[JPL] What can Duke Ellington and Miles Davis teach entrepreneurs?

Dr. Jazz 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 
rights reserved.


Dr. Jazz
Dr. Jazz Operations
24270 Eastwood
Oak Park, MI  48237
(248) 542-7888
SKYPE:  drjazz99

More information about the jazzproglist mailing list