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5 Things I Learned about Business from Jazz

by | Oct 19, 2010

One of my favorite ways to spend leisure time is to listen to classic jazz. The vocalists, the Great American songbook, the horns, piano, drums and strings all combining in harmony to create that truly unforgettable American sound. I was thinking the other day how the things we really enjoy affect other aspects of our lives, and how one might relate a favorite hobby or pastime to their career. So without further adieu, here are five things I learned about business from jazz…

1. Tune in to the melody and beat

In music, as well as business, part of the fun and challenge is to tune in to the underlying rhythm. Listen to the subtle nuance of what customers, colleagues and partners are saying (and what they’re not), to really ascertain what their message is – and to make sure yours is getting across.

2. Improvise

Sometimes a little unpredictability is a good thing. The tried and true is great for consistency (but potentially boring) – but every once in a while it’s good to reach out and grab attention by being a bit off-the-wall. (Of course the key to this is to know when to stick to the script and when to shake things up a little…)

3. The foundation of song

Songs, like business deals, are designed in stages to build to a satisfying conclusion. In business, crafting the right message is paramount as well, and sometimes saying less is saying more – don’t oversell or talk beyond the sale. In a B-to-B environment, where the sales cycle may be six to twelve months or longer, many steps may need to be taken to lead a prospect to a sale. Often the first step, which may be overlooked by the inexperienced, is to sell the meeting to get the opportunity to make the sale.

4. Tone is important

Setting the right tone musically, and in business, is very important. As the saying goes, there are no second chances to create a lasting first impression – so putting people at ease and in the right mood is significant.

5. Keep one foot in the past and still move forward

Keep up with the times, but be true to yourself and your message to maintain trust and integrity. Musically, when an artist first becomes discovered, it is often due to the uniqueness of their sound, and they become the next big thing. Many of these musicians and vocalists will be one hit wonders with a very short professional life in the spotlight. The true masters however, become icons in their realms, taking their original creations, and growing and expanding upon their inspiration – evolving while staying true to the original intent.

This too is true in business, as a company builds market share, they must stay true to their branding identity – evolving their message, but never completely abandoning it, to stay successful. One need not look further than Coke and Pepsi for examples, the former quickly discontinuing New Coke, and the latter selling off the restaurant business it delved into, to focus on its main business.