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  • What Jazz Can Teach You About Collaboration

The jazz band offers lessons on how to get in the flow state through collaboration. The flow state helps us become better collaborators in an organization.

No one, not Charles Mingus, Art Blakey or Dizzy Gillespie is born a great bandleader. We are not deeply conscious of others. We need to train our minds to be that way. After all, Harvard professor Dan Gilbert has found that aimless thoughts occupy our minds 46.9% of the time.

And so if we wish to be better collaborators in any organization, we need to establish what the philanthropist and author Jeff Walker calls the “flow state.”

The jazz analogy is an apt one for Walker, who serves on the board of the Berklee College of Music. Walker says that when he first learned to play with other people in jazz bands and wind ensembles he realized what a flow state was all about – he had an important part, along with others, “in producing a song that none of us by ourselves could play.” And so this created a common goal.

So what does this mean if you’re not a jazz musician? How can you find the collective flow state and become a better creative problem-solver?

Do you like to eat and drink? Sharing “minds and spirits as you share a meal” is one recommendation Walker has for establishing a flowing conversation in which everyone listens and everyone participates.

On a personal level, Walker says you can train yourself to be more deeply conscious of others through mindfulness, meditation, and contemplation. There are even sites online that offer instruction on meditation for free, such as headspace.com.

If you don’t think this is right for you, consider how, in terms of collective problem-solving we are constantly “hampered by conflict, dissension, confusion, and mutual incomprehension.” Remember that your brain is devoted to ‘aimless thoughts’ nearly half of the time.

However, think how much more efficient any team would be if individuals take ownership of their own thoughts and become more present. “If we’re in a flow state more frequently,” Walker says, “we’re all going to be more effective.

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