This past June, a diverse group of thirty-nine senior executives from across the globe found themselves packing to go back to school. Headed to the James L. Allen Center to attend The Kellogg School’s four-week live-in Advanced Executive Program (AEP) senior managers soon found themselves jumping on stage with a jazz quartet and presenting a strategy to the CEO of Elizabeth Arden, all with the goal of gaining cutting-edge leadership insights.
“I found my time at Kellogg very beneficial for the roles and responsibilities of my career,” said participant Benchawan Ukrid, executive director of the Thai Trade Center Osaka. “I was reenegerized by the program, which taught me to understand the present and future role of my functional career and to examine the current international sociopolitical and economic environment and its effects on business.”
The program, which aims to help senior executives achieve new insight into their own leadership and management styles as well as provide them with information on the latest management trends and concepts, culminated with the much-anticipated integrative case study and a unique, interactive program connecting the principles of jazz to those of leadership.
The integrative case exercise provided participants with the opportunity to analyze the global beauty product giant Elizabeth Arden and then present strategies for growth and development to Chairman, President and CEO Scott Beattie and Vice President of Sales Amy Sachs. Working in small study groups, participants had the opportunity to explore the challenges Elizabeth Arden faces in further expanding its business in Asia. These include developing global supply networks and enhancing operational efficiencies, appropriately allocating resources across its brand portfolio, local product development and ensuring the necessary organizational structure to take the business to the next level.
“The integrative case centering around a publicly traded company and the public information it afforded provided a great background for the case study,” said Jody Phillips, Chief Financial Officer of Gainesville, Fla.-based Exactech and recent AEP graduate. “Being able to meet with multiple members from Arden’s management team at different times and integrating the questions and input from the Kellogg faculty provided further insight and learning.”
The session’s final seminar, “Leadership, Collaboration and Innovation,” developed by Kellogg’s Clinical Professor of Management and Organizations Michelle Buck, along with fellow Jazz Impact/Kellogg Leadership Program co-founders Michael Gold and Spike Schonthal, focused on providing greater insight into the challenges and opportunities participants face in their organizations by connecting them with those jazz musicians face. Part of the growing trend of using arts-based learning in management education, the program gave participants the chance to learn about processes of team innovation through learning the dynamics of jazz ensemble.
“The work of jazz musicians provides a remarkable window into better understanding processes of innovation. Although working in very different domains, both jazz musicians and business leaders of the twenty-first century work in team environments that require trust, collaboration, agility and risk taking,” explained Buck. “Our intention in this module is to enable participants to be able to hear jazz ensemble differently, in a way that allows them to hear, see, and participate in their own work with new possibilities for innovation and growth.”
After being taught the basic rhythm and melody of the piece, volunteers were asked to break into groups and converse with each other musically, first with simple tube instruments and then with more complex percussion pipes, an exercise which provided participants with the opportunity to understand first-hand the importance of listening to others, being willing to take risks, and enabling good creative teamwork to occur. When asked to evaluate themselves on their ability to collaborate both among themselves and with the jazz quartet, participants noted the difficulty of improvisation, or creating in the moment, without the chance to prepare beforehand or know what was coming next, as well as their struggle to work together as a team of musicians, knowing when to lead and when to follow.
“It looks so easy,” said Ukrid after having a chance to play the joia tubes and discovering how difficult it was to concentrate on her own role in the performance while listening to other musicians.
“Unlike classical music, which is completely composed and whose musicians work off a score, jazz must be invented in real time and in collaboration with the musicians playing the piece,” Gold explained during the session. “Can you see the parallel between what’s happening in the music and what’s happening in your world? How many of you are following fixed instructions that are already defined and how many of you feel called upon to create in the moment?”
During the question and answer session following the performances, participants discussed the importance of fostering and achieving innovation within an existing framework, whether within the parameters of the tone and melody of a piece of music or within the parameters of a business model.
“Because we live in an increasingly unpredictable world, businesses are increasingly looking for leaders and teams who are innovative and agile in the midst of environments marked by risk, complexity and ambiguity,” said Buck. “More and more businesses are seeking insight from artists and arts-based learning, because artists live and work in the domain of innovation and creative expression. In this era of globalization, cross-cultural collaboration and virtual communication, music and other forms of artistic expression break down potential barriers and bring people together. We clearly saw this in the AEP session, which generated enthusiastic engagement and valuable insight among an extraordinarily diverse group of participants.”