Monday December 17, 2012
By Sol Arigos - Head of Technical Support
Those close to me know I like jazz and a few weeks ago I had the privilege of seeing Esmeralda Spalding at the Royal Festival Hall – one of the most enjoyable musical experiences of my life. She is literally the coolest contemporary artist on earth to date. This isn’t just my opinion, she’s Barak Obama’s favourite artist (holding numerous private concerts in the White House), and has won the Best New Artist Grammy award (she was up against Justin Bieber). With this, she became the first jazz artist ever to win such an accolade and demonstrates just how huge she is.
The fact that I’m still talking about her to anyone that will listen, has inspired me to think about what exactly it is she does to ‘wow’ so many people and achieve such success. Could her specific skills in delivering a world class performance be translated into the world of business? There are six areas I believe we could learn from:
Walking into the theatre was mind blowing. Jazz bands normally pay little attention to stage production as, usually for them, it’s all about playing great music. In this case no detail was left to chance. Outstanding and original visual props immediately invoked anticipation that something amazing was about to take place. What a shame this feeling isn’t often experienced when we walk into an office for the first time, and what would happen if it did?
Esperanza’s stamina is second to none; her body movements are quite special and very contagious. I spotted many in the audience nodding along and discreetly mirroring her dance moves throughout the performance. This in turn made us feel re-energised and very positive. It is common knowledge that body language is important when making a first impression, and that mirroring is a simple and often unconscious way of building rapport. However, is this reflected in the way we sit at our desks, talk to colleagues or hold internal meetings?
One of my favourite things about jazz is its ‘jamming’ dynamic. It was fascinating to observe how the jazz musicians improvised (within a clearly defined structure), took risks, embraced change, valued diversity, rotated leadership and built on each other’s ideas throughout the performance. They also balanced listening and responding, preparation and spontaneity, rationality and emotional flow, as well as personal and shared responsibility - quite a lot to take on whilst performing.
All of the above are traits of a high performing organisation. The creative flexibility of jazz musicians provides an excellent model for today's business leaders. Perhaps it’s worth exploring if your teams are ‘in tune’ with each other.
The performance I witnessed only happened so successfully because Esperanza set the ground rules from day one and communicated these to her band. It was very interesting to observe the dynamic of her role (as lead singer and principal musician) and the rest of the musicians; the power of non-verbal communication was clear. She doesn’t play every instrument, but she knows every note in the piece, she knows the phrasing of each movement, the entry and exit point of each instrument.
In this case, leading a jazz band mirrors business life with the ‘maestro’ providing visionary leadership and creating a framework for exceptional performance. Just like Esperanza knows the musical piece that the band is playing, a leader should be aware, although not involved with every detail, of any business project.
Esperanza has successfully convinced some of the best musicians in the world to play in her band, the ‘Radio Music Society’, and the fact that they are a band rather than a group of session musicians is key to their success. Esperanza has created equality, giving as much participation to each of them as possible (twelve to be precise) and praising them throughout the performance. By the encore we knew all of their names and were able to appreciate why each was special.
- Audience participation
Esperanza interacted with us throughout, the performance. She asked for and listened to our feedback, played songs according to our mood and requests, shared personal stories and asked for our opinion on them. And of course we sang along to her beautiful songs, making us feel like we contributed to the success of the evening. Imagine if all businesses involved their clients as much as this.
Overall it was an excellent performance, it totally surpassed my expectations and I loved being inspired and able to learn and reflect on it. So perhaps there is much more we could learn from the music world than we thought. As Miles Davis said "don't play what you know, play what you hear..."
Can your business draw inspiration from your musical heroes?