Folk wisdom holds that we use about 10% of our potential in a lifetime. New scientific research suggests the percentage is dramatically worse we use a mere 1/10,000th of our capabilities over the course of our lives. What a waste!
Can you imagine the benefit that you would contribute if you developed the capacity to use just 1% more of your talents to achieve what matters most to you? Is 10% too big a reach for you? I think not.
Among my most provocative teachers in the field of performance potential are the jazz musicians with who I work in my speaking and seminar business. They are masters at bringing their unique forms of excellence together to generate value for their audiences. They are passionate about increasing their potential to perform by constantly exploring new possibilities for achieving their purpose.
Warren Bennis is one of the worlds most influential writers on leadership and performance. In the mid-1990s, he had a significant change of mind. Before, his favourite image for a leader was the conductor of a symphony orchestra, blending the talents of accomplished performers according to a detailed and carefully crafted score. After, he realized that a jazz group was a better image for leadership and performance.
Excellence in performance in a constantly changing environment, he realized, was about improvisation, and that is what jazz musicians did best. They embraced change as opportunity, not threat. They shared leadership according to talent and the needs of the performance. They greeted surprise as a chance to test their talents and dance to forms of music yet to be heard, generating new value through their exploration of new possibilities. And they recognized, as sax great Cannonball Adderley once said, that there were no mistakes, only opportunities to learn.
Five Key Lessons from Jazz
Here are five the key lessons from the wisdom and workings of jazz about building your capacity to generate value through your unique excellence in performance. They form an acronym for VALUE:
Your voice is unique. No one else has what you have to contribute in the style you have to deliver it. Your voice develops through the blending of your passions, talents, needs, and principles. Jazz musicians, pianist Walter Bishop Jr. once observed, learn in a three-step process: they imitate, assimilate, then innovate. They learn their craft from the masters, trying to imitate their sound. Then they take little bits of things from different people and weld them into their own style. Finally, they imagine how they can take the music to where it has never gone before and do it. That is when they generate their authentic excellence in performance. As jazz bassist and composer Charles Mingus once said, Im trying to play the truth of what I am. The reason its difficult is because Im changing all the time. You can meet the same challenges of improvisation with your unique voice in your chosen field of contribution.
You can survive by simply coping with the messes of the past and the present. But you will not thrive unless you focus the energy of your unique voice on new possibilities in the future. Jazz musicians exhibit a fascinating respect for tradition blended with a passion for innovation. They are constantly trying to imagine new ways of using their voices, to do new things with old melodies and techniques, to improvise on old ideas to stimulate new possibilities and achieve new results. They aspire to do better. Trumpet master Miles Davis said that he always asked his groups to play their best and then play above that. It was then, he believed, that great music happened. Excellence in performance is the same. It is achieved when we contribute our best and then more.
Learning requires listening. Band leader Duke Ellington once said that the most important instrument in jazz was the human ear. Excellence in performance arises when all the members of the band listen to what they are each contributing to their common purpose. It arises when they all imagine how they can use their voices to create the best result through a carefully coordinated effort. Jazz musicians are strong individualists, confident and even jealous of their own unique voice. But they choose to listen to, learn from, and cooperate with each other to produce something they know they cannot achieve on their own. They are genuine life-long and collaborative learners. Excellence in performance requires that you too constantly listen and learn from each other.
All that voicing, aspiring, and learning means little if you do not choose to utilize them to contribute to a broader purpose than your own pleasure. Jazz musicians thrive on their audiences. Duke Ellington saw his audiences as an integral part of his performance. The special moments for Ellington came when he and his orchestra, which he considered to be his instrument, felt the audiences appreciation building, responded positively to it, and utilized their passions and talents to create new heights of meaningful experience for everyone involved. Excellence in performance requires the positive utilization of your unique brilliance in the service of others.
Human beings are designed to collaborate. However alone you may feel at times, you belong to a species that thrives only in community. The whole dynamic and flow of excellence in performance depends on how well you choose to use your unique capacities to encourage excellence in performance in others. Jazz pianist Monty Alexander usually performs in a trio. At its best, he has observed, trio playing is a situation in which participants willingly support each other. Each player brings virtuosity, optimism, mutual respect, good will, and the desire to make it feel good. If we encourage each other in the alignment of all of those elements, we can create excellence in performance.
Generating VALUE through Excellence in Performance
When jazz musicians get into the flow of a great improvisation, they say they are swinging. Canadian jazz master Oscar Peterson told an interviewer that swing is a deep feeling, an emotion. When you are swinging, he continued, you have really gotten into it, really gone deep. When jazz musicians blend passion and talent to create VALUE, they are expressing their voices, reaching for their aspirations, learning from each other, utilizing their brilliance, and encouraging each other to play their best and then play above that. For them, this is Xcellence in performance.
Imagine, then, how beneficial it would be for you:
to discover 10% more of your unique voice
to elevate your aspirations by 10%
to learn 10% more about what matters most to you
to utilize 10% more of your capacity to use your voice to serve others
to spend 10% more time encouraging others to use their brilliance to get into the swing of contribution.
Aligning all those factors will generate excellence in performance in any field, not only for yourself, but also for all those within your circles of influence. The results will delight everyone.
Brian Fraser is the Lead Provocateur of Jazzthink. He is a professional speaker, author, and leadership coach who uses the wit and workings of jazz to help people and organizations improve their performance. Find out more at http://www.jazzthink.comlatin music download