What's Happening: The Jazz of Entrepreneurship

As a profession, I teach ‘Entrepreneurship’ and as a hobby, I play jazz on the saxophone. Two things that at first sight appear to be very distinct. But, as I will show you, this is not the case.

Entrepreneurship is an intriguing topic. Throughout history, it has happened on a regular basis, that entrepreneurs who set up a new business, start competing with existing, established firms and sometimes they even completely obliterate them.In the early years of the internet a number of companies found out that being able to search within vast amounts of data on the internet would be indispensable. So the first ‘search engines’ arose. Companies like Altavista, InfoSeek, and in the Netherlands, ILSE, became much used search engines. Nowadays, you never ever hear about them. What happened? Google happened. Google, a company that at that time only existed in an embryonic form in the mind of Larry Page, a PhD student at Stanford University. This also happens in other industries : Dell, Tesla, AirBnB. How is this possible? How do these startups manage to do that ? Do they have more money? No! Do they have better resources? Not at all! Do they have better skilled people? Sometimes, but more often not! Then why is it that these entrepreneurs are able to outperform existing businesses? What do entrepreneurs know, that managers in established businesses do not?

Not much jazz in this story up to now, is there? Let’s change that!

  • ‘Hi Lennart, long time no see. Did you bring your bass? Are you playing here?’
  • ‘Yes, I just did a gig with Marit on the piano and Shaun on the sax. Really cool. Good audience too.’
  • ‘Can we do something together later tonight. I didn’t plan to play, but my trumpet is in the car so we could get together.’
  • ‘Good idea. After this band has finished we could take the stage, I think.’
  • ‘Cool. I will also ask Chelsea to sing a few tunes. She’s a singer I met yesterday. Sings like a bird.’
  • ‘Fine. Don’t we have a drummer?’
  • ‘No, maybe we will find one somewhere here, but otherwise we’ll do it without drums.’

Later that night…

  • ‘Okay, what shall we do.’
  • ‘Let’s play ‘Dearest, you're the nearest to my heart’’
  • ‘Yeah, that’s a beautiful song’
  • ‘OK, but I haven’t been playing it for a while now. I don’t know if it will work out.’
  • ‘Never mind. Let’s start and see where we end up. We’re skilled enough to make it work for the audience’.
  • ‘Let’s play.’

OK. Cool. But what’s the relation between this and entrepreneurship?

You may not realise this but these is a lot of ‘entrepreneurship’ in this conversation between these musicians. It appears that successful entrepreneurs show behavior and have a way of thinking that is completely different from that of a manager. They prefer acting over analyzing (‘Let’s start and see where we end up’). They learn by doing (‘Let’s play’).  They are open for surprises and unexpected events (‘Don’t we have a drummer?’ ‘No.’) and are constantly looking for ways to use them to their advantage. They try to develop, sometimes temporary, partnerships with anyone that can add to their ideas or skills in a way that will profit both (‘She’s a singer I met yesterday. Sings like a bird.’ ‘Fine’). And they don’t like planning and strategies, they rather have a chat with a potential customer (‘We’re skilled enough to make it work for the audience’).

A few years ago, I started ‘The Jazz of Entrepreneurship’: a performance with a live jazz band during which we illustrate this connection between ‘entrepreneurship’ and ‘jazz’ using stories from the world of entrepreneurship on the one hand and jazz-music on the other. It is intended to show students (but also professionals and entrepreneurs) in an inspiring way what they need to know about the ways of thinking and acting of successful entrepreneurs. In my professional life, I do a lot of things but ‘The Jazz of Entrepreneurship’ is what I like the most.

I hear and I forget.
I see and I remember.
I do and I understand.

Confucius (551-479 BC), Chinese teacher and philosopher.