Raz Yitzhaki
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When I meet people and I tell them that I'm a jazz musician, I usually get the same response. It is comprised of two contradicting sentences and faces. First - "Wow, jazz! This is so cool. How interesting." That's a smiley face. And then I get: "I don't like jazz too much." That's the "stay away from my playlist" face. Many people flinch when they hear about jazz; many people fear jazz. And you know what? I can understand them. Because at times, jazz can sound complicated. It's hard to understand; it's unpredictable. But before you run away, let me tell you why I believe that understanding jazz is so important for all us in context of our teamwork, innovation and leadership. (Jazz music) Imagine this small stage in a dark jazz club hosting a quintet. The club is packed, the atmosphere is hot, these players are burning, the swing is beautiful. They are very creative; they are very ambitious. They are eager to express themselves. They are motivated by their desire to shine at their best. And they want to play something new. You see, jazz is all about innovation. Jazz musicians do not reproduce music. They never want to repeat what they played last night, no matter how good last night's concert was. Our singer, the saxophone player, the pianist, the drummer, the bass player have different ways of seeing things. They have different visions and different expertise, defined by their roles and their instruments. Yet they collaborate, targeting a mutual goal: it’s another great jazz concert. How do these musicians collaborate? And why should we care? Why is this so important for us? It is because, in many senses, creative, innovative jazz groups resemble innovative teams in other fields. Everybody's talking about innovation these days. It has become the ever-growing focus of modern industries - not just for high-tech but also for traditional ones. And no matter the size of your organisation, sitting around the table, we'd find small groups of experts. And they, just like jazz musicians, they collaborate. They're expected to collaborate despite their differences. They want to play something new as well. Managing a team of experts is quite a challenge because rather than bosses, innovative teams deserve innovative leaders. How do you become one? How should you lead an innovative team? In case you're looking for inspiration, jazz offers plenty. It all started in the 19th century. Towards the end of the century, a new style was born: the blues. (Blues music) The blues were simple songs describing the everyday life. Some stories are heartbreaking. The blues relied on a simple platform, which allowed flexibility, and that means that everybody can sing the blues. But most important, the blues was about the personal gesture of expression: these were personal stories. The blues is very important because it laid down the conceptual and musical foundations from which jazz will eventually emerge. You see, there's a great difference between the times when I play classical music or improvise the blues. Because when I play Mozart, for example, I try to reproduce masterpieces, which were composed by a genius who lived far away and long ago. But when I improvise the blues, I make my music on the spot. I play my self. So the blues is about one of our very basic needs: the need for self-expression. We all want to tell our stories, and we all want people to listen to us. And we feel good when they do because it shows us that they care. But if self-expression is important for you, it must be very important for your colleagues. What do you do - I mean, what are you supposed to do when there are other people around you who want to express themselves as well? Let's meet New Orleans bands. Around the same time as the birth of the blues, groups of musicians have started to form marching bands, playing on the streets of New Orleans. The traditional style of New Orleans is really very easy to recognise. Usually, a trumpet plays a rather loose interpretation of the melody. (Trumpet music) Squeaking above, there's a clarinet improvising a countermelody. (Clarinet music added) And deep below, (Trombone music added) there's a trombone - plays yet another, third, improvised melody. And so on and on. Many melodic lines, all played at once, and all are woven into a thick, colourful braid. Imagine what happens at a festival parade when you might find more than 20 creative musicians playing all at once. This teamwork enables players to express their individual colours. There's no definite leader, they improvise their parts, and yet they manage to march together in such harmony. Talking about the blues, we've concentrated on the voice of the individual, addressing our basic need for self-expression. But right now, we've just witnessed a teamwork - I know, it's not that organised, but still it is a teamwork - that enables players to express their creative innovation. It's very far from a military marching band. And I dare to say, it is far from a symphonic orchestra, where the dominant colour prevailing is the one of the conductor. Traditionally, conductors interpret masterpieces, which were composed by other people, and instruct the actions of the orchestra members. I'm not saying this is good or bad. This is just a different type of an organisational culture. One reproduces masterpieces, and the other one improvises and innovates. Which is your business? This idea, that every band member is free to express their individual color, has always been one of the central essences in jazz. It is because creativity and innovation are based on interactions. They are dependent on knowledge sharing and idea sharing of different visions. But if our players are free to express themselves, how come jazz musicians do not fall into chaos? How come this thing doesn't fall apart? Well, the reason is that, first, we know very well the path in which we walk. I mean, we know our songs - you know your jobs. Everybody is self-aware of the agreed borders of their freedom, and musicians pay respect to the personal space of their colleagues. Now, some of you might say: "Well, New Orleans traditional style sounds kind of unorganised, but our business is different. How do you manage creativity in well-organised businesses?" Well, let me introduce you to Duke Ellington. As the years went by, jazz has dramatically changed. In 1927, Duke Ellington held one of the most desirable jobs in the music industry. He became the musical director of the hottest club in New York City: The Cotton Club. His music was the soundtrack for staged theatrical cabaret scenes. And his role faced new demands - no more free, spontaneous improvisations like we've just seen before. This music must be tightly arranged in coordination with the scenes on the stage. This business is well-organised. He experimented with new music and new harmonies, creating exotic and sensual music. And he formed an orchestra, but he was not looking for players - I mean, not as instrumental functions. Rather, he looked for creative personalities. And what personalities he found! No wonder he referred to them once as "18 maniacs." [18 maniacs] Understanding the importance of their expression, he arranged music which was tailored to the measurements of each of them. And he dedicated special space in his arrangements for the expression of their creativity. Personal addressing was the reason that made so many musicians wanting to work with Ellington. Because with him, they sounded the best, and with him they felt involved. One his favorite trumpet players was James "Bubber" Miley. Miley had a unique sound. In fact, it was rather strange. You all know the clean, round sound of a trumpet. (Trumpet fanfare) But not Bubber. His sound was rough and hoarse: it sounded like a wailing of a strange animal in the forest. (Hoarse trumpet fanfare) (Laughs) Such a bizarre sound should be a disadvantage, shouldn't it? Any normal band leader who would hear such a sound would have probably said: "Don't call us, we'll call you. Go home, practice and try your luck. Come back to audition next year." But not Ellington. He was very smart to take advantage of this weirdness and to use it in order to create the exotic sounds he aspired to. (Jazz music with strange-sounding trumpet) (Laughs) Featuring unorthodox sounds and visions such as Miley's enabled Duke's orchestra to sound unique. And this is exactly what he was looking for. For Ellington, strange is unique, and this is a great advantage. [Strange = Unique = Advantage] We have the tendency to surround ourselves with people who think the same way we do. It's true in our personal lives as well as in our businesses. We hire people who can adapt to our vision. Nobody to argue with us, we can have it our way. Our business meetings can end in less than 10 minutes. But this, my friends, is the easy way, not the creative way. Do you want innovation, and do you want creativity? Then surround yourselves with 18 maniacs. [Choose 18 maniacs] I mean, who would you hire, managers? Would you hire a yes-man or a maniac? Ellington hired musicians who had unorthodox visions, sometimes even opposing his own, because he knew that they are the key for the innovative breakthroughs he was looking for. He gave Miley the stage because he knew that Miley could lead the orchestra to places that Duke couldn't. But there's more into it. Because when Miley is invited to lead, Duke Ellington, the big boss, goes back and sits at the piano in order to accompany him. As if he's saying: "Go ahead my friend, fly high. I am here for you. I'll support you." A leader truly supporting his team member. Managers, how comfortable are we with this idea? Can we go and sit at the piano? We think about innovation as us having to come up with this great idea. But successful innovative companies are rarely praised for the creativity of one manager. It is a teamwork effort. I'm sure it's the same for you. There's a supporting team behind every cutting-edge innovation. Sometimes all we have to do is go back and sit at the piano. Duke Ellington described it beautifully. Seconds before starting a concert at the Carnegie Hall, he turns to the audience and says: "The purpose of this concert is not to deliver my music but primarily to present our instrumentalists in appreciation of the fact that they are the inspiration for all that is written." How many managers do you know can make such a statement when receiving the glorious trophy? So, Ellington does two things. He arranges the band - he sets the boundaries and framework for his colourful team members to collaborate. And he also makes sure that this framework enables the creativity of outstanding players, fence breakers who challenge these borders. Everybody needs each other. Managers, we need those maniacs to defy our borders. And maniacs - those creative, innovative team members - need open-minded leaders to set the ground for their creativity. It is the same for all of us. Managers of innovative teams are expected to act as leaders the same way jazz leaders act on the stage. Our role is not to give instructions. But our job is to create the conditions that cultivate the personal potential, the talent, the imagination, the creativity and even unorthodox visions of our team members, and to harness them to the success of our organisation. You know, Liverpool fans promise their soccer heroes: "You will never walk alone." I can promise you one sure thing: You never, actually, walk alone. You can't, simply because you success is dependent on the success of your team members. So, what are you waiting for? Your stage is set, your colourful, creative team members are ready. It is time to play! Thank you very much. (Applause) Thank you.