Jan 152013

There’s a quote from John Lewis (jazz pian­ist, com­poser, and musical dir­ector of the Mod­ern Jazz Quar­tet) that encap­su­lates ‘mean­ing through work’:

The reward for play­ing jazz is play­ing jazz

How many of us can say that about our work?

And what is it about play­ing jazz that makes the mere doing of it enough?

Trumpet / meaningFor the jazz musi­cian, the years of study, prac­tice, and per­form­ance are not just a route to mak­ing a living—they’re to achieve an extraordin­ary state that’s reached from time to time. It’s the state when, as trum­peter Art Farmer describes it—along with many others—“you for­get your­self, you get to the point where the music doesn’t come from you, it comes through you.” This state of being is such a delight that the effort it takes to achieve it is worthwhile.

Because you never know when the rev­el­a­tions will come to you, you have to prac­tice every day


The jazz-leader knows that being ‘on pur­pose’ is what motiv­ates all impro­visers. In fact, it’s the state of self-actualisation that motiv­ates all human beings.

The jazz-leader under­stands that cre­at­ing the right work­ing envir­on­ment for this not only enhances each individual’s well-being, but also pro­duces their best work and engages them. And, as research by the likes of Teresa Amabile demon­strates, this leads to peak group per­form­ance and improved pro­ductiv­ity for the organisation.

You don’t have to be a jazz musi­cian to achieve this; it’s pos­sible through any work. But most busi­ness lead­ers have yet to real­ise this. Which is why so many employ­ees are dis­en­chanted with and dis­en­gaged from their work.

If you don’t find mean­ing through your work, you may not be in the wrong work, but in the wrong work­ing environment.

Is the leader of your organ­isa­tion a jazz-leader?

Find out more about jazz-leadership.