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Drumming up the business — rhythm and resonance can help build more resilient organisations


Barry van Zyl is an internationally renowned drummer, creative strategist and educator, and author of a new white paper: From Rigidity to Resonance, published by Henley Business School Africa. He has drummed for, among others, Annie Lennox, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Peter Gabriel, Soweto Gospel Choir, Ernest Ranglin, Oliver Mtukudzi and Hothouse Flowers. He was the resident drummer for the Johnny Clegg band.

Poorly tuned instruments make a racket. But the consequences may only be a discordant sound. In business, operating without rhythm and resonance could be existential. The key to sustainable success in our modern, complex world requires us to find our groove.

Is business banging a broken drum? With all the noise around the world today, you may be tempted to think so. Whether it be in political, social or economic contexts, making your voice heard seems to rely on who’s loudest. But there is a better way. Cutting through the noise doesn’t have to rely on volume; rather, well-tuned teams and organisations operating with interpersonal, cultural and environmental resonance may be best placed to stand out and succeed sustainably.

In music, we’d call it finding the groove. It’s that moment that everything lines up, and all the players in a band find harmony in their synchronicity. Groove is a universal state of flow when all things align. For example, when the drummer and bass player are in sync and in resonance with the lead guitarist, the singer, and an audience of 10,000 fans. This could be a powerful force in today’s distracting world.

Most people intuitively understand what it means to be in the groove or in a state of flow. In physics, the definition of resonance/flow is “elements working in alignment (harmony) with one another”. In neuroscience, resonance talks to the patterns of “synchronisation, harmonisation, vibrations” that form part of the living consciousness.

Applying this understanding to building a team or business gives us a fresh way to approach an age-old challenge: how to align an organisation’s strategic resonance with that of the teams and individuals within its ranks.

Making music, not a racket

As in a musical ensemble, being in the groove does not involve just one person in a vacuum, we need to be in community with others and we are all situated in a broader context. Thus, to build resonance in teams and organisations, it’s necessary to seek it at various levels: the individual, in community and in the wider environment. To make music, we need to find resonance within each of these domains, and across all three.

At the individual level, we need to be in harmony with ourselves. This could be as simple as working at the time of day that suits you best, and when you are most creative. Some of us are owls, and work best at night; others are larks, and sing sweetest in the morning, at the crack of dawn, whereas you may be a “third bird” — falling somewhere in the middle.

Working at odds with your own rhythm will produce an inharmonious sound — dissonance, rather than consonance — and lead to literal headaches as well as productivity ones.

Once the core ingredients for personal resonance are in place, attention can turn to our immediate surroundings, be it family, friends, teams, groups, or the organisations for which we work. To align our personal resonance with communal resonance, we need to develop perspectives that encourage effective engagements, such as deep listening, communication, empathy, open-mindedness, and understanding other people’s points of view without the pressure of agreeing.

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The outer circle of the model — environmental resonance — is mostly out of our control. It concerns our connection to the world. This calls us to be fully aware of global cycles, trends, geopolitical developments and mindset shifts. Whether we like it or not, whether we feel able to exercise some influence on our universe or not, we are connected to the rest of the world. If we approach this fact with alertness, curiosity, and a willingness to learn, we can choose to respond to, rather than react to, what is happening around us.

An antidote to burn-out

Even before the global Covid-19 pandemic, it was becoming uncomfortably clear that many of us are at odds with the fast-paced changes shaping our world. And digital transformation, a global shift towards nationalism, and major conflict continue to, if anything, make the world ever noisier.

The World Health Organization points to a 25% increase in the global prevalence of anxiety, depression and burn-out. Stressors like loneliness, bereavement, financial worries, and exhaustion draw attention to the human cost of a changing world and how out of synch we are with these widespread changes.

As a result, increased attention is now being paid to the innate human abilities needed to navigate this changing world. These include creativity, empathy, natural improvisation, and adaptability — all of which we can access if we pay greater attention to the rhythms within us and around us.

How we exist and how we interact with others within our environment is a choice that has profound implications for our productivity, wellness, and state of mind. The one extreme — rigidity — builds fear, resistance to change and blinkered thinking, leading to overwhelm and possibly burn out, while the other — resonance — promotes curiosity, openness to change, flexibility, and innovation.

In the same way, at a team or organisational level, if all of its elements are aligned, and working in harmony, a business can operate efficiently and is more able to adapt and respond to change. If something or someone is out of sync, however, it can be a distraction that causes an organisation and its people to move into a state of confusion, conflict, time-wasting, and missed objectives.

Ultimately, the more resonant the individual, team and organisation, the more resilient and responsive the whole is likely to be. While this insight can’t make all our challenges disappear, a strategic shift towards choosing resonance over rigidity may put us on a better footing to engage proactively with the bewildering changes coming at us every day. DM


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