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A Jazz Approach to Creating Impact At Work

This summer I had the privilege of witnessing the legendary jazz artist Hermeto Pascoal in an intimate Portland venue during his “Jazz Esta Morto (Jazz is Dead)” tour. At 87 years old, he continues to grace international stages. For Pascoal, “Jazz” transcends genre labels, professional boundaries, and confining boxes. It’s a living, breathing entity, in a perpetual state of evolution, awaiting your embrace.

After the spellbinding performance, my husband and I strolled through the neighborhood, reluctant to let go of the experience of truly feeling life around us. What struck me was the realization that Pascoal achieved this musical connection to life by recognizing the unique strengths of each individual in his team and allowing them the freedom to create. It struck me that, like in jazz, your work isn’t confined to a job title; it’s an opportunity for a vibrant, ever-evolving expression of existence. 

“Jazz” often inspires imagery of a smoky basement club. For some it may sound calming, for others confusing, for all: evoking. Our lives at work are often the same; moving through various phases of swing and peril, of collaboration and solos. To be successful at work is about joining a band in a harmonious rhythm, while also expanding their technical and creative capacities. 

Creating Your Rhythm, Form, and Structure

Your role at work was designed to bridge resource gaps and address strategic needs, which presents an opportunity for personal growth and problem-solving. Just like jazz, the team’s work style matters. Are you entering an organization that is the swingy, improvisational type, or do sense it has more intricate complexities of bebop?

Start by identifying the organization style and how your values will work in harmony with it. When I switched jobs a year ago, I was joining a team that valued tenure and employee experience. I discovered a newfound commitment to work-life balance and creating healthy working relationships. Writing these intentions out with examples of actions and habits [that support those values] will give you a lighthouse to find your way when you become lost at sea. 

Your Instruments: Collaboration Tools

In our work today, collaboration tools are your instruments. Using them thoughtfully is akin to playing music on an instrument vs making noise. Instead of mindlessly opening up a Word doc, really ask yourself WHY?

For example, I identified priorities of collaboration and an evolving hypothesis in my work. Miro was a match for its collaboration features and infinite canvas. Identifying the outcomes first and then selecting the tool leads to that intentional sound vs noise. I created a quick table of the tools I used, their prime functions related to my objectives, and some example use cases so I knew the right tool to use for each situation.

Playing with the Band: Intentional Interaction

One of the biggest success factors in your current job comes down to how you are feeling in your role, and how others perceive you in it. If you are comfortable and feel accepted in your role, you will figure out how to navigate the ups and downs of performance. Identify your key stakeholders, set objectives, and dedicate time to learn from and grow those relationships over time.

But remember, it’s not just about taking center stage; it’s about listening to how others play their part. Invest time in understanding your peers. What do they bring to the table? What do they need and expect from your role? How do they perceive your responsibilities? Respond to how they play instead of forcing your rhythm on the group.

The Final Piece: Your Unique Expression

Just like you can recognize Miles Davis by his trumpet playing in seconds, your work has a signature. Tapping into this “signature” is self-actualization and will bring genuine joy if you share it with the world. Just remember, you don’t have to be the star player to succeed – you may find your joy through your presence in the moment of being with the band. In the words of Nina Simone, “Jazz is not just music; it’s a way of life, a way of being, a way of thinking.”

Instead of clinging to past outputs, create the music of the present. Select your genre, rely on your guiding principles, choose the right instruments, build harmony with your team, and express yourself in new, creative ways. 

This journey empowers you to respond to complex situations with wisdom and self-expression. Have fun, tap into yourself, and savor the moment with your peers. Let it swing.

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