10 Lessons on collaboration as taught by our musical brain

mcferrinMusic has been with humans since we first became humans, it has shaped the world through six kinds of songs: friendship, joy, comfort, knowledge, religion, and love.   So demonstrates Daniel J. Levitin in his book The World in Six Songs – How the musical brain created human nature.  I read this book with interest.  I’ve often thought good music synonymous with good collaboration.  This book gave me some more reasons to think so.

Levitin runs the Laboratory for Music Perception, Cognition, and Expertise at McGill University in Montreal.  Previously, he was a record producer and professional musician (playing with the likes of Mel torme, Blue Oyster Cult, and David Byrne).  His book (which I recommend to anyone who loves music) outlines his innovative ideas on the evolutionary impact of music on our brain and civilization.  His work is kaleidoscopic, drawing on sources from around the world, past and present.

Here’s 10 things I learnt from Levitin’s book, and which I believe apply to creating a collaborative workplace:

  1. We are wired to co-adapt. Why can two individuals finger tapping on a desk can be more synchronized that one individual tapping to a metronome?  We humans seems wired for accommodating each other; a situation of co-adaptation i.e., of collaboration.
  2. Communicators have the advantage. It seems communications through music has offered, throughout the ages, distinct advantage in one’s ability to forge social bonds, diffuse tense social situations, and convey one’s emotional states to those around them.  Same applies to working collaboratively with others.
  3. Do what you enjoy. Listening to and/or playing joyful music affects our health in fundamental ways.  It alters brain chemistry associated with well-being, stress reduction, and immune system fortitude.  Translated for your collaborative stay positive; make it easy for people to feel passionate about their work.
  4. Leverage constructive memory.  How can musicians remember hundreds (or thousands) of songs in their entirety well maybe they don’t! We have capacity for constructive memory.  We don’t actually remember all the details we think we do, we fill in many of them subconsciously by making plausible inferences.  Hence, thankfully, we can relax a bit we don’t need to know it all!
  5. Learn the rules of the game. Building on the previous item; the musical brain doesn’t have to remember every note or every chord sequence; rather, it learns the rules by which notes and chord sequences are (typically, in a given culture) created.  Understanding the rules (and see my post on rules-of-thumb) makes it easier to move forward in times of uncertainty.
  6. De-evolution a model for the future? And further building on the above Levitin highlights the work of anthropologist Terrence Deacon, who talks about de-evolution in that the brain itself carries fewer and fewer pre-programmed instructions (compared to other primates and other mammals), and culture and experience take on a greater role in shaping education and behaviour.  This appears to be related to humans fantastic adaptability and ability to thrive in disparate environments, far more so than apes and monkeys.  Just the language in this quote has me thinking of our current world of ICT, social media, information/media abundance
  7. Anticipate emergent behavior. Emergent behavior occurs when groups can do things that individuals can’t.  Think of ants relocating an ant hill.  The individual ant has little or no clue of the picture (i.e., we’re moving to a new home).  What will emerge from your collaboration?
  8. Non-linear dynamic systems are at play.  In complex, dynamic systems, consequences of actions may not add up (think rain forest, stock market, faddish propagation of a hit song!).  Small, seemingly chaotic, and unrelated behaviors may be the tipping point for a larger effect.
  9. Trust the group.  Something special happens when a groups starts to sing together.  Maybe we don’t remember the whole song someone will remember the part we don’t know.  The group will pull us through.  Count on it!
  10. Create like an artist. Forming a mental image, holding it in mind, understanding how to manipulate physical world objects so they conform with the image, all the while accommodating uncertainty.  That’s what an artist does.  Maybe you too!?

Want to know more.  Check out this Google video on YouTube of Levitin talking, at length, about his book and ideas.

What else does music teach that you think applies to good collaboration?

If you enjoyed this post, please consider leaving a comment or subscribing to the feed to have future articles delivered to your feed reader.

Speak Your Mind