According to McGill professor and musician Saku Mantere, what can jazz teach business leaders?


Stephanie Ritchie contributed to this story.

Scholars are considered to have their heads buried in books. Saku Mantere, a well-established professor at McGill University, has just released his first album, At first glance. The album was well-received, and Canada’s Full Note magazine said, “Mantere’s first recordings are amazing.” […] Mantere’s music is great.”

Originally from Finland, Mantere received his first guitar at the age of 11 and grew it into a semi-serious hobby, playing occasional gigs before abandoning his passion for music to pursue a career in music.

After receiving a master’s degree in philosophy from the University of Helsinki, he received a doctorate in occupational psychology and leadership from Aalto University, then known as Helsinki University of Technology.

He later moved to Montreal and now teaches strategy and organization at McGill Desautels Faculty of Management, and is the editor-in-chief of Delve, the university’s award-winning thought leadership platform.

Rekindling his love for music, he recently started taking voice lessons. When he’s not teaching classes or conducting research, Mantere now doubles as a composer, singer, and guitarist, working at the intersection of jazz and concert music.

I recently sat down with him to understand how being a musician can benefit business leaders. As it turns out, there is a beautiful relationship between jazz and business that today’s leaders can apply.

Manage all

Asked how he balances a burgeoning academic career with being a budding artist, the award-winning professor cautions against falling into the “busy trap.”

“We convince ourselves that we are actually busy and that if we are busy, we will be productive,” says Mantere. “I don’t think that’s the case. We succeed when we have agency over what we do—and what we want to do in the first place!”

Mantere was drawn to becoming a body scholar so that he could contribute to a more compassionate society. According to him, it is one of the fields of study that can provide meaningful and researched answers to world issues.

But he believes that works of art can play a significant role in changing the world for the better by providing a way for people to connect with each other and realize their common humanity.

Between the stage and the room

Mantere’s research centers on organizational strategy, communication and change, with many parallels between business studies and the arts.

“Being on stage is not different from the way you teach,” he says. “When you engage in conversation with students, you are responding and improvising. Rather than creating art, you are co-creating knowledge.”

Spontaneous interactions in the classroom or in the workplace are a form of knowledge production that should not be undermined by practical managers.

“Executives tend to ask for the opinions of employees, but many lack the skills and confidence to enter into the conversation,” Mantere observed. Responding to an unexpected strategy question from an employee requires quick thinking on your feet. And who does that better than jazz musicians?

“Jazz teaches us to communicate in the present,” says Mantere. Because you create in the space you create among people, their creativity is always shared to some extent.

The improvisational character of jazz then applies to business as being able to “take responsibility and meet the challenge together” and continues: “Each professional must trust each other and perform on the spot.”

Creativity needs boundaries

We often hear that you have to learn the rules to break them. By the same logic, creativity cannot be done in complete freedom.

“To work in a certain space, you need a certain limit, some restrictions, limitations,” he says. Charles Mingus, one of the most important jazz musicians, said that nothing can be improvised. You have to improve something,” reflects Mantere.

For this reason we appreciate the critical bridge between new talent to disrupt the old ways and respect the art of those who came before.

“Young jazz musicians look to their elders as pioneers, and established musicians look for younger players to nurture in their groups. Those in power in business must be open and interested in the next generation, this is how it will flourish, but the next generation must respect those who have more experience as teachers.

My upcoming book Generation Why: How Boomers Lead and How Millennials and Gen Z In particular, it focuses on examining how the worldviews of different generations shape best practices in the business world. Stay tuned for more.

You can listen to Mantere’s debut album. At first glance On all major streaming platforms, such as Spotify.



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