Marketing JAZZ

Yes to the Mess- A novel riff on leadership and jazz
I heard a fascinating book review on a HBR ideacast  this weekend. The author, Frank J. Barrett has written a book called Yes to the Mess. His thesis revolves around the idea of what leadership lessons you can learn from the great jazz musicians like Duke Ellington, Miles Davis and John Coltrane. This spark got me thinking specifically about jazz and marketing
and the ways in which they can intersect. Below are three riffs on this idea.

LEARN AND FORGET: In order to improvise, you have to learn your craft and then forget everything you know. Great marketing efforts often come from those skilled in the art and science of marketing but it is in breaking the rules that you change the harmonics of your message. Understanding how to do something according to the notes on the page or the way others do it will lead you to a community. But to break away from the pack and truly differentiate yourself takes trying something new.

The greatest jazz album of all time
In this book, there is an example of how Miles Davis in his Kind of Blue album broke away from the conventional patterns of jazz and gave the musicians only the most limited scales, melody, themes and a mere sketch to get them started. He wanted them to explore and innovate together without restrictions and preconceived ideas. This album may be the best selling jazz album of all time and perhaps the best known. 

Does your organization ever get to improvise or are you so structured that everything needs to fit within a neat little package? The world is messy and in our attempt to impose structure, we may be missing the high notes while we dance around the sharp ones. 

SOLO AND COLLABORATING: The great jazz artists are frequently taking turns either taking the lead or stepping back and supporting another soloist. It is a useful metaphor for how marketing’s role in an organization needs to be able to either take the lead or support the person who has the spotlight shining on her. We don’t get to play one role or the other--- it is often both and we need to bring our flexibility to the game.

When I am trying to build a new path for a business from a marketing perspective, I love to take the lead to get the music playing. But I also find that I need to step back and get others on the stage bringing their ideas and insights to build and enrich the idea. When you see jazz artists lead and support so effortlessly, it is a wonderful model for how a business can operate if you understand this dual and chaotic approach. In organizations with a matrix approach to management, this is very necessary for success. A matrix approach means you have dotted line relationships within the organization so you work with others not for them. Neither of you have the lead- but both of you must make beautiful music together.

Satchmo - another marketing genius
CHAOS IS THE LIFEBLOOD OF DISRUPTIVE IDEAS: I am so guilty of wanting the marketing activities to fit into nice and neat little boxes. This is PR, this is social media, this is advertising, this is event management and this is direct mail. Sorry, but marketing in the 21st century doesn’t work this way. I like to think about getting lost in jazz like Stan Getz, Chet Baker, Coltrane, Bill Evans or Herbie Hancock. You stop thinking and start feeling your way around and toward the music. You let go and allow yourself to move in a new path forward.

All that! 
Marketers need to do this too so they can find pauses, spaces and empty moments that give you a chance to see ideas in a new light. Suddenly you see an opportunity or a challenge from a new perspective because you stop trying to impose logic, structure and discipline on top of that puddle of chaos. You work with what is available to you in what the author refers to as bricolage. This is a term used in many disciplines that invites being creative and resourceful with the materials at hand. This DIY approach requires an environment that provides space for failure on the path to success.

An improvisational jazz style can be like the grease that can lubricate new and insightful thinking.  It will make many uncomfortable which is often a great sign that you are hitting a high note.

I strongly suggest you turn up the volume.  

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