Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Miles Davis' Lessons in Innovation

Harvard Business School's Working Knowledge, a publication that previews cutting-edge faculty research, has just published Kind of Blue: Pushing Boundaries with Miles Davis. In this interview, Rob Austin and Carl Størmer discuss the radical innovation inherent in Miles Davis' seminal record, the underlying principles that enabled him to achieve it, and the lessons that today's managers can draw.

Most significant is the language Austin and Størmer use to describe Miles Davis. He was obviously an extraordinarily gifted musician, but they place greater emphasis on his skills as a manager, leader, and collaborator. They describe, for example, Davis' ability to manage the creative process, his efforts to create an top-notch ensemble and establish a productive team dynamic, and his techniques for jolting musicians out of their habitual thinking patterns and into fresh, new terrain. Any manager or business leader will instantly grasp the relevance of these ideas to his or her own situation.

Moreover, fans of Edward de Bono will recognize many of the Six Hats and Lateral Thinking concepts at work. Austin and Størmer don't use the de Bono language, nor do they suggest any connection between Davis and Dr. de Bono. However, it's striking that in his own attempts to create a new musical landscape, Miles Davis intuitively seemed to grasp many of the same principles that Dr. de Bono later explicated.

In short, it's a fascinating interview. Do read it.

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