Saturday, October 01, 2011

Jazz not Symphony

In a previous post, Daniel Pink and Me, I talked about how Daniel Pink in his book, A Whole New Mind, has described 6 senses that we all need in the workplace:
  • Story: the brain responds when information is conveyed in a story context instead of a list of unrelated facts.
  • Empathy: we relate to each other better when we understand how the other person feels.
  • Play: no joy, no engagement.
  • Meaning: we are now looking for meaning within our work, instead of relying on extrinsic motivation solely.
  • Design: everything has a design element, so we need to pay attention on why things are the way they are, and accept them or change them.
  • Symphony: we can be more effective if we are able to bring all elements together. 
All of these senses resonate in a classroom environment as well.  Story, Empathy, Play, Meaning, and Design provide a rich context for learning and help us relate to each other.  Symphony is bringing all of these pieces together in a meaningful way.

But for me, I'd like to add a 7th sense that runs slightly counter to Symphony, or is perhaps complementary to it.  And that sense is Jazz.  Symphony is bringing parts together in a pre-scripted arrangement.  When someone strays from that script is is noticed and discouraged.  Symphony is still beautiful, but has a different intention from Jazz.  Jazz has a basic melodic framework, but the players are encouraged to go as far as they can with the tune while still referencing the shared elements of melody, chord structure, tempo, rhythm, etc.  Listen to Disney's symphonic arrangement of "Someday My Prince Will Come" and then listen to the rendition by Miles Davis.   The Disney version is heavily orchestrated and every note is predetermined.  In Davis's version, it goes all over the place (and is 6 times longer than Disney's).  Yet in both cases, the players know where they are in the song because of the structure.  The difference is the amount of structure.

For me, teaching is more like jazz, rather than symphony. Like jazz, teaching has to be fluid.  Yes, you have to have an idea of what you want to accomplish (e.g. learning intentions, curricular objectives, etc.) but your teaching has to be open to variables outside of the plan (e.g. teaching style, relationship with the students, students' personalities and experiences, fire drills, etc.).  There is no such thing as the perfect lesson because what works for one teacher in a certain classroom on a given day with a certain group of students will not necessarily work if any of those variables are changed.  With Jazz, teachers can go off the plan and improvise on the spot. 

Similarly, in design and innovation, great designs are flexible and open to unintended uses.  I mentioned that the Stratocaster electric guitar has many qualities that make it a great country or rock guitar.  Its design make it easy to change and modify.  The iPhone is pretty good as a phone, but is also user-customizable so that it can be a calendar, a personal trainer, a media player, an organizer, a book, and whatever else you need it to be.  My chin up bar works better as a place to hang my laundry than it does as a workout device (Hey, those shirts can get heavy, and who can do any exercise with all of that laundry in the way?). 

I don't think Daniel Pink intended for Symphony to mean something so highly scripted as I describe here.  He was just emphasizing the need to bring all of the important elements together.  But it made me think that for me, Jazz is also a good metaphor for teaching and innovation. 

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