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ARTICLE: To Understand The Company Of The Future, Head To A Jazz Club

Updated: May 1, 2020


If you want to understand how to run a successful business today, you might want to study jazz.

Why jazz, and not accounting, business administration, finance, international relations, or some other discipline or genre of music? Because jazz involves the simultaneous exercise of cooperative teamwork and freewheeling innovation. Imagine multiple composers, writing and playing in the same instant and together in the same groove, playing new thoughts simultaneously, and interweaving them without getting in each other’s way—such symbiotic improvisation is exactly what 21st century companies need to succeed.

In his essay "Jazz vs. Symphony", BCG’s CEO then chairman John Clarkeson (from 1985–2007) predicted that the company of the future would need to adapt more quickly and readily to change, operating like a jazz combo rather than a symphony orchestra.

There is a set piece of music, with variations for each section, and the conductor leads the performance in their preferred or own arrangement. While there may be solo performances, you won’t find the musicians in a symphony “taking off” and going their “own righteous way.” If it sounds much like an old-school bank, factory or brick-and-mortar retailer—everybody has a specific, set role and function in the organization, from which they are expected never to deviate.

The new school version of these same organizations is fluid, facile, driven by information—Leaders are “in the flow", not remote. We call this agility. Teamwork and cooperative support encourage risk-taking. There are no set pieces. The distinction between composer/conductor/performer are eroding. The best leaders make leaders of their team members.

To win in the 21st century, companies will need to be less rigid and more improvisational than they’ve ever been in the past. To understand how all the pieces, each going its own “righteous way,” can fit together and create the perfect whole, you need to go no further than the nearest jazz club. Read the full article on

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