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Why Work Should Be Like Jazz


Think of the last time you heard a jazz ensemble.

A group of gifted musicians bringing their unique talent on their particular instrument together into a riot of sounds that make a spectacular expression of art. It’s truly the sound of collaboration.

The word ‘collaborate’ means “to work jointly with others or together especially in an intellectual endeavor.” It comes from Latin, originally possessing a meaning of ‘laboring together.’

But wait. What do jazz and labor have to do with one another?

After all, we often assume labor is something difficult, less than fun. You know, laborious.

But labor is simply the act of work, of doing something. The saxophonist labors at her craft. The bassist labors at plucking the right note in the right pattern to hold the bass line. Labor isn’t always hard; it simply connotes action. The jazz musician labors by playing a guitar, horn, bass or drums. For a good (or even just enthusiastic) musician this labor is play – anything but laborious!

What if we played at work?

When jazz musicians collaborate, they give of themselves, pour their entire being into the music, take the notes and bring life to them with each inhale and exhale, each beat, each rhythm, each riff. Jazz provides the perfect blend of eclectic instruments converging together to create a sound like no other. It becomes a soundtrack of tonal resonance that is unique and unmatched. Each musician plays at bringing their own gift to the mix.

Thriving organizational cultures invite people to “play” at their work! Now, many of us don’t consider our work environment as being a place to play. But why not? Are we not to contribute something of value and meaning, fulfilling a greater purpose? Why can’t we reframe our work as play and not something to be dreaded, but rather something to be celebrated?

We believe that thriving organizational cultures allow for the expression of three innate desires common to all human beings:

-To belong
-To contribute
-To make a difference

That sounds a lot more like “playful” than “laborious”.

Like a jazz ensemble, your work environment has a distinct sound. What is it?

The Sound of Your Work Culture

Ever experienced a ‘work’ culture like jazz? An experience where each person comes to the ‘table’ or the ‘studio’ or the ‘stage’ with their instrument?

They tune together, start with a simple chord progression and then contribute their own unique interpretation and contribution to the masterpiece. Probably even the thought of coming to ‘work like jazz’ is silly, frightening or just laughable. Knowing a lot of work environments, I get it.

There are not many work environments that are set up to allow the unleashing of creative energy to be harnessed in such a way as to produce a melodious outcome. Yet, down deep that’s what we desire. Down deep we have a yearning to honor what is inside each one of us.

Maybe your workplace needs a new soundtrack. A soundtrack that brings meaning out of life and allows us to explore places that words cannot express. One which cultivates meaning and a deep sense of purpose that escapes the rational, intellectual brain. A soundtrack that enlivens and unleashes us into a more creative space, giving permission for our hidden talents to emerge.

What if we approached our work more like jazz? Co-laboring together with our instruments, our skills, talents, our passions and seeing what sound comes out of what we contribute.

Keep in mind too that true jazz music is never a solo. Sure there may be a bandleader, a conductor of sorts. They set the tone, pace and notes, but each person gives to the project, plays into the rhythm, and plays out of who they are.

Work like jazz. Collaborate, create, contribute. Don’t worry about who gets the credit. Credit is for scorekeepers and the points in the end don’t matter.

What matters? Honoring the music in you, honoring the difference that you make and living more fully into that difference. Offering to the world the best of what you have every time, giving yourself in the moment to the work. Giving what you have because it’s in you, it’s who you are; it’s what makes you feel most alive.

Thriving organizational cultures allow people to contribute to the work so that the work is not just about outcomes, but the journey. A journey where people are celebrated for who they are and what they offer, how they labor together in a way that draws with it meaning and purpose, not just outcomes. Sure, the outcome will arrive. But the outcome in jazz music is not the end – it’s the whole experience.

Tune your instrument, gather others who like to play, provide space and time and watch your work turn into a soundtrack that will be life-giving and dare I say fun?

Shane Roberson