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Jazzisms

Organisational structures have been around for as long as man can remember. They exist in all shapes and sizes, ruled by processes, systems, norms and eventually values. All have purpose and people in common: without people, purpose can’t be achieved and without purpose, people underperform and leave.

Whether your organisation is a ‘command and control’ hierarchy or a holacracy, it can’t survive without purpose and people rallying behind it. Add the elements of time, money, competition and bureaucracy and you have in a nutshell all the ingredients of our world of work. Any work.

Until you get to world of jazz. There is no obvious purpose to jazz, nor is there any given organizational framework to produce jazz. Jazz lacks established processes, norms and rules. It is not fulfilling a common human need, there’s little or no money involved, and there’s no competition worthy of the name: everybody plays in everybody’s trio, quartet or quintet. You could argue jazz musicians play to fulfil an inner need or to please or shock the audience. Maybe. Is it art for art’s sake? Is it pure experience? Who knows…I guess every jazz musician has a different drive, let alone values.

Still jazz survives. Not by much bit still. There’s no denying it’s a form of work and it requires some form of organisation to produce this music. Some of you might call it a cult or a religion but I don’t believe jazz musicians are trying to save humanity. There is logic to the madness, more than jazz musicians care to admit.

I believe the world of jazz does one thing exceptionally well. It has downscaled norms, rules, processes and systems to the absolute minimum. There is no room for bureaucracy or conservatism. It has transformed this mind-set into a culture of creativity and innovation, expressed in music. It continues to reinterpret its history without ever repeating the past. It defeats habit by originality. It’s in a constant flux, exploring infinite possibilities with a given set of material, just like today’s organisations do.

Organisations are like homes filled with archaic furniture. Clear some rooms to let creativity in. Jazz has the courage to pursue melodic lines and rhythms that go against the grain of orthodoxy. Organisations have the same capability. If people follow, they have found purpose.

For those of you working in a world without jazz, there’s comfort in the bus stop pictured above. This playful project funded by Awesome Pittsburgh sees a regular bus shelter transformed into Pittsburgh’s Smallest Jazz Club. Located in the city’s cultural district, the immersive bus shelter experience is reinvigorated by a high-quality sound system that plays non-stop music by local non-profit Manchester Craftmen’s Guild Jazz and features images of jazz musicians on the shelter walls.