Collaborative program mixes jazz and business
July 27, 2010 -- Business leaders have much to learn from Miles Davis and John Coltrane, according to a year-long collaborative program by faculty in the College of Business and the College of Creative Arts.
Professor of Management Ron Purser and Music Lecturer Andrew Speight found that "thinking like a jazz musician," can aid creativity, communication and productivity in the business world. While much has been written in business journals drawing similarities between creative processes in jazz and business, Purser and Speight are among the first to tackle the issue with hands-on workshops incorporating a jazz band -- the Generations Jazz Band, an all-star lineup of jazz legends in residence at SF State.
"We got into this idea of the 'jazz mindset,’" Purser said. "Jazz is not just a metaphor, but an actual thought process. How do musicians manage creative tensions? In sophisticated jazz, there are a lot of constraints and a lot of rules, but within those rules, they have to break rules to succeed."
Past uses of jazz as a metaphor in business just scratched the surface of what takes place during the creative process, Speight said. As both musicians and businesspeople rise in the ranks, they face an increasingly refined set of parameters in which they must operate. To succeed, musicians and business leaders must communicate more effectively and manage creative tensions to succeed.
Purser and Speight, along with Associate Professor of Music Wendell Hanna and Assistant Professor of Management Frank LaPira have begun holding workshops and corporate training events around the Bay Area through a program they founded called Jazz@work. They have presented at the Economist Innovation Summit in Berkeley and at the NASA Ames Research Center.
To illustrate ideas about creativity and communication, Purser and Speight lean heavily on the Generations Jazz Band. The group includes bassist Ray Drummond, Terrell Stafford on trumpet, and drummer Jimmy Cobb, who played drums on Miles Davis’ "Kind of Blue" album.
During "informances," a topic will be discussed, with the band playing a few notes to illustrate the idea or creativity or communication. Speight said it didn’t take long for the presentation to become highly-interactive.
"When you’re talking to people at higher levels of expertise, you only have to feed them a little information and they start running with it," Speight said. "That’s where this becomes powerful, because they can apply that presentation to their own environment."
Seed funding for the program was provided by SF State’s Office of Research and Sponsored Programs, as part of an initiative to encourage research across disciplines.
For more information about Jazz@work, visit: www.jazzatwork.com
Speight, Cobb and the Generations Jazz Band will also lead an interactive discussion on creative engagement and communication as part of the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute's "Creativity: The Arts and Your Gray Matter" mini-conference on Sept. 11.
Share this story: