Music as a metaphor for business

Nov 29, 2019 |Posted by Jared Simmons | Coaching

Before you immediately head to the world of sports or war for your next business metaphor, consider this equally pervasive human diversion: music. Like most people, I learned to make (and enjoy) music long before I became an engineer, researcher or consultant. In addition to its other benefits, there are lessons we can learn from our relationship with music that prove valuable in the business world.

Music lessons for business

It teaches the value of diversity. Various instruments and voice ranges combine to create a sound that is different from any individual part. Differences add value to songs–just as they do to projects at work. There’s no need to seek out similar people or try to fit them to a predetermined mold if everyone is playing the same song.

It prioritizes win-win over win-lose. Complementary parts played well enhance your own. Competition in a choir or band would seem completely illogical. Being able to sing or play louder than everyone else doesn’t mean you should. As in business, sometimes it’s more important to focus on the group dynamic over your own personal goals.

It is universal. There are people who don’t like sports. I’ve heard of those who don’t like a particular genre, but I haven’t come across anyone yet who doesn’t like music altogether. Unlike combat and sport-specific metaphors, simple music references rarely exclude people–regardless of cultural background.

It requires interpretation. Making music is not an exact science and requires the musician to include a part of themselves in it’s creation. How many of your teams see their work as a reflection of them as a person? How different would their work look if they did?

It shapes mood and emotion. Loud, soft; fast, slow; music has the power to instantly change how we feel. Our communication styles have the same power. Do you speak loudly or softly? Rapidly or slowly? Does your tone convey confidence or concern?

Why it matters

Music is a shared human experience that shapes our day-to-day lives in ways that we’re not even fully aware of at times. It can be a powerful framework for thinking about work–from running meetings to managing project timelines. It is inclusive and naturally emphasizes cooperation over competition. Personal excellence and group excellence naturally seek a balance in music performance that is often lacking in the business world.

What has music taught you, and how can you bring those lessons with you to work?

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Jared Simmons

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