This article is the English translation of an Interview with Guy Studer, editor-in-chief, INLINE, FH SCHWEIZ 02/2020
When things do not go as well as desired in companies, Daniel C. Schmid’s services are often called upon. He feels the pulse of an organization, measures its groove. He is particularly fond of the references to jazz. Even the agreement to talk to Daniel C. Schmid is untypical. After the mail inquiry to him, the phone rings minutes later. He spontaneously agrees to a meeting, uncomplicated and soon. With a lecturer and sought-after speakers, one would hardly expect such prompt feedback. A few days later, during the conversation in the café, Schmid will explain in another context:
«You see, I have a trick: If a potential customer asks me in writing, I pick up the phone five minutes later and call back. Nobody is prepared for that, you are taken by surprise, positively surprised and immediately in a yes-attitude.» And the most important thing is: «This can only be done analogue!»
As head of the HWZ Academy, Daniel C. Schmid advises and trains organizations in personnel and leadership issues, among others. Many would consider digitization as a freestyle, «everything is going digital anyway, it’s more of a duty». Schmid starts in the post-digital age, where the freestyle can only be in the analog field.
The «Beat» must be right
And here he builds the bridge between business and music. «What makes the music? It’s the live moment, the interaction between the musicians, the groove.» He always remarks, «Organizations are often not properly timed.» So the first thing he tries to do is figure out what makes an organisation tick: «For example, if I have an appointment at 3pm, I show up at 2.45pm and just sit in the reception and watch.»
How do the employees behave, how long does it take for someone to pick up the handkerchief that Schmid deliberately dropped? «Or how long does it take until someone even greets me?» That’s how he reads the first signs. «You can already see how strongly people identify with their employer.» In workshops or seminars, the employees’ pulse is measured: «My trainers receive capillary information there, for example how the mood towards the workshop is, whether the employees come voluntarily or are sent. This already allows a lot to be determined.» Schmid regards himself and his team as a conductor and musician.
«We try to reach the target state in stages – that is, that the organization becomes a symphony. A complete work in which everyone plays to the same beat.»
The Jazz combo as an ideal role model
Schmid was involved with music at an early age. During his studies he took lessons at the Jazz School in Bern and worked in an agency for jazz music, where he came into contact with international stars of the scene, such as Dave Brubeck, Ray Brown, Michel Petrucciani, Jim Hall, Kenny Barron and many more. «The question of whether to make music my profession was already in the air and I still carry music around inside me to this day.» In addition, through his professional activity he always had different perspectives on organizations. So one thing led to another – jazz music as a model for a company.
Schmid finds particular pleasure in his research on the principle of «Rotating Leadership»: two or more jazz musicians improvise over a basic beat pattern and alternate fluently with the melody. The motifs interlock while everyone plays on the same groove. Whoever comes up with an idea takes the lead, which is then taken over, changed or transformed into something new by another with playful ease. The groove remains.
COINs (Collaborative Innovation Networks)
Dr. Peter A. Gloor, MIT / www.galaxyadvisors.com, with the author.
Schmid and his research partner Dr. Peter A. Gloor (MIT / Galaxyadvisors) transfer this model to so-called COINs (Collaborative Innovation Networks) – which stand for small innovation teams within an organization. A jazz combo is taken as an ideal model of a perfectly functioning COIN.
Read the Paper: «Twelve-Tone Music Reloaded: 12 Lessons in Rotating Leadership and Organizational Development from Jazz» (Springer)
Here ,Schmid comes back to the freestyle in an organization: Ideally, the employees complement each other like jazz musicians. They tick on the same wavelength. »I have experienced it myself with top jazz musicians. Two musicians are in the groove right from the start of rehearsals, it’s true to the millisecond,» he says with fascination. In the business world too, he says, the same applies: whoever has an idea takes the lead. The hierarchy is flat. You learn from each other.
Schmid is convinced that this topic will gain in importance. «The degree of freedom at work will increase greatly due to the transformation.» Keyword flexible working, home office. It is all the more important to find common, analogous denominators, for example trust. «If this is right, whatever will come. Trust cannot be digitized.»