Friday, November 04, 2016

Don't be misled by the acronym: you can do VUCA for fun

Mike Malone Sextet at The Steel City Jazz Festival
There are two good reasons that I both sponsor and attend The Steel City Jazz Festival. One is that my kid runs the festival. It was his dream and he has made it real for the past four years. Hanging out with anyone who has achieved a dream is inspiring. Hanging out with your kid while he makes his dream real is a rare and wonderful opportunity.

The second good reason that I like to listen to improvised jazz is that it reminds me that a VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity, ambiguity) situation could be really good fun. I took this picture last night while watching a sextet stand in the shoes of giants as they played the music from Miles Davis's Kind of Blue recording. If you're not a jazz fan, here is what that means. For more than an hour they played very famous jazz pieces and they were improvising.

Notice that,  in language, this already doesn't make sense. How can you play a well-known piece and improvise? In music, it does make sense and it happens all the time.

The second part of this paradox is that although the pieces were originally recorded in 1959, when six jazz players with real chops approach this music, no one is entirely sure what will happen. It's a VUCA moment.  Earlier in the festival, Mike Malone introduced the pianist, Adrean Farrugia as both wonderful and kind of scary to play with. As each soloist dives into the music, everyone else has to listen up and keep up.

They do it for joy. The band last night was obviously thoroughly enjoying the chance to play this music together, and to play it for a packed audience.  We were all in it together, and not knowing exactly what to expect was part of what kept everyone in the room - musician and audience - completely engaged.

Certainty is a little dull. VUCA can inspire the best kinds of attention and curiosity.

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