The Book: Collaboration Is a Blues Jam
By Admin

February 28, 2011

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“Collaboration” is a characteristic of The Great Workplace of today and the future, and will be explained in business-detail in another excerpt. This chapter takes a lighter, but more pointed allegorical view of “Collaboration”:

“I got 29 ways to get in my baby’s door. And if I need ‘em, I can come up with two o’ three more”. (line from a blues song by Tab Benoit)

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Have you ever been in a blues club when the owner did “Open Stage/ Open Mic” night? It is packed. Wall to wall audience. Wall to wall musicians waiting a turn. The hallways are packed. Every nook and cranny has expanded to accommodate another body. Waitresses laugh, patrons laugh. Everybody seems to get into the act, get into the entire scene. Something good is happening here.

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In the old days the smoke was so thick it redefined “Second Hand”. Sometimes you wore your drink or the ice melted so fast, you just went along with the idea of sipping. The smells. Oh, the smells! Only a few people got hammered. Takes too long to get a drink from the bar, even 20 feet away.

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But the mood is always anticipation. Something new is going to happen. Maybe. Something innovative. Something no single group could ever devise on their own. Everyone is waiting for those “Magic moments” when the music is so good, you can feel it in your toes and bones. The players are in rapt anticipation of “making new music” due only to the flow of talent and ideas they cannot experience playing only with their own band.

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People are in the audience with their cases waiting for an opportunity to jam with people they just met. Some people only need a mouth harp in their pocket. Some just need a couple sticks in their pocket. Others; just some ideas and words to share.

Names are exchanged so quickly they are forgotten before the last vowel fades away into the noise from the juke. Singers stand staring into space rehearsing new lines to an old riff. The non-playing audience is frenetic, waiting to hear who is on, and who isn’t. Waiting for that ultra special mixing bowl of talent to produce a one of a kind 5 minutes of music (during an all-night to early morning session) that no one else, anywhere, at any time could reproduce. That 5 minutes of “everything coming together” leads into new songs, new combinations of talent(s), new groups, new music. New heroes and new leaders.

There is no conductor, no manager, just the owner. A little tipsy, he gets up to the Mic, and explains the few rules to everyone: “Quiet down, Quiet down, Thanks fer comin tonight. We got an open Mic and here be the rules: Be cool an’ don’ step on nobody’s time”. “Have respeck for all the great notes comin from the stage and the people making them notes.” ”An’… don’ throw nuthin’ at the stage, ‘cept monies”. He takes a big drag on his cigar, a deep slug from his drink and wanders off the stage to laughs and applause. In other words, the stage has been set to have some fun, work together, and make some new music…we are all in this together. It will only work if we are. Then the first couple of people make their way to the stage, plug in, and begin an evening of discovery.

Collaboration is that “Open Mic Blues Jam”. The typical old model of teamwork, (lacking innovation) is an Orchestra performance. Granted, some orchestral performances are brilliant and highly entertaining, but they have a fixed staff of players, are thoroughly pre-planned and ultimately rehearsed, and you will never hear the Conductor ask the audience if there is “…someone out there who would like to take a whack at first violin?” The limits are defined. The participants are defined. The outcome is defined. We love orchestra because 99.9% of us could never come close to that talent and expertise. It has its place, its discipline and can help some us dream. On the other hand, you won’t find too much innovation going on or as a results of the performance. And don’t even THINK of trying to participate by standing up and yelling “You GO Brother, I feel it, I feel it!”

Most organizations in business think that an orchestrated performance will lead to innovation and solutions or at least new ideas. Not.

The old model of great workplaces allowed the command and control of the orchestra analogy to reach deep into their structures. Times they are a’changin’.

In a Blues Jam, almost everyone there is convinced that they could play or sing in some manner and be part of the event. It is, by it’s very nature, open to anyone who could try. The open nature and the closeness to the stage DRAWS YOU IN. You feel part of the proceedings. You simply feel like you can be counted and be a contributor. If you do get a shot,  the audience will let you know if you need to step aside, or one of the players will be kind and point the way back to your chair with his eyes.

The Jam relies upon a flow of talent wanting/ willing/ hoping to come on then off the stage, mixing new people and talents with old. Players will take chances with new riffs or lines of a song and will play off of each other’s talents. This “Jam” (Collaboration) produces new music, new interpretations of old music…and innovations never heard before. Some memories last, some don’t, but everyone involved (audience, players) come away feeling that THEY had something to do with the success of the evening (into the early mornings). They were INVOLVED.

The orchestra is an example of Command and Control, producing beautifully predictable music that we can enjoy and go home with in our heads. Few people ever describe an orchestra performance as Innovative and thought provoking. Except perhaps a few musicians who helped script the performance.

In the Jam one hears: “Hey Brother. C’mon up here and show us some love”. Hey Sister, ya got some sweet lines for us?”. “Hey brother, I’m tired, can you take over?” “Let the brother have some”. When players get together there is no race, no age, no demand for a certain education and no true hierarchy except for talent, ideas and commitment.

Players are pushing themselves in new directions, trying out that shower-soaked riff from this morning’s wake-up, or song line. The audience is reacting to the closeness and the greatness and due to that, engaging the players and the players engage the audience in new levels of discovery and adrenaline.

Clapton was discovered at a blues jam in New York when he was 14 years old. Hendrix learned his trade in Blues Houses. The best have always learned their trade from others through sharing, watching, exchanging and listening. And the Jam is the ultimate platform.

In a Jam…there is OPEN learning. People watching someone perform music of which they can only dream, or JUST outside their reach…today. In the Jam there are musicians complimenting each other with their instruments, facilitating each other’s best talents. It is open, encouraging, engaging, reaching, touching and a fertile ground for innovation.

And it isn’t an orchestra.

Does it work all the time? No. It takes time and INCLUSION to produce a result. Just like a collaboration.


The Take-Aways:

Collaborations need sanction. An authority figure has to endorse and set free the actual channels of the collaborative process by showing the trust necessary for all participants to play and share.

Rules (a few) need to be set. Note that the owner of the jazz club gave simple rules that were “people” oriented: Respect. That was it. Simple. Respect. The owner doesn’t leave the premises nor will he tolerate bad behavior that disrupts the process. It’s all about the positive potential through focusing on the process. Don’t mess with the process.

The owner will cheerlead for the best talent. He’ll get up and point at the players, buy them a drink and be supportive. He’ll also encourage those who tried and failed. “ c‘mon back next week an’ try again. You’re getting it!”.

EVERYONE is involved in some way. People will support what they help create. Remember, even the audience believes they had a hand in creating the experience.

“Give the drummer some”: Give people their chance to participate and experiment, innovate. The crowd will give them their due, be it good or not so good. Set up properly, even failure or near failure will get a round of applause for effort and guts. Especially the guts.

A Jam can be chaotic. Recognize it, embrace it, deflect it, work with it. Don’t try to totally control it. Chaos can breed innovation and new directions. Some people say that was how the earth and universe were created.

Collaborations happen best with both insiders and outsiders (Players and Audience in this analogy). But, collaborations are NOT exercises in teamwork. Teamwork is one group, one set of talents. The basketball team.

Collaborations invite disparate talents and views. Collaborations are NOT exercises in Diversity. Collaborations are open, not planned and controlled. Diversity simply happens in a collaborative effort.

The Great Workplace 2.0 ENGAGES their Participants…and encourages them to…Participate.