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?
For 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.