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Can business teams "jam"? (Part two)

KC_CRW_5395 Picking up where we left off in a post a week ago, the jamming phenomenon in rock has some interesting applications to business.

After all, successful business teams need to be agile and adaptable—able to shift direction rapidly to adjust to external market changes or internal restructuring (reorganizations, mergers, acquisitions, etc.). Such is life in the innovation economy. Shifting direction—suddenly and quickly—is exactly what bands are doing when they’re jamming/improvising.

So how can business team members do that? Well, let’s look at three of the factors—mentioned in my last post—that allow musicians to quickly alter their direction as a group. The first two are pretty straight ahead.

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Can business teams "jam"?

Dark Stage Jam bands—known for their extended musical improvisations—have become quite the rage in recent years, thanks to major music festivals across the states that have catered to their devoted fan base. (Gathering of the Vibes in Bridgeport, Connecticut and the All Good Music Festival in Legend Valley, Ohio are two of the big ones.)

Credit the Grateful Dead for popularizing the style, starting in the 60s (though jazz players were already jamming for half a century). In their thirty years together the Dead were known to never perform a song the same way twice. Phish has been the standard-bearer since the Dead’s breakup, but there are now dozens of first-rate groups that are labeled jam bands (accurately or not), including Widespread Panic.

The improvisation phenomenon in recent years has become a serious study. Some professors (like Keith Sawyer in books such as Group Genius: The Creative Power of Collaboration) use improv theatre and jazz to draw conclusions about creative collaboration. The top jazz musicians improvise with more skill than jam bands, but the dynamics are the same: musicians must listen carefully to one another and change direction rapidly in response to each other's cues.

It’s certainly worth taking a closer look at the art of jamming/improvising to see if we can dig out some useful lessons for business teams, especially those who need to continually experiment and innovate—as a group—in response to market changes.

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An otherworldly band

Good rock bands, like other good business teams and organizations, have always known how to stand out from the herd. Whether "competitive advantage" was ever in their vocabulary, these groups have understood what made them different and they've learned to spotlight it. (Think Grateful Dead, Ramones, or KISS, for example—regardless of your personal preference.)

But through the years, as thousands upon thousands of bands have presented their music to the public (thanks lately to social media and iTunes), it's become a bigger challenge for a band to rise above the noise.

It still can be done, however. One indie band—well known to BLFR readers after my endless flogging of their music—has re-imagined the music video medium (a field wallowing in unimaginative insipidity). As a result, their creative and quirky song videos (mostly DIY, sometimes recorded on mobile devices) have built up a giant fan base on Facebook and YouTube. This band can be a reminder to business teams everywhere—and especially hi-tech startups—that if you're relentlessly innovative (and have obvious fun in the process) you have a decent shot at gaining people's attention.

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Sex, drugs, and rock & roll

Pills (Sigh.) I recently found myself in the position of appearing to defend the outlandish behavior of certain rock bands.

But my point was not that substance abuse or obsessive philandering are model behaviors (or success habits of highly effective people) but that they’re no more common in the world of rock & roll than in mainstream business, including the C-Suite.

I don’t need to go into the details here of the cases of drug or alcohol abuse, sexual harassment, or rampant adultery that I’ve encountered as a consultant in corporate America (though I’m tempted to, in order to goose readership of this blog). But if you think this is not a feature of 21st century business—including, most likely, your company—you’re living in Disney World. (And it’s probably happening there too—though I claim no inside knowledge.)

Several years ago a company was going to partner with me on my business-lessons-from-rock approach, but they backed out because they felt rock bands have "drug issues." My response: as opposed to whom? Corporate teams? ARE YOU KIDDING ME?

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Not feeling "Glad All Over"

DC5I recently watched the film, Glad All Over: The Dave Clark Five and Beyond, which was telecast by PBS in its Great Performances series. As a classic rock fan, especially of the British Invasion of the mid-60s, I found it refreshing at first—mainly because there’s been so little DC5 material available to enjoy over the years.

By the end of the program, however, some things were starting to bother me. I realized the film, produced by Dave Clark International, was not your usual fact-based documentary. This was essentially a hagiography of Clark and the band, produced and directed by Clark himself, which PBS showed as a puff piece. There was celebrity after celebrity rhapsodizing about the DC5 as rock revolutionaries. Meanwhile there was not a whiff of the controversies surrounding the band and Clark’s management of it.

But before I continue, I should acknowledge that anytime I criticize fellow musicians, even mega-successful ones, I feel conflicted. So to assuage my guilt I will start with some positives.

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