Blues You Can Use – Lesson #1

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May 4, 2012 by Jackie Modeste

Ma Rainey - “Deep Moaning Blues” (1928)

Blues You Can Use – Lesson 1

“While it’s hard to find people that do the technical things, it’s even harder to find people who can interpret them, who can use creativity to ask provocative questions, who can think about experiments to run that would be interesting.” – Sam Ransbotham

We’re not looking in the right places for talent. It amazes me how many times I read about innovation, creativity, performance, talent, soloing, collaboration, etc., in business journals, blogs and such but rarely come across an engaged or sustained discussion about the performing arts. Do these high-level corporate executives and MBA types really use the words without getting the connection? I’m beginning to think so.

Business leaders need to engage artists, and vice versa. Businesses could gain valuable insight into the much-touted creative process and jazz musicians could begin to identify ways their creativity and talent for innovation could open new professional opportunities. Sam says businesses want people who can think creatively. So, in addressing the “expertise shortage” and in response to a void in management skills, companies are “sending people out to explore what other people are doing and trying to simulate some thinking in that way.” Huh?

Who can blame business leaders for using business leaders to seek out other businesses to see what they’re doing? It’s not their fault; we all do it. We seek the familiar because it makes us comfortable. Besides, in the US art is consumed as a dilettante experience and one largely reserved for the elite. So, the take-aways from artistic experiences are ethereal; people sit, enjoy, clap and leave. Here’s the thing: the differentiation made possible virtually through social media and that yields the highly-coveted detailed data Sam discusses is actually part of our lived experience.

Here’s why: the detailed data – transactional-level, customer-level or front-line information – is the stuff of the blues. The blues is a highly individualistic music that addresses the most mundane needs and a full range of emotion. There’s a blues song for just about everything and while the lyrics reveal the specifics of a situation (a lost job, lost lover, and the like) and so constitute the transaction-level information we need; the music itself is the “big data” the guiding structure of the blues, the choruses, call-and-response and repetition. But there’s more – the individual nuances of the song, both instrumental and vocal, indicate complexities that cannot be duplicated. The blues signal our onlyness and differentiates us even if we experience the same malady. Musicians can talk informatively on this stuff all day – just ask.

While initiating a conversation between business leaders and artists may be really interesting, it’s unlikely to result in much if any immediate quantifiable change. (We’ll need metrics for that but SLOW DOWN! These things take time; and besides, we don’t yet know what questions we should ask; now do we?) Having the conversation is only the beginning to building reliable and trusted networks, relationships that can guide growth and be mutually beneficial long-term. Business leaders need results. Guess what? So do musicians. They “need” to compose songs, perform at gigs, master certain techniques or phrasing, hire personnel, etc. They are continuously engaged in the process of differentiating themselves. All this and more is necessary for professional viability. Musicians, however, know mastering their instrument takes time. Do you want to master the art of change? 

So, what do we do? I’m so glad you asked!

  1. Convene an integrated group of business leaders and musicians (various artists would be great).
  2. Set the agenda to include such things as: basic introductions; brief descriptions of each craft; professional trajectories and skills sets.
  3. Identify common topics and discuss.
  4. Business group – translate lessons into the language of business and move to incorporate these into practices, associated trainings and workshops. Artists – translate lessons into the language of your specialty. Move to incorporate these into new marketing strategies, management techniques, administrative efficiencies, and the like.
  5. Do joint activities so that talent pools mix, bonds are strengthened, and assessments can be conducted.
  6. Follow-up! I cannot stress this enough. On-going conversations and trainings yield the best results because like musicians, businesses are invested long-term. Think of this as a Board of Trustees, the group must demonstrate its commitment to advancing the collaborative enterprise; and yes, we are building “trust.”

What can you do right now? I’m glad you asked.

1. First and foremost, listen to the blues… listen for call-and-response patterns and for repetition of lyrics and instrumental voices

2. Read Sam Ransbotham’s interview in MIT Sloan Management Review (April 2012)

3. Buy and Read Albert Murray’s, Stomping the Blues (pp.45 – 54, 93 – 128; don’t worry, it’s mostly pictures)

Bessie Smith – “Oh, Daddy blues” (1923)

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11 thoughts on “Blues You Can Use – Lesson #1

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  7. jose says:

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