I love music, specially all that has to do with Jazz, rare Funk, or shady Lounge music. And as it happens I'm also a UX designer, so there are high chances that both things will never meet... but last year there was a nice talk that did it.

It was in Collaborate Bristol (organised by the lovely folk at Nomensa) and performed by Jim Kalbach who's from Jersey City - same as my wife :) - and I had the opportunity to see it live.

His talk still resonates in my mind... He plays the double bass, so accompanied by a group of talented local artists, delighted the audience with some nice tunes that gave sense and musical joy to his message. He basically explained what design and Jazz had in common, which is a lot.

Now, as I said, I love Jazz, and during his talk, Jim mentioned most of the greatest legends, including Herbie Hancock who among other amazing songs he created jewels like this:

The Band

Jim's talk explains - through snippets of famous Jazz tunes - that it's much more than a music genre: It's a way to play that entails understanding and working with the whole band. That perfectly applies to agile teams, specially when we all come from different disciplines (instruments) but are playing the same song.

There are a few principles that apply to Jazz and team collaboration and they can be summarised into:


Follow the rules and once you have them inside you and can play them easily, that's when you can start diverging. As Dylan Thomas said, “In order to break the rules, first you must follow them.” It's the repetition, the base, the structure. Embrace it first, learn it, memorise it and then create your divergence upon it.


In Jazz, improvisation plays a big part, and when great players get together great music can happen. Of course Beethoven or Mozart worked alone but they were 2 among millions. The power of a team getting together fitting skills and comunicating is unleashing the Voltron. The key is having "Big ears" as they call it in Jazz: when someone is playing an instrument, you follow what they do, so that it informs how you can perform yours.


Embrace the unknown, discover, forget about what you know. Of course things usually follow patterns and conventions, but seldom the world is like that... Be prepared for what comes next.

As Ian Fenn says, have a plan A, B or C if necessary. Same like a magician does: have different outcomes since you never know if your trick will fail or what the future will present to you. In the end people will never know if that thing that succeeded was your plan A, B or C right? Be smart.

I wish I had recorded it, but you can get a glimpse of Jim's talk at TED.

What I take home is that you can learn and apply many concepts and practices from other disciplines. Working with a team in which each one has it's own skill set and mastery is something that happens every day. In restaurant kitchens, design agencies, startups, agile teams and of course Jazz bands.