Friday, May 17, 2013

The Jazz of Writing

A friend from Beijing told me about an interesting workshop she attended while on a business trip to New York with executive MBA students from Peking University. The workshop, held at Carroll Music concerned the improvisational skills needed to succeed in business. 

The model for this premise was jazz. During the program, students listened as jazz musicians improvised on standard tunes and later discussed how they connect intellectually and emotionally to make spontaneous music.

All of this was music to my ears for three reasons, all of them having to do with professional development. 

First, I frequently listen to live jazz music with family, friends, and colleagues at New York clubs such as 55 Bar, Arthur's Tavern, B.B. King Blues Club & Grill, Birdland, Blue Note, Cornelia Street Cafe, Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola, Fat Cat, Garage Restaurant, Iridium, Jazz Standard, Smalls, Smoke, SOBs, Village Vanguard, and Zinc Bar. (Who said jazz is dead?) Listening to the magic that jazz artists create during live performances serves as a reminder that the old can be made new and that thinking in any discipline needs a regular refreshing.

Second, businesspeople can learn all they want from books and videos, and webinars, which is a good thing, but it's not enough. Conferencing with superiors, peers, and subordinates, as well as with clients and vendors keeps executives aware of their purpose and audience's concerns--and enables them to be responsive to those concerns. Jazz is all about being off-book, reflecting spontaneously and even serendipitously on new ideas, and moving with others in exploring them.

Third, writers need to generate words, which is not always an easy task. The free form of jazz suggests that writers do not need to make every word count in the first draft. Just go with your thoughts. Lower your tolerance for errors. Improvise. Only you will see your first draft. You are soloing now, just like a jazz saxophonist. Get all those thoughts down and let the second draft speak more directly to your readers. This technique will help reduce writer's block and generate key ideas.

OK, I'll see you at a jazz club.