gets a chance to solo

 

Successful work teams are often characterized by distributed, multiple leadership in which people take turns heading up various projects as their expertise is needed. The same thing happens in jazz bands, where everyone gets their turn to solo. That way, all participants get their chance to shine.

 

 

With these tips in mind, it’s time to warm up those chops and have your own office jam session, you cool cat!

 

*Photo courtesy of Stefan Leijon.

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