In 1968, a time of turbulence and craziness, a very young Frank Zappa went on The Steve Allen Show and played what appeared to be a Concerto for Bicycle and Orchestra. The experiment (for these were experimental times) failed miserably.
It failed for a number of reasons, including the fact that those of us, in 2014, watching it for the first time, expected brilliance. Zappa, after all, is an acknowledged musical genius who died too young, a composer of rare talent who not only enjoyed pushing the envelope, but at times would intentionally shred that same envelope into a million tiny musical pieces, daring listeners to try and assemble meaning out of chaos, rhythm out of cacophony. And it was always there. So when a short-haired, clean-shaven Zappa ignores the obvious mockery Allen throws at him, we find ourselves thinking that we’re about to see genius shine, and expect, also, that Steve-O might just need to eat a healthy serving of humble pie.
It didn’t happen. Go ahead and check out the clip for yourself. It’s truly awful, and sounds rather like my Aunt Elsie screaming and crying at Easter dinner when she found out that she wasn’t eating roast beef, but had been lied to and it was—Oh, Dear!—lamb!
You can’t, it turns out, just throw seemingly disparate pieces together and expect them to sound good unless they are, somehow, aligned and in tune. The bicycle sounds themselves were rather interesting, as were the various horn sounds and string sounds and drum sounds and piano sounds. But without a proper composition and alignment across the instruments, nothing productive, nothing musical emerged.
The same is true in organizations, and here comes that Most Important Organizational Rule You’ll Ever Need to Know: If the various parts of your organization are not in tune and playing the same composition, all you’ll get is noise.
So how do you make sure things will sound melodic and perfectly in tune?
- It starts with the composition: These are your organizational goals, 5-7 clear SMART statements created by leadership. Without these, how will anyone know what melody to play?
- It continues with providing the right instruments: These are the people, processes, knowledge, and technology needed to play the parts. Having that beautiful Gibson Les Paul means nothing unless someone knows how to play it, after all.
- Then people need to become aware about their relationships with each other: Each person’s part meshes with everyone else’s; no one person can play the entire composition. A symphony is more than everyone playing their individual role, it’s also about everyone knowing what other parts people are playing. Only then do the full rhythm and beauty of the sounds emerge to achieve everyone’s goal—beautiful, melodic music.
That’s what it takes: Composition. Instrumentation. Relationship. That’s how you create an organizational symphony.
And one more thought: Now and then, it’s not a bad idea to throw a Zappa into the mix. They’re the players who keep us pushing the envelope. Let’s remember that the so-called Bicycle Concerto may not have worked, but it made us all think about new ways to compose and new instruments to play. Throwing that into the mix—and turning it, when possible, into new compositions—can keep our organizations fresh, creative, and growing.