Creative Collaboration and All That Jazz


The world of jazz can offer content creators some lessons about creative collaboration, including the need for humility, self-sacrifice, and willingness to put aside differences.

Wynton Marsalis
Wynton Marsalis

As creative content proliferates across more channels, devices, and social platforms, the need for a broader range of storytellers, systems thinkers, craftspeople, and code experts who can collaborate in real time is becoming increasingly important. Interestingly, the world of jazz offers marketers a model of creative collaboration that demonstrates how individual craftspeople and teams can work together to generate more emotional, real-time content that resonates with consumers.

What’s the challenge facing creative professionals today? Typically, there’s too much “passing the ball” in content development. Often, when working on marketing projects—developing an advertising campaign, designing a new web experience, or creating a mobile app, for instance—creative department and studio team members can get stuck in their respective silos, taking the ball from one discipline, adding their expertise, then handing it off to the next player in the creative production process. Faced with aggressive deadlines, competition, and the pressure to produce in an always-on world, writers, designers, developers, and other creative professionals often lose sight of cross-functional collaboration, which can make the work better. For insights into how to collaborate effectively, creative professionals can benefit from looking outside their own cocoons for inspiration—and specifically at the world of jazz.

That’s right, jazz—the music genre characterized by its distinctive rhythm, individual improvisers, and collective spirit of real-time creativity. While marketing and jazz may seem quite different, in reality they share many characteristics, including:

  • Perpetual evolution. As creative forms, marketing and jazz are both continually moving and changing over time.
  • Improvisation. Marketers improvise with individual words, visuals, and ideas, while jazz musicians improvise with notes, rhythms, solos, and instruments.
  • Real-time content creation. In today’s data-driven content world, more messaging is created and distributed in real time, on demand, just as jazz musicians spontaneously create new ideas, motifs, melodies, and riffs during live performances.
  • Competition. Creatives and content makers frequently compete to be the best, not only with rival businesses, but often against other agency or creative colleagues in the quest for awards and recognition. Likewise, jazz artists come from a strong tradition of “cutting contests” to see who can play faster, better, or with more improvisational creative prowess.
  • Unique voice. While a brand is often recognized for its product, service, or value proposition, having a big idea can differentiate it from its competitors. Jazz artists also strive to have a unique original sound that makes them instantly identifiable to listeners.

These shared traits present both opportunities and challenges for jazz musicians and creative professionals. The magic happens when talented craftspeople come together to create for a purpose higher than their individual skills—namely, to surprise and delight the audience. Marketing content creators can benefit from taking a closer look at how jazz musicians collaborate in real time to move from craft to great content.

Achieving the ‘Swing’

The creation of jazz music, with its unique “swing” rhythm, can be likened to the creation of a campaign. In the jazz rhythm section, the cymbal on the drum kit has the highest pitch, while the upright bass has the lowest. As noted jazz trumpeter and educator Wynton Marsalis recently said during an interview, “For something to swing, these opposites have to be reconciled … The swing is everything that goes on between the high and low frequency.” In producing marketing campaigns, creative professionals can strive to reconcile opposites—whether combining storytelling with systems thinking or enabling writing with coding.

Often, collaboration in today’s marketing world overemphasizes one end of the spectrum. For example, while traditional advertising typically places more emphasis on conceptual ideas than on execution, many digital experiences focus more on the systematic process of digital production than on conceptual ideas. Truly cross-functional communications organizations, creative departments, and studios strike the proper balance, creating an environment in which a variety of craftspeople and team members—from account planners and copywriters to art directors, designers, programmers, user-experience professionals, and others—can collaborate in real time.

How can content creators who still pass the ball from one skillset to the next achieve a higher level of collaboration? They can consider the following lessons from jazz:

Bring humility rather than hubris to the table. In jazz, as in marketing, players excel at their individual crafts in particular ways. One musician might have a more soulful sound, while another may be able to play faster or hit higher notes. A designer might have a particular knack for creating arresting images, while a creative director may consistently come up with brilliant ideas. The expression, “check your ego at the door,” applies to marketing as well as jazz. To make the collective ideas truly swing, a certain element of self-sacrifice is necessary. Letting others shine ultimately creates a performance that blends individual talents with the exponential power of the group, whether producing a song or a marketing campaign.

Lose the “who owns the big idea” mindset. Across many marketing organizations, creative departments, studios, and integrated agency teams, ownership and territoriality—real or imagined—often rules. A traditional agency campaign team might feel superior to the digital marketing team because it created the big idea. A user interface designer might see copy as just a design element on the screen rather than the expression of the campaign idea. This “us versus them” mentality is not uncommon, and in some organizations, competition is encouraged to spur innovation. In jazz however, great performances are created when band members recognize that the power of the group performing the tune generally surpasses the individual technique or prowess of any one musician.

Harness the power of the group. While marketing and jazz can thrive on individual performances, both typically require a larger group to succeed. Even the best jazz musicians recognize that their talent can grow exponentially when combined with and challenged by the musical expressions and ideas of other players. The same holds true for marketing: When the skills of diverse creative professionals are brought together effectively, the whole is usually greater than the sum of its individual parts.


As the marketing environment grows more complex with new technologies, media platforms, and business models, the need for collaboration among creative professionals will likely continue to increase. Like players in a jazz band, writers, artists, designers, coders, and other professionals can work together to create masterful work. When they leverage their talent with humility, openness to new ideas, and the exponential power of the group, marketing professionals may have the ability to create winning performances.

This article first appeared in

Seeking to build and grow your brand using the force of consumer insight, strategic foresight, creative disruption and technology prowess? Talk to us at +9714 3867728 or mail: or visit

About Author

Alan Schulman

Alan Schulman is national director of brand creative & content marketing at Deloitte Digital, Deloitte Consulting LLP, and a NYC-area jazz guitarist. He holds a master’s degree in jazz arranging and composition from Howard University.

Comments are closed.