May 14, 2015 by Heikki Hartikainen
Entrepreneurs, get inspired by jazz strategy to run your own company
Nowadays, it is easier than ever to become an entrepreneur and more and more people decide to run their own business. For Anthony Tjan (CEO of Cue Ball), these early-stage companies must follow different strategies than older ones as they differ by their size. These last 20 years, new models of strategy based on metaphors of the musical environment have emerged and been studied. In 1992, Weick was the first one to suggest looking at jazz bands to find new models of management. Indeed, many parallels can be drawn between jazz contexts and entrepreneurial contexts as well as between jazz band leaders and entrepreneurs.
Jazz band leaders are evolving in highly-creative, fast-paced environments, in which improvisation is crucial. They lead people, musicians, with great talent and potential. So do entrepreneurs. Both also have to combine the own specific skills of their team members to achieve outstanding innovative results. Communication within the team, autonomy of the team members and a clear common vision are musts, in jazz as well as entrepreneurial contexts. These two contexts being similar, entrepreneurs should definitely get inspired by the way jazz bands are led in their own attempt to build a successful business.
For Tom Duxbury, entrepreneurs can draw three main lessons from the observation of jazz environments in order to effectively improvise. First, entrepreneurs must “creatively making do with resources at hand”: they must act and take decisions relatively fast even when the circumstances are not perfect. It is also important that entrepreneurs accept errors and compromises in order to learn and improve. Another lesson entrepreneurs can draw from successful jazz bands is the necessity to build an organizational context which allows taking decisions fast and communicating fast, hence the importance of personal autonomy and nominal leadership. Finally, Tom Duxbury underlines in an article that the qualities required for improvisation are not owned by everyone. When an entrepreneur builds his team, he definitely needs to think of who can perform the improvisational work better.
The jazz strategy is therefore a great example of management for entrepreneurs. As companies grow, it is recommended to shift into a different strategy: the symphony strategy, “with the leader acting as conductor” as Anthony Tjan puts it.
If you are interested in jazz strategy and how studying it can help managers and leaders, join our Project Management Forum on September 22nd 2015. The event will start with a keynote of Patrick Furu (Head of Department, Arts Management at Sibelius Academy, University of Arts, Helsinki, Finland) on “Jazz strategy – a way to inspire engaging leadership”.
To learn more about jazz strategy, take a look at the following articles and websites:
- Anthony K. Tjan, (2010) “Strategy as Jazz vs. Symphony”. Harvard Business Review February 3, 2010.
- Chris Arnot (2012) “Business and all that jazz”. The Guardian January 2, 2012.
- Frank J. Barrett, (1998) “Coda—Creativity and Improvisation in Jazz and Organizations: Implications for Organizational Learning”. Organization Science 9(5):605-622.
- Karl E. Weick, (1998) “Introductory Essay—Improvisation as a Mindset for Organizational Analysis”. Organization Science 9(5):543-555.
- Patrick Furu. Jazz johtamiseen (in Finnish).
- Tom Duxbury, (2014) “Improvising Entrepreneurship”. Technology Innovation Management Review 4(7): 22-26.