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Corporate jazz

A recently published book combines good corporate management with the ability to improvise music; this leads to a new and fascinating method for the organisation of production

Efficiently managing a company may also mean improvising. Momentary skill, the ability to grasp an opportunity, instant and instinctive calculations are part of the baggage – also cultural -, of a good entrepreneur and manager. Which does not mean abandoning rationality, but rather making it richer thanks to other ingredients of human activity. So the task of managing a company closely resembles that of other fields of activity, such as music and in particular jazz. Corporate culture all the same, but cultured from an unusual perspective.
It is around these ideas that Frank J. Barrett (economist and management) expert focused in his “Disordine armonico. Leadership e jazz” (Harmonic mess. Leadership and jazz). A booklet of just under two hundred pages, which should be read carefully with a mind that has been rid of preconceived ideas.
The questions it begins with are simple. What can Duke Ellington and Miles Davis teach us about leadership? Is there an efficient way to tackle complexities in organisational contexts which are constantly changing? The answer is more or less given above. You need to know how to improvise. Inventing new answers, taking calculated risks without a predetermined plan or a safety network that guarantees specific results, negotiating as you go without stopping in the event of a mistake to avoid suffocating ideas: in short, saying “yes” to chaos, accepting the mess that the current world of labour is, increasingly changing and tormented, yet also – indeed owing to this – enormously innovative and fertile. The parallelism (which also gives the book its name) is in fact with the technique used in jazz. Because, this is Barrett’s idea, this is exactly what the greatest jazz players do. Barrett thus demonstrates how improvising, a distinguishing feature of the “jazz mentality”, and the skills that accompany it, are now essential for efficient corporate management.
The text is a smooth read through the fascinating tale of the intuitions and innovations of the greatest jazz musicians such as Miles Davis and Sonny Rollins, but also the direct experience as a musician of Barrett himself. Mess (often apparent) and the ability to unlearn are two concepts with which the book starts, to then continue with an examination of the resources which can be obtained from mistakes that have been made and also from the simplicity of the organisation as well as from the ability to be together, swap ideas, be gregarious at times and soloists at others. The book therefore presents a kind of new model of leadership and collaboration in organisations. All with just one secret: knowing how to master the art of unlearning, performing and at the same time experimenting, alternating solo acts with mutual support. There are beautiful double-sided presentations of Paolo Fresu (jazz musician) and Severino Salvemini (economist and corporate organisation expert).
Barrett’s book is pure oxygen for managers and entrepreneurs in search of fresh air for their businesses.

Disordine armonico. Leadership e jazz (Harmonic mess. Leadership and jazz).
Frank J. Barrett
EGEA, 2017