Information about the “Miles Davis: Kind of Blue” case.

We will discuss the Harvard Business School case “Miles Davis: Kind of Blue“, written by Robert D. Austin and Carl Størmer.

Miles Davis, 1959: Kind of Blue

To learn anything you need to the case before we discuss it.  As you read the case, think about the following issues:

  1. Innovation
    1. What made Miles Davis such a great innovator? Why was he able to “jump to the next S-curve” rather than stay with the musical styles that had brought him such fame?
    2. How would you explain his approach to making Kind of Blue?  What were the most important elements in his approach that lead to the modal jazz breakthrough and the album’s commercial success?
    3. How would you characterize Miles Davis´ leadership style.

In addition to the discussion, we will talk about attention management, how it influences collaboration, and the difference between collaboration and division of labor.   Class notes.

Here is the presentation I gave in class:

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Training and talks in the US and Norway

I keep coming back to efficiency and effectiveness. In this last month I have given several talks around Europe about how we deal with complexity, specialization and time pressure and I have also trained consultants and financial analysts in several consulting firms and one Norwegian federal agency.  I have also met with several heads of companies to talk about how to improve presence in their management meetings.
It is becoming increasingly clear to me that a lot of the techniques we apply to improve the output of workers are not working because they are made for another era. People are no longer working in the industrial mass production environments for which many of the management techniques were developed. It would be meaningless to ask Rembrandt to hurry up or use less paint when creating one of his masterpieces. Many of the employers I encounter insist on using templates when asking highly trained individuals to do jobs where each case is unique. What is increasingly clear is that when every case is different and complex, when every case requires professional judgement and interpretation of insufficient and conflicting data, efficiency and 100% precision is no longer at the top of your list. We constantly try to improve people´s efficiency when what we should really care more about is their effectiveness — i.e. the effect they seek. Do they understand the situation, the context, the goal? Who cares if you are a good runner if you are running in the wrong direction or if you fail to change direction or take cues from the rest of the team?

The quest for efficiency is especially troubing in in larger organizations. There seem to be this need to be in control when what they should worry about is being in command. The more unpredictable and turbulent the situation the less control you will have unless you are in the situation. Being anywhere else will prevent you from having the timely information needed to observe, orient and decide what to do.

In situations we can´t control — i.e. turbulent, fast moving, complex situations, the key to influence is to understand the context.  This requires our full attention.  The faster and less predictable the context is, the more we need to pay attention in order to ensure that our response is relevant.

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Jazzcode live

Yesterday we performed at Palace Grill in Oslo.  The place was packed and Bendik Hofseth (pictured) sounded great as usual.  The rest of the lineup included Georg “Jojje” Wadenius, Audun Erlien, Sidiki Camara and myself, Carl Størmer.

#bendikhofseth på #palacegrill med #Jazzcode

A photo posted by Carl Størmer (@jazzcode) on

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Talks in Tallinn, gigs in Oslo and a leadership training session

Last week I gave one talk in Oslo for Boots, then on to Tallinn, Estonia where I gave two talks for leaders.  The talk in Oslo was with musicians (Tore Brunborg, Jan Gunnar Hoff and Audun Erlien), whereas the first talk in Tallinn was for a group of 200 contacts of the Norwegian Estonian Chamber of Commerce.  There I spoke alone and the theme was how to influence when you are out of control.  I used personal stories from my life to highlight our amazing ability to adapt and to transfer learning from one situation to another.

In the second performance, at a leadership conference for clients of Danske Bank, I spoke about how jazz musicians create presence.  My message here is that the scarce resource in any team is not necessarily time, but rather attention.  It is very hard to squeeze efficiencies out of a group of experts interacting with complexity real time, yet it is possible to reduce the waste of attention.  A lot of attention dissapears from a conversation if a) we are asked to do things for which we are ill equipped, b) are given too litte/much time to do a task, c) if we don´t trust others or ourselves, d) if we try to evaluate, e) if we try to do routine work on the side (like checking emails, answering texts etc), or if we are unmotivated or too motivated.  I had with me Bendik Hofseth (sax), Mart Soo (a brilliant local guitarist from Talinn with whom we had never played before we met at the sound-check) and Audun Erlien (bass).

Yesterday, back in Oslo, I played at a local jazz club with Bendik Hofseth, Georg “Jojje” Wadenius, Audun Erlien and Sidiki Camara.  Tomorrow I am running a training session for a group of ten experts from different companies.

Today I  also went to Samtidsmuseet in Oslo (Norwegian Museum of Modern Art) to check up on the progress with my mother´s exhibition (my mother, a self taught artist, Sidsel Paaske, died in 1980 at age 43 and left behind a large body of art which is not being exhibited at NMOMA).  Lately I have been thinking about how everything that happens in real time becomes part of the context in which we try to create some kind of value.  This is the essence in both art and in business.  This means that in order to create value we need to pay attention.  This is where the whole concept of listening comes into play.

I have also listened to a great talk by the author David Foster-Wallace, called This is water (audio, text).  It is a wonderful short piece on what is important in life and on freedom:


The really important kind of freedom involves attention, and awareness, and discipline, and effort, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them, over and over, in myriad petty little unsexy ways, every day. That is real freedom.

I really like the grouping attention, awareness, discipline.


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Busy times for Jazzcode – training, talks and jazz

We have been busy with training, talks and performances.  For the last three weeks we have been training senior consultants and partners at one of the top five consulting firms in strategic thinking and structure communication.  This week we talk talks — in Oslo to 250 leaders in health care (Monday), in Tallinn to clients of a large financial institution (with musicians), and to members of the Norwegian Chamber of Commerce.   The following week we train leaders from banking, energy and pharma.  In May we train another of the top five consulting firms how to group their ideas.  Upcoming also: talks in Brussels for CIONET and for the Norwegian department of municipalities and modernization (KMD).

The training sessions focuses on the smalles and most critical components in any intellectual work:  the grouping.  Through team exercises we increase awareness of how group ideas for better insight and how to use sound groupings to help ease understanding for the reader/listener.  The goal is to ensure that the reader gets the best possible return on attention and that decisions are based on a full understanding of the underlying factors.  The skills taught helps participants work better together and alone.  They become better readers/listeners, writer/talkers and improve their ability to organize work in groups.

The talks deal with how to influence outcomes when you are out of control.  The short answer is, when faced with live collaboration in complex environments, pay attention.  When gaining control is either too expensive or downright impossible, the key to influence is to understand the context and freeze deadlines and sacrifice price and/or quality in order to avoid delays.  In jazz as in business, presence AND timing go hand in hand; when you play in a tempo, you might have to sacrifice your own need for perfection in order to deliver in time.  I sometimes use musicians to illustrate my points.  I also use personal stories to create the glue needed for learning to take place.

Jazz.  This spring, I have performed regularily at a club in Oslo (Palace Grill) — packed every time.  The core of the band has been Bendik Hofseth (sax), Sidiki Camara (perk.), Audun Erlien or Mats Eilertsen on bass and myself on drums.  Guests have included Lars Jansson, Bugge Wesseltoft, Jon Balke, Jan Gunnar Hoff, Jojje Wadenius (coming on April 27), Erlend Slettevoll.


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The efficiency of trust and vulnerability – a conversation

Here is conversation I had recently with Deb Mills-Scofield, a fellow speaker at BIF9.  The conversation was recently published in Switch and Shift:

Editor’s Note: Carl and Deb met at BIF9 and as usually happens a beautiful friendship and collaboration resulted. Their conversations are like jazz….live, interactive, impromptu.  We eavesdrop into one here.

DMS: At BIF, you performed before an audience of over 400 people with two musicians you’d barely met before.  It was fabulous – resulting in BIF’s first encore!  The three of you had a common goal – a great performance.  You had aligned incentives – to create great music and not make fools of yourselves. This got us talking about trust – trusting people because of who they are personally vs. who they are professionally.


CS: Yes, I didn’t need to trust them personally, just professionally. If I’m going to fly, I have to trust the airline to have sane, sober, skilled, alert pilots.  We also need to trust systems.  If I have to go to the ER, perhaps a bad one is better than none.  If the alternative is worse, we might opt for no trust.  How much we need to trust others depends on the context, but also on how much we trust ourselves, our own resources and our ability to understand the context we are in; the more information and/or experience we have, the better we can decide whether or not to trust.  Trust is a tool to assess and manage (reduce and/or increase) risk, depending on the situation.

How much we need to trust others depends on the context, but also on how much we trust ourselves, our own resources and our ability to understand the context we are in

DMS: Trusting someone implies making oneself more vulnerable and finally it seems the world is recognizing that is what it takes to create great leaders.  Trust has big implications on our resources, as you’ve said.  When we don’t trust, we exert a lot of energy to keep up our guard, to continually assess and verify.  This uses a lot of energy and time.  When we trust, we re-allocate that energy and time to getting things done and making an impact.  As we let ourselves be vulnerable, we also leave ourselves more open to new ideas, new ways of thinking which leads to empathy and innovation.

CS: Absolutely.  When we trust, we reduce hassles, bargaining and redundancy.  The more information and/or experience we have, the fewer buffers we need around our decisions and the more we can focus on the scope and achievement of our goals. Being vulnerable is a way to preserve energy.  Basically, we are saying, “I won’t use resources on this because the pain of being vulnerable ‘costs’ less than the cost of NOT applying my resources elsewhere.”  For instance, choosing an instrument (or a profession) is a kind of vulnerability. No instrument can play everything.  To create great music you need an ensemble — a trio, quartet,  basically a team of players with complementary strengths, skills and vulnerabilities and a willingness to listen to each other and a common goal.

When we trust, we re-allocate that energy and time to getting things done and making an impact.  As we let ourselves be vulnerable, we also leave ourselves more open to new ideas, new ways of thinking which leads to empathy and innovation.

DMS: Trust and vulnerability are keys to “Energy Management”. Not to sound too 19th or 20th Century, but trusting is efficient….and effective.  It lets us reallocate our resources to what matters and utilize our skills and those around us to increase effectiveness…impact.  Energy Management raises the issue of perfection. If we are working together, we need to agree on the meaning of ‘done’.  When are we done, what does that look like? And that’s in the eye of the customer/audience.  So we need to understand customers’ needs and how well we can meet those.   We need to recognize that ‘good enough’ can really be good enough.  The Lean Startup movement encourages a Minimal Viable Product (MCP), building what’s critical and leaving the non-critical for a later.  My daughter says, “Don’t let perfection be the enemy of accomplishment.” Growing up in Bell Labs, I saw the need to know and control everything hold us back from realizing value.  Your wife’s phrase, “Control is for Beginners” is so a propôs.

CS: Knowing when to stop is key.  Strategic sloppiness is a way to preserve energy.  Don’t line up the boxes, disregard the typo’s, narrow the scope – Simplify!  The use of shared references is a big part of this.  Build on the same shared mental models (e.g., Peter Senge); use the same language (e.g., Hanna McPhee: Design & Science); make sure we hear and see the same thing (reduce buffers around our response); allow for larger margins of error in our response and our acceptance of others. This is especially true when we are working in real-time, where higher perfection slows down the tempo.  We have to eliminate anything that slows us down, whichforces choices in real time. Think of when we’ve been on a stage giving a presentation (or running out of a burning building).  If we can´t think of a specific word, we skip it and make something up — we lower the bar as much as we can.  Being live forces us to be flexible, like a nerf ball instead of a steel ball. If we are too hard, we are still vulnerable because we will crack, not bend and flex and live.

DMS: We can’t minimize the need to be effective.  So much of the 20thcentury’s focus on efficiency over effectiveness ended up being inefficient!  If the outcome didn’t meet customers’ need, who cares how efficiently it was made?  Efficient systems are great at dealing with complicated things – things that have many parts and sequences, but they fall flat dealing with complex systems, which is most of world today. At BIF8, Brandon Barnettgave a great story about the difference between complicated and complex. Effective solutions to wicked problems rarely come about through efficient and linear thinking.  It’s usually messy… and increasingly effective.

CS: The Industrial Revolution was based on achieving efficiency by scale through replication – a frozen goal in a static context.  This led to managing people and machines as one and the same — striving for uniformity/conformity, precision, low deviance, repetition, predictability and static, strict standards.  Things could be complicated but not complex (because they were static and not interconnected).  Now, easy, repetitive tasks are being de-bundled and out-sourced or automated which speeds things up, from months to weeks to minutes. Add to this that more and more interfaces are standardized and subjected to competition (per Clay Christensen) and we are seeing an emerging alphabet — components that can be assembled in endless combinations as manifestations of unique ideas.  As the ability to replicate something has become more of a commodity, we are increasingly seeing that complex interactions are the way to create ‘value from difference’ (as opposed to ‘value from sameness’).  But again, the complex interactions require judgment, intuition, data, timing and experience.  Technology does not do much in a complex interaction (per McKinsey´s articles on interaction).

Trusting is efficient and effective.  It lets us reallocate our resources to what matters and utilize our skills and those around us to increase effectiveness

DMS: Which is why ‘soft-skills’ are so critical in our complex world.  The ability to look at things from many different perspectives, to discover, uncover, understand and empathize is critical.  While everyone says the Millennials are forcing businesses to focus on meaning and purpose for work (outcomes) instead of just money and profit (outputs), I think we’ve always wanted this, just haven’t vocalized them for a variety of reasons. This brings us full circle back to trust and vulnerability.  When we have a common goal of WHY we want to do something, we are better able to trust.

CS: That’s why complex interaction workers are the fastest growing and the best paid part of the labor force.  The Jazzcode governs how we can improve the effectiveness of these workers.  When we never do the same thing or have the same conversation twice, it becomes much more important to figure out why and what we do than how we do it (process, which is a given).  Personal leadership and character become more important.  As work moves from executing scripts to interactive conversations, the need for active listening and presence in the moment is increasing.  We have to challenge the industrial culture in our work places to enable people to have better interactions. Only then can we get the true potential for original ideas and real collaboration.  It is in the give and take of a conversation, which is needed in complexity, that understanding happens.  Just like playing jazz.

DMS: And, just like jazz, the conversation continues…

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Jazzcode featured in Harvard Business Review!

Nice writeup about Jazzcode in Harvard Business Review using our slogan “Control is for Beginners”, written by Deb Mills Scofield.

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A good week

This week was busy. I spoke at a lean conference on Monday, gave a jazzcode talk/concert for the Norwegian IRS on Tuesday, did a conference for AVINOR on Wednesday, and lectured about music and technology at the University of Agder on Thursday. Tomorrow: tie up loose ends, finish early and spend the weekend with my family.

Jazzcode for Avinor at OSL:  Bendik Hofseth, Rob Waring, Kenny Wessel, Trygve Fiske and myself at the drums .Great audience + musicians!

JAZZCODE AT OSL: Rob Waring, Trygve Fiske, Bendik Hofseth and Kenny Wessel. Carl Stormer at the drums.


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McKinsey: Better collaboration could boost productivity by 20-25%

People don´t share enough information.  We can improve collaboration by turning private emails into content available for all.  The hardest part is changing the culture.  New report from McKinsey & Co (The Social Economy – Exec. Summary download).

Too much closed communication: The average interaction worker spends an estimated 28 percent of the workweek managing e-mail and nearly 20 percent looking for internal information or tracking down colleagues who can help with specific tasks.

Openness enables better collaboration.  But when companies use social media internally, messages become content; a searchable record of knowledge can reduce, by as much as 35 percent, the time employees spend searching for company information. Additional value can be realized through faster, more efficient, more effective collaboration, both within and between enterprises. – McKinsey Global Institute

Interaction workers – people who must interact to do their jobs – managers, consultants, engineers, cops and marketing people – people who must think, analyze and make judgements to get the job done, are the most highly paid people and the fastest working part of the economy.    By making communication (email) more social — in essence turning it into content — you can unlock increased potential across and between companies and individuals.  The hardest part is not the technology, but to create a culture of trust and sharing.

McKinsey Global Institute´s new report, The Social Economy claims that we are leaving 1000 BUSD on the table by not tapping the full potential of social media. The essence: make email by default public instead of private to turn it into content available for the entire company.

  • 350 billion USD in increased value creation by improving the collaboration around product development across silos — pulling in marketing, customers etc.
  • Twice as much value creation potential is untapped inside the enterprise as all other opportunities outside.
  • Too much “dark matter” tacit knowledge trapped inside people´s inboxes with potential value for the entire company. Dark matter should be communicated in a less private way across and between enterprises through social media.

“… McKinsey Global Institute (MGI) finds that twice as much potential value lies in using social tools to enhance communications, knowledge sharing, and collaboration within and across enterprises. MGI’s estimates suggest that by fully implementing social technologies, companies have an opportunity to raise the productivity of interaction workers—high-skill knowledge workers, including managers and professionals—by 20 to 25 percent.

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