Why tech should play like jazz

Al Jarreau, considered one of this generation's greatest jazz vocalists, was in town this week for a one-night concert at the Esplanade Concert Hall, where the 69-year-old rallied the crowd with hits like We're In This Love Together, Mornin' and my personal favorite, Take Five.Jazz is a genre I've enjoyed for some years now--apart from Barry Manilow's music, of course--but it has not proven popular among my friends, so I've had to resort to attending some concerts alone--yes, sad, but true.

Al Jarreau, considered one of this generation's greatest jazz vocalists, was in town this week for a one-night concert at the Esplanade Concert Hall, where the 69-year-old rallied the crowd with hits like We're In This Love Together, Mornin' and my personal favorite, Take Five.

Jazz is a genre I've enjoyed for some years now--apart from Barry Manilow's music, of course--but it has not proven popular among my friends, so I've had to resort to attending some concerts alone--yes, sad, but true.

There's never a wrong note in jazz! That's what I often hear being used to describe this music genre...along with comments like "It sounds like a mess!" or "There's no structure to the song!" or "Can you even call that a song?! Arrrrgghh!"

The frustration is understandable. Jazz music itself is difficult to define. Some believe the genre includes contemporary jazz singers like Michael Bublé and Jamie Cullum, where others think it should only include blues and swing players such as Louis Armstrong, Miles Davis and Errol Garner.

But, as I watched Jarreau and his six-piece band belt out their set numbers, I thought about the similarities between jazz and technology.

While it's true there's never really a wrong note in jazz, it's not due to a lack of song structure or rules. The key characteristic that defines jazz is improvisation, and it is this trait that allows the player to turn even wrong notes right.

It may not sound like it but jazz, like most other music genres, is guided by a set of rules and policies. There are underlying scales and chord structures to study, and they provide basic guidelines that jazz musicians observe when they play.

The main difference lies in the emphasis on improvisation, and it is this that sets one musician apart from the other. The ability to interpret different environments, as well as the changing moods of the band and the audience, and improvise while still observing the basic fundamentals of jazz music, is why some jazz musicians are recognized by their peers while others aren't.

And these are elements that can just as easily be applied to how tech operates.

The IT industry is also guided by a set of coding rules, implementation policies and best practices. But, what differentiates one company from another is its ability to tweak, customize and apply these industry standards, and at the same time interpret current market trends and user demand, to create a product at the opportune time that captures the targeted audience.

And while the R&D team will inevitably run into stumbling blocks from time to time, it is the engineers' ability to improvise and adapt around the barriers that will set them apart from the competition. The IT lead in the project should also be able to recognize and tap each team member's strength, and bring them all together to craft that perfect product.

And Jarreau did just that. Throughout the show, he would encourage his band members to produce a riff that he would then latch on to scat (vocal improvisation). He caught the energy of the audience, was free spirited, and it was clear he enjoyed every second on stage.

And that's how tech should play too.