March 2016 | Volume 1, Issue #3 (new series)    
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Gifts to Provoke Your Conversations
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"Cheap but Good Advice" was a phrase that caught my attention. I'm a sucker for nuggets of wisdom. The words were the title line for a list posted on Facebook by Andre Lachance, a wonderful Vancouver-based musician. The source of the advice was jazz legend Chick Corea.
At Jazzthink, we draw a direct parallel between playing music in a group and having conversations in an organization. Conversation is the most common form of jazz in human experience. Here's the core value proposition we offer. We can provoke you to manage the sound and substance of your voice in a conversation the way jazz musicians manage the sound and substance of their instruments in a performance. That will greatly enhance the impact of your organization's work, one conversation after another.
Corea's advice is brilliant, cultivated over years of playing with the best musicians in the jazz world. In this issue of the Jazzthink Ezine, I want to highlight three themes in this list that I have found crucial in co-creating flourishing not-for-profits. 

  1. Leave Space/Create Space
    This is space where you don't play or talk. You listen. You find out what the others in the group have to offer by hearing what they have to contribute. You create/leave this kind of space by being curious. I often suggest to leaders that I am coaching that they develop a question bank - 5-10 simple but powerful questions that they have discovered will open up space for their colleagues to share their brilliance. Having extended that respect to the views of your colleagues, there is now a much more welcoming space for your brilliance to get on the table. Now that the space is filled with a wide variety of perspectives and possibilities, the likelihood of something truly valuable emerging from the playing/conversation is much greater.

  2. Be Intentional 
    This has to do with focus and purpose. In a recent
    survey of not-for-profit leadership done by the Concord Leadership Group, they found most of the organizations surveyed did not have a clear understanding of their mission. It's like a jazz group without a chord/core chart. Without an agreed-upon melody, along with some harmonies and rhythms to explore in playing it, the sound/impact will be confused and dysfunctional. So, if you are going to place your fingers and limbs, or your words and phrases, intentionally, you need to take time together to compose the melody line you are going to play. That's your vision/mission. Make it concise and compelling - short enough to be remembered and powerful enough to engage.
  3. Be Original 
    This has to do with the unique wisdom and gifts that you have to offer to the group/team. Don't get caught up in mimicry or trying to please others. Find your soul (the integration of your instincts, emotions, and intellect) and listen for ways to enrich the conversation, expand the vision, and enhance the impact. Compose conversations that will complement those of your colleagues. Innovation arises most often when ideas already in the mix come together in imaginative and creative ways, opening up new possibilities for realizing the intent of the group/organization.
This kind of list, especially when it's created by such an accomplished and reflective practitioner of jazz, makes for a good check list in tracking your impact in your not-for-profit organization. That organization is made up of a variety of groups - staff, board, volunteers, donors, customers (Peter Drucker liked to call not-for-profit clients 'customers' because customers have rights), and community partners. Those relationships all evolve one conversation after another. The care you put into choosing the sound and substance of those conversations will determine your impact. Think of the care that jazz musicians put into their choice of notes and phrases as they co-create their performances. The same dynamic happens in conversations and the only person who can track and continuously improve the impact of those conversations is you.
Now, I have been known to have helped not-for-profit leaders and groups do that kind of improvement through planning sessions and coaching. If you would like to explore that possibility and learn more about how I do that, contact me at

Richest blessings,

Gifts to Provoke Your Conversations
Over the past couple of months, I've been writing new Jazzthink Thought Provokers for not-for-profit staffs and boards to use to generate constructive conversations about how best to develop and align their talents. Take a look here and use them to your heart's content.