April in Orlando

Until now we’ve never had the pleasure of seeing IDS Scheer founder Dr. August-Wilhelm-Scheer belt out his baritone sax. But then again, excluding Borland founder Philippe Kahn’s riffs on the sax that used to greet his press conferences during the 80s, I can’t say that we’ve seen a keynote session introduced by a swinging rendition of Nat Adderly’s Work Song either. Evidently, a few others such as BPM blogger Sandy Kemsley have seen Scheer’s mean baritone before.

But at lunch, Dr. Scheer performed an extended set in front of press, analysts, and customers, and then spoke of the parallels between playing Jazz with managing an organization and embedding robust business process. And as a jazz lover ourselves, we especially appreciated his guiding metaphor: you can’t have creativity or innovation without underlying structure, and vice versa.

He spelled it out as “APRIL.”

“A” stood for “Autonomy.” The Jazz idiom is unique because it prominently features improvisation. Soloists are granted autonomy to invent new patterns of notes that float above the tune and reinforce, or deliberately contrast, to the harmonies. It is assembling a new solution on the fly to captivate the demand at the moment, which for jazz, is presenting compelling music. Scheer drew parallels with SOA, which in a sense involves similar improvisations as we compose processes while we dynamically orchestrate services. There are also parallels with mass customization, where you provide teams or set business rules that provide the business unit the autonomy to configure to order on the fly. But all this does not happen in a vacuum. Autonomy only succeeds when you keep it within context, which in the case of jazz involves some sort of relationship with the melody and/or rhythm, and in the enterprise, means that autonomy is exercised in support of business goals and in compliance with organizational (or regulatory) compliance mandates.

“P” stood for “Passion.” In jazz, as in any art form, a successful performance is not only one that is technically proficient, but one that is inspired. The same applies to running a business – your staff will only be effective, creative, resourceful, and act with agility when they have internalized the mission and have a passion for executing to it.

The “R” word, for a change, is not “recession,” but in this case, “Risk.” When any performer goes out in front of an audience, they must be prepared to take risks and venture into new territory if the same old material won’t captivate the audience. In jazz, it is the soloist’s reaching for new notes that, while he or she may be practiced, are composed on the spur of the moment because it feels right. It means taking risk, because sometimes that extended high note could either sound flat or absolutely dazzle – but you won’t know till you tried it. In running a business, taking risk is all about not simply surviving, but growing your market share on dare, pioneering a new market, or deepening your relationship to the customer. Yes, you need solid quantifiable research, but at some point, it comes down to making a dare.

Related to risk is the “I” word, which is “Innovation.” The best musicians are well practiced, but also the ones that are willing to take their musical styles in new directions, or willing to add new nuances to well-known standards. When somebody asks “Play Misty for me,” hopefully the keyboardist will add some new hooks that will make that rendition memorable. And so, innovation is also the key to business growth. Simply churning out the same commodity inevitably invites competitors to swoop in with their own innovation and steal your market right out from under you.

Finally, the “L” word is “Listen.” As Scheer’s mike was not working at the time, a few of us all too gamely asked, “What?” Inside joke (probably not intended) aside, it means that musicians jell together only if they listen and literally stay attuned to each other’s rhythms. Obviously, the band must respond to where the soloist is going, but if the soloist detects the band picking up on a riff, he or she must be prepared to seize the moment. In business, it’s all about listening to your colleagues and your customers, because that’s only way that your business can stay relevant and agile.

With someone like Dr. Scheer who is often referenced as an esteemed professor, we were expecting a business process lesson. We didn’t expect that he would literally hit the high note in driving that lesson home.