Just prior to Christmas, I was hosting at Cory Weed's Cellar Jazz Club in Vancouver. Big band leader Jill Townsend came in and sat at the bar. Her husband, guitarist Bill Coon, was playing that night with the B3 Kings.
Jill asked me about Jazzthink. I told her about the connection that we make between conversations and jazz - if people managed their voices in conversations like jazz musicians manage their instruments in performances, they would generate improved teams and communities. She smiled, shook her head slightly, and said, "That's hard!"
Jill knows just how hard jazz musicians work on their sound and how hard it is to blend those sounds into an inspiring performance. She's an arranger and composer who has been leading the Jill Townsend Big Band made up of 17 of Vancouver's best jazz musicians since 2000. So I took what she said very seriously.
It made me think through yet again the challenge that Jazzthink provokes when we invite people to talk with each other like jazz musicians play with each other. And Jill is right. It is hard. But I came away from my holiday reflections more convinced than ever that it is worth it. Here are at least three reasons. I'd also welcome insights on others that you think of.
1. You can't really achieve results that stick without conversations that generate compassion, competence, and collaboration.
People flourish in spaces that are filled with respect and understanding. The ambiance is created by the conversations that you convene. Curiosity invites people to come into the space on their terms, expressing what they value and desire most. Appreciating and understanding more deeply those values and desires establishes a connection that opens up possibilities and draws forth abilities unimagined when the conversation began. This open, respectful space then invites a depth of collaboration that is more resilient and lasting than anything produced by demanding and commanding. Hard, yes, but worth it.
2. The time you spend repairing damaged collaboration that arises from lack of compassion and competence is much better spent generating new possibilities.
People often say it takes too much time and effort to compose and conduct the kinds of conversations described above. It does take time and effort, but it's much less time and effort than it would take to correct the mistakes and restore the damaged relationships that often arise from careless and harsh conversations. There is a vibe generated by your voice. If that vibe is discordant or dismissive, the results it generates will be poor. A lot of people hours will have to be spent repairing the damage. Take the time and effort up front to nourish the compassion and competence that open up new possibilities. Hard, yes, but worth it.
3. Collaborating with compassion around your various competencies is just a lot more fun.
When your conversations are generating the kind of vibe you hear and see in the performance of a great jazz group - filled with virtuosity, optimism, mutual respect, and good will - it just feels good. It's fun. Your colleagues enjoy contributing to a common cause that is valuable. It doesn't always go right, but mistakes are seen as opportunities to learn new competencies together to improve the performance. Your team becomes a learning community that genuinely enjoys working together. Hard, yes, but worth it.
I've used this quote many times before, but it does capture the value of the hard work we've been exploring, so I'm going to use it again. It's found on page 5 of Catherine Blyth's The Art of Conversation: A Guided Tour of a Neglected Pleasure.
More than words, conversation is music: Its harmony, rhythm, and flow transcend communication, flexing mind and heart, tuning us for companionship.
Hard, yes, but worth it.
And if you think Jazzthink might offer a keynote, a workshop, or coaching to help you provoke these kinds of conversations in your workplace or nonprofit, please let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org.