With jazz, the firm becomes an orchestra

Improvisation. Solos, but also solid unified organization. Afro-American music is the model chosen by a management training school. That makes people sit up and listen.

25-05-201109:02by
Duke Ellington Orchestra (AP)

Improvisation. An individual contribution fundamental to the success of the entire ensemble. Apparently dissonant to the ear, but hidden within it is a solid organization of roles. All this is jazz. And because of its characteristics it is the perfect metaphor for corporate organization. So much so that a management training school, Jazz for Business, has as its motto, “Listen to the organization”, and its activity is based on actual lesson/concerts. Conducting them is Dario Villa, management trainer expert in organizational learning for the Trivioquadrivio company and who came to jazz after having experimented with (among the first in Italy) the Lego Serious Play training method based on the use of the world-renowned building blocks. “I have always been fascinated by innovative training methods, and after years spent following jazz musicians around the world, my camera slung around my neck to take pictures of them while they performed, I have learned to recognize the roles and dynamics of their world,” he tells Panorama Economy. “And identify the potential points of contact with the organizational world.”

 

Together with Ferdinando Faraò, jazz musician and composer, he has developed a series of lesson/concerts in which a live orchestra accompanies the emphasis and points of contact between music and business by the trainer. All of which rotate around the concept of listening following the suggestion of Duke Ellington. In his compositions, the various parts were indicated not with the names of the instruments, but with the names of the people. This choice, which at first might seem silly, is actually an effective way of promoting two phenomena which in jazz develop together: responsibility towards one’s role and freedom of personal expression. “In all its forms, whether free-form or more structured, jazz is the musical genre which more than any other brings to the fore timbre and voice, putting the emphasis on the personal interpretation of the role assigned,” says Villa. A goal not all that removed from what organizations put forward with their employees.

 

Then there are also role dynamics. Jazz musicians often speak about interplay, a magic concept that indicates the ability to construct a musical fabric based on interchange and continuous dialogue. “It is an idea not that distant from the best in organizational practices, especially if seen from a systemic standpoint,” says Villa.

 

Nonetheless, listening to conversations is not always an easy task. In jazz, perception of noise is the first obstacle a neophyte encounters to block the highway to musical pleasure. “If from jazz we shift to the other pole of the metaphor – to organizations – we realize that they can also often seem noisy, confused and disoriented,” says Villa. “And not only to those seeing them for the first time or from a distance.” According to Villa, what is always written first, whether a task or a job description, must always take into account when it is actually implemented, in other words, daily working life. This takes place in a space that can be considered a territory of challenge and conquest. “Knowing how to maneuver within this space represents the challenge of organizational complexity, whatever instrument you play,” he notes.

 

And the main way in which jazz musicians show that they know how to move within this space is improvisation, which involves study, effort and attention to the context. Just like running a company. But you need the raw material, because as bass player Charles Mingus said, “You can’t improvise on nothing.”

 

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