Always Learning: Lessons from the Jazz Ensemble

One thing you can always count on (aside from death and taxes…) is change. Change is inevitable and these days, almost constant. Being adaptable and resilient will help you weather the storms of change. Another trait, however, that is invaluable in responding to change is having a growth mindset.

“In a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment.” (Dweck, 2015)

I think of myself as a life-long learner. Which makes me think I have a growth mindset all the time, but the reality of it is, this is something you have to train and be conscious of with any situations you embark upon. Such was the case with Lessons from the Jazz Ensemble.

Lessons from the Jazz Ensemble (LJE) is a new offering from The PEAK Fleet, featuring The Mel Brown Septet. We kicked off sharing this offering with a Design Week Portland event on April 15, 2018.

In summary, LJE is a narrated and story-filled journey through five leadership lessons to be learned from a jazz ensemble. Mel Brown, John Nastos, Derek Sims, Gordon Lee, and Stan Bock all have extraordinary experiences they relay through stories, while Tim Gilson and Renato Caranto round out the Septet with terrific musical examples to drive the points home. With each lesson, you’re entertained with the amazing talent of the Septet.

First, I want to convey what a fantastic event it ended up being! We had an awesome audience, wonderful sponsors and partners with DWP. Mel and the Septet put on an entertaining and educational performance (with yours truly as narrator). Add to that, some great art and education exhibits from George Willis and Amanda Schurr, and we scored overwhelmingly positive feedback on the event.

LJE is an event that we are now offering as part of our Organizational Development through the Arts (ODTTA) series. ODTTA is an arts-based learning series which leverages arts, music and other humanities as a route for impactful learning in a business context. We believe that members of the arts and performance community have tremendous knowledge to share that can be applied to leadership and teamwork in any sort of organizational situation. It was with this belief that we have embarked on assembling several workshop and event offerings in partnership with members of the arts community.

The idea for LJE is about 4 years old.  I was pondering leadership traits for the future, and thought about how the analogy of a jazz ensemble is much more appropriate for teams of the future than the idea of an orchestra following a conductor, which had been an analogy of the past. After meeting Mel and the Septet in Fall 2016, I became more enamored with the idea of bringing all the lessons from their Septet to people eager to learn to become better leaders.

Based on the feedback from Lessons from the Jazz Ensemble at Design Week Portland, I think the leadership and teamwork lessons from the Septet indeed resonate as valuable lessons for organizations of any kind.

Through the process of producing LJE, however, I learned a lot of lessons too, and had to take the whole experience on as a growth experience for me personally:

  • Sometimes being naïve is a good thing. I had no true concept of how much effort goes in to producing a great musical event! Once I had committed to it, though, I had to tell myself that I just don’t know how to hire sound engineers, for example, just YET, but I can learn!
  • Setting clear expectations is constantly necessary. We teach a workshop on Healthy Conflict, where one of the tips for eliminating sources of conflict is clarity of purpose and goals, and communicating clear expectations. And yet, I have to remind myself of this often. Throughout the production, I had to take care to set clear expectations about what was needed, and also LISTEN carefully to those who were trying to set expectations with me. In the end, there were some details where wires were crossed, but all in all, I don’t think the event attendees were affected.
  • People with shared purpose and strong skills can do anything! I was truly impressed at how many people stepped up and did whatever it took to pull off this event! Whether sponsors, volunteers, or other partners, the diversity of talents and hard work that came together reminded me how people are capable of incredible accomplishments together when they share a belief in something.

Lessons from the Jazz Ensemble and the other ODTTA offerings are available for events, conferences, and private sessions. Contact Brian or Jen at for more details.

Thanks to the Design Week Portland Lessons from the Jazz Ensemble event sponsors: Thug|research design build|, United Tile, Pacific Northwest College of the Arts, Deschutes Brewing, Rhino Digital Printing, and Sterling Coffee Roasters.

Jen Coyne

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