Interdependence: You wouldn’t be without it

Independence is an illusion.

There, I said it. Now I’ll convince you that understanding this basic truth can set the individuals in your organization free.

If you’ve ever been to a live jazz performance then you know how mesmerizing it is to watch three or more musicians communicate wordlessly, and often at a dizzying pace. The piano’s harmonic foundation achieves its fullness within the context of a rhythmic structure and the lines played by instruments focused on the melody. Similar dynamics are layered through the many interrelationships on the bandstand, and the music would die without them.

Yes, it would die.

Because, the truth of it is, interdependence is a critical aspect of great jazz, as it is a critical aspect of great business and any great organization.

First, it’s helpful if we understand there is no conflict between individuality and interdependence. Individuality and subjectivity are essential aspects of creative expression. Where we tip into a false perception –which leads us into a paradox- is when we celebrate individual-ism at the expense of accurate perceptions of everyday reality: that we live in a world suffused with relationships of interdependence.

Please avoid associating interdependence with unhealthy modes of dependency. Any vital aspect of life can become a detriment. Dependency is the unhealthy extreme that sits opposite isolation on the spectrum of interrelating. In the healthy middle-ground we can find interdependence and individuality, the complementary states of real life in balance.

The paradox of individualism is that it is the worst possible ethos for a culture intent on supporting individual expression. Individualism moves us into an unhealthy extreme, as “isms” often do.

When we are focused exclusively on high-visibility individual effort we lose sight of the vast network of support we require to achieve as individuals. Along with that hyper-focus, we unintentionally discourage those whose contributions may not be so highly visible and there by lose their enthusiastic participation. Individualism becomes paradoxical in the vast number of individuals who are left underserved by its modern practice.

In fact, vastly more individual efforts are fully realized when we actively acknowledge that every achievement of creative expression relies upon many interdependencies. Some are obvious aspects of collaboration, while others are less conspicuous -the support and ancillary positions we think of as “secondary” or “subordinate”. It is precisely these roles that allow the high-visibility achievements to happen, and it is imperative that you seek out and acknowledge them.

By celebrating interdependence we convert a sclerotic and steadily pervading apathy into a methodology of enhanced creativity that promotes excitement in the performer(s), and the audience, the employees and the customers. Excited employees produce better work. Excited customers buy more goods and services produced by excited employees. Yes, you are in an interdependent relationship with your customers, too.

Recognizing the reality of interdependence may also be fatal to the oft repeated, yet ever false narrative of the “self-made” man. There is no such thing. We are dependent upon the contributions of thousands of others, first to be born, and then to flourish into adulthood. We contribute, similarly, in the accomplishments of thousands of others. We call these “relationships of reciprocal influence”, and that influence is enabled by the reality of interdependence.

The executive wing of the Fortune 200 Company-X may be where the corporate rock stars sit, but they couldn’t exist without engineering, sales, customer support, administrative, and many other less visible roles being executed effectively.

Interdependence properly understood enhances any individual accomplishment and it is more accurate in describing how the accomplishment came to be. It also has the effect of encouraging more members of any group to achieve their own creative potential, hence the exponentially better results. When leveraging the creative power of each member of any group, regardless of role, we ensure influence and impact in the greater community, be it a marketplace, a workplace, or nightclub.

To get a clearer picture of how interdependence works in your organization, simply create maps of your work-streams. Start with the most obvious components, the most immediately identifiable tasks, and use that exercise to move into the lesser celebrated aspects to fully account for the things you are likely taking for granted, e.g. physical support services, administrative contributions, to name but a few. Move beyond the celebration of individual achievement as if it happened in a vacuum or a single conference room. You will see how each aspect enables the others, supports them and deserves to be acknowledged.

How far you take this process is up to you. Expand your acknowledgement and appreciation to the integrated network of people who truly deserve it. Celebrate how much we depend on others to fully realize our own individuality. Make it a part of your organization’s culture and the cumulative benefits will transform your organization.

I am privileged to sit with Bill Bruford for our 207 Interview in 2011

Right before our first seminar presentation of Creativity & All That Jazz back in November, 2011, I joined Bill Bruford, renown drummer and our guest speaker that evening, for an interview on the Maine television program 207.  Check it out!

Bill Bruford & John Rogers


I’ve been listening to Bill’s music since I was in my teens (Yes, King Crimson, Genesis), and as a young musician found him to be one of the most innovative players in rock.  His later work in Jazz (Earthworks, BLUE, et al.) also captured my attention.  It was quite surreal  to meet him and then five minutes later find myself being interviewed with him!  We then enjoyed a lovely sup with my colleague Frank Laurino and his wife Denise, during which the conversation was easy and interesting. We then moved on to the successful first run of our seminar.  During the seminar, Bill was to speak mid-way through, but instead he asked that we three sit and engage the audience in a conversation, to ask him questions and open it up in all directions. It was just the right thing. Would that we could have spent more time in that conversation, and I’ve ever since thought it ended too soon. Thanks go to Frank for setting the whole thing up, and quite brilliantly, with Bill. What a great night!

Involvement is Practice

We like to think that practice is something we sit to do at a certain time, then we stop practicing when that time has elapsed. I put it forth for your consideration, that practice is not always confined to planned rehearsal time, or self-selected times when we who may be musicians sit and play until one of our parts or another is blistered and/or bleeding.

In fact, I put it forth that we are always practicing. Whatever we are involved with, we are practicing. So it follows that through this unscheduled practicing we become skilled, just as it is so with scheduled practice. The distinction becomes clearer when we cast each of the practice methods into its applicable consciousness state. One method is conscious, the other is unconscious, meaning we do not think about it consciously even as we do it. The things we practice unconsciously we master, just as regular practice of a musical instrument will lead to mastery. Here’s the rub, if we are involved with complaining, we will master complaining. If we are involved with being bored in our work, we will master being bored. These seem to defy the standard conception of practice, but think about it for a minute, and it will become clear. This mastery, when unconsciously practiced, is displayed without intention, so it is not something we can shape and format to what our conscious mind desires. It has a power all its own, and that power is culture-creating in an organization, just as it is habit-creating in an individual.

Organizations wondering where their zest for life went would do well to account for what is being practiced in the daily activities of the people who work in that organization. If we practice conducting boring, unplanned, and unproductive meetings, then our organization will become greatly skilled in conducting boring, unplanned, and unproductive meetings. If we celebrate paint-by-numbers consistency in our culture rather than creative courageousness, then this practice will shape the long-term output of our employees and ultimately our organization. Consistency and creative risk-taking must be balanced, and this too requires practice.

It’s worth repeating: What we are involved with, we are practicing. Once aware that this is in fact true, we can move more of the daily organizational activities into conscious practice. Every meeting is practice for future meetings. Every interaction, and the quality of that interaction, is an exercising of a skill we are developing. It’s a challenge to remain conscious of our practices, like anything else, it requires practice.

We recommend finding ways to account for what is being practiced in your organization, and building-in methods to remind those who work in your organization to be aware of not just what they are involved with, but how they are involved with it. What is being practiced in the quality of involvement? By this I mean, with what attitude are work duties/activities approached, and how does that approach impact the quality of the work?

We can begin the accounting with this simple question: What are we mastering? Once we include the unconscious practices, this question takes-on a new meaning, and one that we can use to initiate changes in the daily practices of those working in our organization. This can be a first-step in making daily practices more intentional, so the output is more predictable and desired, and more congruent with consciously identified sets of skills/abilities we want to master for the success of the organization and each person working in it.