College of Business {College of Business}

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Collaborative program mixes jazz and business

News + Events : Collaborative program mixes jazz and business

08/03/2010

Business leaders have much to learn from
Miles Davis and John Coltrane, according to a year-long collaborative
program by faculty in the College of Business and the College of
Creative Arts.

A photo of Andrew Speight.

Jazz Studies Lecturer Andrew Speight is a member of the Generations Jazz Band.

Professor of Management Ron Purser and Music Lecturer Andrew
Speight found that "thinking like a jazz musician," can aid creativity,
communication and productivity in the business world. While much has
been written in business journals drawing similarities between creative
processes in jazz and business, Purser and Speight are among the first
to tackle the issue with hands-on workshops incorporating a jazz band—the Generations Jazz Band, an all-star lineup of jazz legends in
residence at SF State.  

"We got into this idea of the 'jazz mindset,’" Purser said. "Jazz
is not just a metaphor, but an actual thought process. How do musicians
manage creative tensions? In sophisticated jazz, there are a lot of
constraints and a lot of rules, but within those rules, they have to
break rules to succeed."

Past uses of jazz as a metaphor in business just scratched the
surface of what takes place during the creative process, Speight said.
As both musicians and businesspeople rise in the ranks, they face an
increasingly refined set of parameters in which they must operate. To
succeed, musicians and business leaders must communicate more
effectively and manage creative tensions to succeed.

Purser and Speight, along with Associate Professor of Music
Wendell Hanna and Assistant Professor of Management Frank LaPira have
begun holding workshops and corporate training events around the Bay
Area through a program they founded called Jazz@work. They have
presented at the Economist Innovation Summit in Berkeley and at the
NASA Ames Research Center.

To illustrate ideas about creativity and communication, Purser and
Speight lean heavily on the Generations Jazz Band. The group includes
bassist Ray Drummond, Terrell Stafford on trumpet, and drummer Jimmy
Cobb, who played drums on Miles Davis’ "Kind of Blue" album.

During "informances," a topic will be discussed, with the band
playing a few notes to illustrate the idea or creativity or
communication. Speight said it didn’t take long for the presentation to
become highly-interactive.

"When you’re talking to people at higher levels of expertise, you
only have to feed them a little information and they start running with
it," Speight said. "That’s where this becomes powerful, because they
can apply that presentation to their own environment."

Seed funding for the program was provided by SF State’s Office of
Research and Sponsored Programs, as part of an initiative to encourage
research across disciplines.

For more information about Jazz@work, visit: www.jazzatwork.com

Speight, Cobb and the Generations Jazz Band will also lead an
interactive discussion on creative engagement and communication as part
of the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute's "Creativity: The Arts and Your Gray Matter" mini-conference on Sept. 11.

-- Michael Bruntz


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