[JPL] What can Duke Ellington and Miles Davis teach entrepreneurs?
drjazz at drjazz.com
Tue Jan 3 10:48:53 EST 2012
Business and all that jazz
What can Duke Ellington and Miles Davis teach entrepreneurs? Quite a
lot, say Warwick academics
Duke Ellington, Miles Davis and Art Blakey are widely recognised as
three of the greatest jazz band leaders of the 20th century. But did you
ever consider they might be role models for entrepreneurs? In fact, each
one of them has lessons to offer on how to inspire creativity and
innovation within an established structure, according to Deniz
Ucbasaran, Professor of Entrepreneurship at Warwick Business School.
Ucbasaran has been the lead academic on a paper, currently being peer
reviewed, entitled Leading Entrepreneurial Teams: Insights from Jazz. It
won an award for best paper at the Institute for Small Businesses and
Entrepreneurship conference in November.
Entrepreneurs are like jazz band leaders, Ucbasaran argues, insofar as
they have to "build creative tension and give individuals their heads"
while working within the framework of a collective. They have to harness
the "disparate egos of highly talented people" and somehow keep them
working towards the same goal. "To the uninitiated, jazz seems like
chaos, whereas the reality is that it's very ordered," she says.
"Underpinning the structure is a long tradition of education and practice."
Like any business, jazz bands have products (concerts, gigs, recordings,
etc) that must be marketed and sold, and have a range of stakeholders to
satisfy (customers, audiences, peers, critics, etc), says Ucbasaran.
"Further, like entrepreneurial managers, the leaders of musical groups
must identify and exploit commercial opportunities to survive."
When asked whether she is a jazz fan, Ucbasaran replies: "I am now." Her
two collaborators on this project have been fans for some time – around
45 years in the case of Professor Mike Humphreys, 62, from Nottingham
University Business School. Andy Lockett, 39, professor of strategy and
entrepreneurship at Warwick, is keen, too. Like Ucbasaran, he recently
moved across the Midlands from Nottingham, where this project had its roots.
It began when two master's students came to see Humphreys and Lockett to
ask advice on subjects for dissertations. Both were interested in
researching knowledge management and leadership within the creative
industries. Neither knew much about jazz, but they responded positively
when their tutors suggested that the organisation of bands was worth
investigation. "It offered them the chance to do something a bit
different," says Lockett. "And they began by doing what we would never
have thought of. They posted an advert on MySpace saying: 'Jazz
musicians wanted: apply within'."
There was an immediate response, and soon the students were doing
interviews with some of Britain's top performers. Among them were
trumpeter Guy Barker, pianist Jim Watson and band leader Wynton Marsalis
who, it soon emerged, modelled his leadership style on Art Blakey.
"Others would refer back to Duke Ellington or say 'this was the way that
Miles Davis did it'," Lockett recalls.
He and Humphreys looked at the transcripts and became convinced that the
subject was worthy of further investigation. So, in collaboration with
Ucbasaran, they began looking at how three giants of jazz ran their
bands and the lessons they offered for business leaders. "We used all
sorts of archival data, including biographies, autobiographies, press
cuttings and sleeve notes," Lockett explains, "and came up with three
distinctive styles of leadership."
The paper that so impressed the conference of the Institute for Small
Businesses and Entrepreneurship is the second to emerge from that
research. The first, Sensemaking and Sensegiving: Stories of Jazz
Leadership, has already been published in a journal called Human Relations.
A recurring theme in stories about Ellington, it seems, was his talent
for motivation and inspiration. But it was coupled with what the authors
call "a laissez-faire attitude towards the behaviour of his musicians".
He saw their foibles as the price to be paid for having access to their
talents. For Ucbasaran that raises questions for entrepreneurs. "If you
have a creative process, you have to have talented employees. But talent
is not always easy to manage. To what extent do you accommodate wayward
behaviour? You have to give them freedom and space, but direct them in
subtle ways so that the end result comes together harmoniously."
Ellington's laid-back approach meant that he kept a cadre of
long-serving core musicians together over several decades. Davis,
however, rarely chose musicians who knew each other. As the paper puts
it, "he felt that prior relationships might lead to the development of
routines which hampered innovation and improvisation". So creative
tension was his over-riding priority? Lockett nods. "He was less
concerned about stability than the other leaders. If it worked, it would
be brilliant. If not, he'd disband the team and start again."
Blakey was much more of a father figure, he says. "His speciality was
bringing on young musicians. And he was much more concerned about the
decorum and behaviour of his team than the other two." Which of the
three offers the best guidance to the entrepreneurs of today? "It's
impossible to say. All three offer lessons that can be taken on board."
In some businesses more than others, perhaps. Ucbasaran concedes that
the insights from jazz are more pertinent in the cultural industries and
"hi-tech businesses with a rapid pace of change".
The kind of businesses, indeed, that have made it more likely that the
great jazz music of the 20th century is listened to in the 21st century
on iPods rather than on vinyl.
© 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All
Dr. Jazz Operations
Oak Park, MI 48237
More information about the jazzproglist