Three cool lessons we can learn from jazz and apply to business

I just watched a talk given by Google Ventures partner Ken Norton about what we can learn from jazz music and how it is created. Below are the three ideas.

1  Get uncomfortable but not too uncomfortable

“Miles Davis nudged his musicians into a place where they were uncomfortable, the zone of optimal anxiety. What Larry Page calls “uncomfortably exciting.” When Duke Ellington challenged Clark Terry to play like Buddy Bolden. When Ella Fitzgerald thought, “uh-oh!” What Frank Barrett calls provocative competence: triggering people away from habit and repetition. Where there are no such things as mistakes, only missed opportunities. Embracing uncertainty when we make software, which is inherently unpredictable. We don’t know how our users, or our audience, will react, and that goes with it.”

While it is important that we push ourselves outside our comfort zone, it is also important that we don’t overstress ourselves to a point where we are unproductively worrying about being unproductive. Norton also mentioned the importance of making sure the team is not too stressed. As leaders and teammates, we sometimes need to make sure we pull team members back up the stress curve, making them feel less anxious, by making them feel more confident, competent, and part of the solution.

2 Listen carefully.

“Jazz is a continual conversation where listening is more important than talking. Big Ears encourage empathy, knowing where others are going, and helping them get there. Looking for mistakes that can become new opportunities. You can help by listening more than talking, by being willing to ask questions when you don’t know the answers, even when you think you do. Celebrate following and listening in addition to leading and talking.”

On this note, check out this Marc Abraham post on Socratic questioning.

3 Let everyone solo.

“In jazz, everyone takes turns both leading and following. Psychological safety means everyone knows their voice is valued, and that they’re not afraid to try something risky. You can create this for your teams by demonstrating engagement, making sure each person speaks and is heard, picking up on unspoken emotions, and showing your understanding.”

I think this idea is important and speaks to everyone’s individual need to feel like our work and contributions matter in the world. We all need to feel like we can offer something to the world and that we are thus valuable for these contributions. As leaders and managers, I think it’s important that we help make our team members and colleagues feel this way. It’s what good humans do. 🙂

 

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