How can a group of jazz musicians who have never worked together before play music as a collective and deliver a series of unique and great sounding performances on the spot? How do they improvise and innovate while adapting to changes in their environment? Why do they value “big ears” so highly? Why are commitment, passion, trust and respect so important when working with others? How do awareness, momentum, and leading on demand help ensure their success? And what does any of this have to do with the world of business or software development let alone a unit of commandos or a basketball team?

The musical art form of jazz can serve as inspiration and example for anyone seeking to improve their skills of leadership, teamwork, innovation and communication in today’s knowledge-based economy. Jazz musicians are constantly innovating and improvising as a collective. They must deliver on-time, high-quality performances that will attract and retain customers and do it all in real time under continuous scrutiny. As a multi-disciplined team, they do this by integrating strong individual contributions from passionate and committed practitioners and ensuring success by applying best principles such as: committing passionately to each task, employing just enough rules to afford autonomy while ensuring that the music doesn’t simply degenerate into chaotic noise, listening and communicating persistently, acting supportively and transparently so as to engender trust and respect, and taking measured risks.

Jazz musician and technology manager, Adrian Cho, researched high-performance teams in arts, sports, business and military operations and distilled the common practices they employed into a framework comprised of a method for execution and fourteen best principles that act on that method.

While successful teams, an in particular great jazz ensembles, inspired this work, the Jazz Process applies laws of sociology, psychology, physics, biology, and systems theory, resulting in a method that is easily understood and applied.

1. Use Just Enough Rules

“Bureaucracy is the death of all sound work.”

Albert Einstein

2. Employ Top Talent

“Art is the most intense mode of individualism that the world has known.”

Oscar Wilde

3. Put the Team First

“The way a team plays as a whole determines its success. You may have the greatest bunch of individual stars in the world, but if they don’t play together, the club won’t be worth a dime.”

Babe Ruth

4. Build Trust and Respect

“In any organization, trust must be developed among every member of the team if success is going to be achieved.”

Mike Krzyzewski

5. Commit with Passion

“Wheresoever you go, go with all your heart.”


6. Listen for Change

“A good hockey player plays where the puck is; a great hockey player plays where the puck is going to be.”

Wayne Gretzky

7. Lead on Demand

“Do not wait for leaders; do it alone, person to person.”

Mother Teresa

8. Act Transparently

“The spirit of jazz is the spirit of openness.”

Herbie Hancock

9. Make Contributions Count

“Always count the cost.”

American proverb

10. Reduce Friction

“Friction, as we choose to call it, is the force that makes the apparently easy so difficult.”

Carl von Clausewitz

11. Maintain Momentum

“It does not matter how slow you go, so long as you do not stop.”


12. Stay Healthy

“Health is not valued till sickness comes.”

Thomas Fuller

13. Exchange Ideas

“If you have an apple and I have an apple and we exchange these apples then you and I will still each have one apple. But if you have an idea and I have an idea and we exchange these ideas, then each of us will have two ideas.”

George Bernard Shaw

14. Take Measured Risks

“Progress always involves risks. You can’t steal second base and keep your foot on first.”

Frederick B. Wilcox