Jamming together: a new art of Collaboration in VUCA times

True collaboration and collective intelligence.

We face system issues that require "system solutions". In others words: true collaboration and collective intelligence. That requires us to really shift from an - often unconscious and implicit - paradigm of "to Down command and control" to a new one. We need new glasses to look at this world and liberate the capacities required to build a better one together!

This is why, in 2010, based on years of practice as strategic advisors AND as jazz musiciens (this allows a live demonstration), we created a workshop called "jazz as a metaphor of the Art of collaboration". It proposes to consciously use new "lenses" to look at "organised collaboration": from the Symphony Orchestra to Jazz Combos, i.e. combination of musicians.

Why ? to move from Command and Control to Focus and Freedom, from Silos to Combos

  • From the Symphony orchestra with its mandatory music scores, no improvisation, Conductor as omnipotent Leader, "Top Down" control system, Anonymity of members of the orchestra
  • To the Jazz Combo,  i.e. combination of musicians evolutive repertoire, personal and musical Authority of the leader (Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Oscar Peterson...) Peer Culture , shared musical direction, some prewritten arrangements, Creativity in real time through Improvisation.

The Symphony Orchestra metaphor was acceptable up until a recent Past! What we like to call the "Jack Welsh" era. One "conductor", deciding on the repertoire, the tempos and all the rest of it, conducting a team of "anonymous" professional musicians, having obtained first prizes from renowned conservatories, who just have to read scores and obey the conductor's directions on "interpretation". Maximum formality, minimal freedom. Maximum Command and Control!

Do you feel this fits with the Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous world as it develops today? Not at all! Jazz is much more in sync with our turbulent times than the Symphony Orchestra. It symbolizes the Art of Collaboration. It offers a metaphor which makes it possible to switch from "silos" to "combos", from the Vertical world of "Command and Control" to "Focus and Freedom", the Collaboration models of the Horizontal world.

This metaphor allows for a better way to look at our turbulent times than the symphonic orchestra image. It is the living embodiment of the principles at work in organizations that are performant, innovative, inspiring, adaptative, resilient, able to accept risk and navigate on an ocean of uncertainties.

Beyond and above all popular beliefs, Jazz has been the incarnation of an Ethic and a Practice of Collaboration for over a century. It can be a source of Inspiration for all those who search for better ways of working together, in teams and in networks. The popularity of Jazz has reached a point where the best Universities in the world have made it a field of study, like Harvard University which create a Jazz Chair in 2016. The principles of jazz - Minimal Structures, Improvisation, Harmony and Vital Energy - can do more and better for your company and Ecosystem of partners than Cost-Cutting, Laying off people, Reengineering and Delocalizing! That's what our "Jazz & Collaboration" Workshop" does: unfold a new Art of performing together successfully in any type of organisation.

Why do we need a new Art of Collaboration ?

Because there is a true organizational rupture.

The new world is based on new Value creation flows, transdisciplinary and cross-sector collaborations. Pyramids and Empires are replaced by Hubs and NET-WORKS that works. Silos need to become "Combos", i.e. collaborative ecosystems of Partners creating sustainable Value chains which deliver Prosperity. This is a true organizational rupture. We have moved from a Vertical world - based on centralization, standardization, command and control - to a Lateral world based on distributed Leadership and Creativity. Organization must move from rigid to agile, in other words, from silos to combos. To be Fit for the Future, organizations need to move from rigid to agile.

Because there is a new collaboration imperative

A new Art and Science of Collaboration is needed to get talented people - and especially the new "Y" Generation - to think, work and act creatively and effectively as teams and networks, cross-silos, cross-cultures, cross-disciplines and cross-sectors

Because Collective Creative Intelligence is needed

We need Creative Collective Intelligence: new ways to tap on all the Knowledge and Creativity at our disposal. This requires new way to CONNECT people and let them collaborate so that they can generate more than the sum of the parts. It is known that gathering a group of people, even very intelligent, is not enough! At the world scale, we can even say that, collectively, we generate results that nobody wants! So, what can be done to avoid all the traps that lead to the opposite of Collective Intelligence: Ego, lack of Listening and of Dialogue, absence of Shared Focus, Territorial Conflicts, fights for Positions and difficulties to change Perspectives, lack of Imagination, Competition, Fear of Losing etc.

The Mayonnaise Metaphor

This is the Mayonnaise metaphor: simple ingredients - salt, paper, oil, an egg yolk, Mustard - which, through the magic of the "emulsion" process, allow the Mayonnaise to emerge. How can we make the "Mayonnaise" that will lead to the creation of new Knowledge and Value, thus to true Collective Intelligence, versus the serious risk of Collective Stupidity?

From Command and Control to Focus and Freedom

The age of Jazz Combos is here! An age where Focus and Freedom have replaced Command and Control, where Master musicians get together around a project like a "combo" (a trio, a quartet, a quintet and other forms) for the satisfaction of playing together and generating income i.e. the reward of the pleasure they bring to audiences.

The Jazz Combo is the metaphor of an organisation designed for maximum performance and pertinent improvisation. Each member knows exactly how to be the best ingredient of the "Mayonnaise". The Jazz combo is a group of "Creative Actors" involved in the dynamic process of "Creativity in Real Time" - Exactly like a team- i.e.:

  • A group of diverse specialists or "masters"
  • Working in chaotic and turbulent environments
  • Making fast irreversible decisions
  • Highly interdependent of one another
  • Inventing new responses without any prescribed plan and without any certainty about the outcome

The "Mayonnaise" of Jazz

How do they do it? Focus is key, Freedom is vital, Collaboration is the essence! Musicians have a sense of Purpose! What drives Jazz combos is the desire to give great performances for their public. As Miles David once said: "We want to transmit a profoundly felt emotion with a minimum of Fuss and a maximum of restraints."

What are the vital "Jazz" principles which can be applied to organisations and lead to Success thanks to this metaphor?

Principle 1: Jazz Combos "combine" Focus and Freedom for successful performance
  • Musicians have a BIG PICTURE VIEW: they agree on WHICH tunes they are going to play, and which are best suited for the audience they are going to play for (The customers)
  • They all know the repertoire
  • They all agree on HOW they will play: what key the tunes are going to be played in, in what sequence, at what tempo (slow, middle fast, fast)
  • They all agree on the type of rhythm (Swing, Latin, 3 / 4, 5 / 4 etc.)
Principle 2: The new "Art of Collaboration and Coordination" Jazz Musicians develop is based on "Minimal Structures" and values such as
  • Serving the WHOLE
  • Shared performance
  • Replacement of Ego by "Alter Ego" in a Peer Culture based on mutual respect
  • Taking turn soloing and supporting
  • Active Listening and Spontaneous Reacting
  • Synchronized and coordinated efforts according to shared goals, Values and minimal structure
  • Passion about music and joy of playing together
Principle 3: Jazz musicians are guided by Freedom in action
  • Improvisation or Creativity in Real Time (creating on the spur of the moment, with years of preparation, sensitivity and disciplined imagination)
  • Anticipation and Thinking ahead
  • Risk-taking and use of mistakes to learn and evolve
  • Support and development of "momentum" (the groove)
Principle: 4 The importance of developing Mastery through Preparation, Learning, Practice, Rehearsing and Reflecting

Did you know musicians prepare to improvise? Before and after concerts and "gigs", musicians listen, inform themselves, study and practice, in order to improve their skills and Mastery of their instrument. They debrief, comment, suggest, recommend...

Building a sustainable creative organisation: Focus and freedom for Collective Creative Intelligence

Now what, if you think of your organisation in a revolutionary context? You will need an organisation that will be robust and organic, with a shared sense of Purpose, a core capacity to anticipate and to accept risks and Uncertainty. And capable of developing the capacity to bounce back and bounce forward. This is about focusing and liberating the creative actors in the dynamic process of Value creation: the members of your "combo", so to speak!

The elements that constitute the essence of Jazz combos are good metaphors of what happens - or could happen- in organizations. Imagine your "Peace of Mind" if your organization were made of ad hoc "combos"! Composed of expert "musicians", all agreeing on the "tunes" they were going to play (the project they are going to work on), on the key they are going to play it in so that Harmony is generated at each stage, and selecting the best tempos to make each project a success in the best possible time!

Discover and apply the dynamics of Jazz and reap the benefits!

Our "Jazz & Collaboration Workshop" is an exclusive, concrete and living experience, with a commented Live concert, designed to allow you - and people you wish to invite

  • to discover the Art of "Structured Improvisation" at work
  • to feel it and reflect on it
  • to understand how you can apply and practice it in a Business Environment for enhanced performance and pleasure.

It works !

We tested our workshop for the first time in 2011 with a group of 70 researchers coming from different organizations and working on common projects. And several times after that with groups composed of a variety of specialists, highly interdependent and belonging either to the same organization or to different ones. Every time, results were impressive.

Doesn't it sound appealing? Discover the programme and envisage the possibility of a customized session.

Here is also an episode of the Shapership podcast in which Jean-Louis talks about the importance of Jazz and the Art of Collaboration throughout his life.