As I rode the train early Friday morning in a minimally-caffeinated stupor with my coworker, Jill, I was in the need of some sort of spark; I needed a little pick-me-up on a rainy Friday. And I got one.
We walked into the TEDx Philly conference and the organization and meticulous planning had certainly shone through. The beautiful stained glass windows of the Temple Performing Arts Center served as an ornate backdrop to what was, essentially, a pop-up event of speakers from around Philadelphia. We picked up our passes and grabbed great seats.
For those who are unfamiliar, TED is an nonprofit devoted to ‘Ideas Worth Spreading.’ Started in 1984 in California, the viral nature of YouTube has taken TED to the next level, and I quickly became a follower and a ‘lunch-break watcher’ of TED videos. Some are highly technical (self-sanitizing countertops in hospitals), some are more idealistic (‘Looks aren’t everything’), but all strive to connect. The theme of this year’s TEDx Philly was “The New Workshop of the World.”
Excited as the lights dimmed (and I was 3 cups of coffee and a KIND bar fuller), the TED conference began, and, speaker after speaker, I began to feel that spark that I was hoping I would feel.
In the nonprofit world, and, really, any line of work, there are discouraging days. There are days where even your strongest effort seems to just nudge the issue-at-hand rather than make the big impact that you hoped it would. But sometimes, that same small nudge can make all the difference.
While I’d love to recount every speaker, as they were all fantastic, I will focus on the one that really resonated with me: Natalie Nixon, Director of the Strategic Design MBA Program at Philadelphia University. She spoke of redesigning a corporation using the principles of jazz. As a musician, I felt a ‘buzz’ when she spoke of jazz musicians jamming and drew parallels to business models and how we can change the way we work together. She referenced Dr. Barrett’s 7 leadership lessons, and that we must develop an ‘improvisational mindset’ to work together in a chaordic setting (the balance between chaos and order).
SIDENOTE: The caffeine was definitely kicking in at this point, and the connections were igniting all up in my little brain!
Here are Dr. Barrett’s 7 leadership lessons from jazz (taken from the source):
- Unlearning – disrupt outworn routines – challenge your routines and learn your way into new and different areas
- Say “Yes to the Mess” – affirmative competence that favors experimentation – be open to possibilities and the creative power of teams
- Learn from failures – use errors and mistakes as a source of learning. As Miles Davis puts it, ‘If you’re not making a mistake, it’s a mistake.’
- Use minimal structure and minimal consensus – create just-enough structure to coordinate and don’t wait for gaining consensus every time
- Take turns soloing and supporting – embrace ‘Followership as a Noble Calling.’ Make each other happen
- Create spaces for hanging out – create informal spaces to hang out where conversations about innovation and experimentation can happen
- Leadership as provocative competence – know the potential of your people, disrupt their routines and move them away from their comfort zones, remind them of their true potential
Nixon referenced these and walked us through how each jazz practice can be translated to business. In the busy world of social work, we are constantly gaining clients, losing clients, gaining funding, losing funding and the obstacles are always fresh, often challenging, but provide that degree of excitement and human connection that draws us all in to the world of mentoring, and working with youth in foster care. Sometimes it’s your turn to ‘solo,’ and others, it’s time to step back and let your coworkers’ (or mentees’!) strengths shine.
As I drew upon my own experiences in music and in working in a nonprofit, I was able to use these to fuel my ideas for the future and reflect on how I want to conduct business, because, when it comes down to it, handbooks and textbooks can bolster your knowledge, but how you act on your feet (during your solo) is the true test of character.
And coffee helps…