In Lab - Archive


In LAB is a section that aims to discuss several topics of business management in a simple and understandable fashion, calling upon distinguished experts, in different subjects, to effectively explain a chosen topic. 

After exhausting the topic of individual attitudes and their affinity with different trades through a series of articles developed by Professor Vaccani  of the SDA Bocconi, a new cycle of eight articles will start with this issue, which will develop over the next few months. 

Franco Marzo, this section’s guest, is a former head of national and multinational companies, and today a strategy and organization consultant for family businesses.  Marzo deals with development projects, start-ups, coaching and executive education. The title, Music and Enterprise, may appear surprising at first sight and may prompt the classic "what has music got to do with my business"?

In reality, comparing the rules of business management with the rules at the base of a musical composition is an unusual, yet extremely effective way to understand them: Depending on how they are viewed and used, the rules of a piece of music can, in fact, produce a set of inaudible noises or a treat for the mind. In business too, depending on how the rules are understood and applied, a company could become a model or a disaster.

We liked the idea of proposing this topic in this fashion, and we sincerely hope you like it too. Enjoy the reading.           

Franco Marzo - Strategy and Organization Consultant


Throughout this series of articles, my objective is to try to make you view a company as a band/orchestra and your services/products as the "concert" you play for an audience. You may wonder why this metaphor can be useful. Well for at least two reasons:

  1. A musical performance stems from an organizational model of excellence capable of transforming "nothing" (sounds) into a great economic value, probably the "production process" of greater added value, $ 15 billion a year using the poorest raw material, "sounds". Understanding how this happens can improve your business too;
  1. Music proposes a "win-win" model, where either everyone wins or no one does. The satisfaction of the musicians is linked to the satisfaction of the audience and vice versa, the audience grows if the musicians are good and motivated. The win-win model takes place live, there is no trick and no deception, no one can play music in playback as it was back in the 80s. The Internet era makes everything openly exposed and immediate, those who perform well are recognized and rewarded through positive word of mouth, creating long lasting virtuous cycles. That’s one of the reasons why Bob Dylan still fills up stadiums.

Western music is among the best structured and can, therefore, be faithfully reproduced by anyone, both by ear and with scores. Perhaps this is why it is so successful all over the world.

Besides westerners, also Indians, Chinese, Japanese and others listen and play it, something that does not happen in equal measure with their music productions. Any kind of Western music you consider, whether jazz, rock, tango or even hip-hop, is structured in four parts:

  1. a rhythm, that gets your foot tapping
  2. a melody, that makes you whistle or sing in the shower
  3. harmony, an accompaniment that fills the performance with sounds and effects
  4. a tone quality: in jazz a double-bass or a brass instrument (saxophone or trumpet) seem indispensable, in rock bands you will always find an electric guitar, who has ever heard of tango without a bandoneon, while hip-hop artists extensively use synthesizers and a few  records to scratch.

These four musical dimensions are very important, each has a specific function that we will try to understand and translate into "company slang". In addition to these, we will cover four further musical dimensions: listening, composition, score and performance.

Italy has made a fundamental contribution to the development of modern music. From seven keys to harmony, from the piano to the score, from concert to symphony, from melody to opera, Italy played a leading role. If Beethoven used to write "Allegro con brio" in Italian on his music scores, it was because of this leadership. Without being so much aware of it anymore, Italians have music in their blood. Thanks to this we will try, alas! without music but with only the written word, to find out what it is and how useful it can be for your business.



What is it? A powerful voice

The timbre is the voice. Each of us has a unique timbre that identifies him/her. That is why many find imitators funny, because they violate this uniqueness. The timbre is also the voice of a musical instrument, that characteristic sound that makes us distinguish a violin from a saxophone, a piano from a guitar. But the timbre can also become a symbol, a small sound that typifies an entire genre: males from females, children from adults, birds from mammals. The brand, the stamp we put on our letters, is our company’s voice. A unique brand can distinguish our company from the competition, but can also account for a whole industry. The Scottex brand, for example, in addition to representing first and foremost the Scott family and subsequently an American company, ended up representing all paper for domestic use. Therefore, the timbre is not just another voice, but one that evokes something unique, a recognizable source or, an entire genre when it is very powerful. The timbre is a powerful voice, three times a voice.


Why do we need it? To make money!

Our timbre makes us recognizable in a moment. Just a brief sound can tell a long story. When we hear the voices of famous actors like Woody Allen or Robert De Niro, we immediately visualize their faces, we recall the characters they played and some of their films. When we hear the timbre of a violin, we think of Vivaldi, “The Four Seasons”, Venice, Italy. An electric guitar, on the other hand, evokes rock music and perhaps U2 or the Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix, Woodstock, U.S.A., freedom and so on. But not all electric guitars are the same, when they differ, they lead us to a different kind of rock music: hard rock, pop, psychedelic rock, glam rock, progressive, Britpop, grunge, new wave, heavy-metal. The different timbre or tone is important because it makes you recognizable even within the same family of sounds. It is not enough to be good "musicians"; you must be different, recognizable. Fans will have to come to your concert, buy your CDs, download your songs. Your brand affirms your identity, and makes you stand out from the crowd, or worse still, from obscurity. This has an enormous value. Just think of renowned “timbres”, such as Stradivari, Armani, Ferrari, Champagne, and you immediately understand that people are willing to acknowledge their great value, even on new products they do not know at all. The public recognizes and acknowledges you, and rewards you by purchasing your products or services, with a higher price, with loyalty, by word of mouth. A good “timbre” makes you earn more and longer!

How is it done? Say who you are!

 The tone of a man’s voice comes from the shape and length of the vocal cords and the oral cavities. In musical instruments, it depends on the materials they are made of (wood, brass, strings, skins, metals) and their particular shape. A Stradivari violin comes from Norwegian spruce accurately selected for its compactness in the forests of Panaveggio in Trentino and then carefully bent and inlaid. After that, a sycamore back and ribs, a birch core and an ebony fingerboard are added along with a bone bridge, sheep gut strings (nylon nowadays) and finally decorated in ivory. The bow is made of tropical wood (carbon in modern violins) and male horsehair (female horsehair is corroded by urine and not suitable). The value of a Stradivari does not depend only on its sound, but also on its unmistakable and inimitable identity. Pull out your ID card! Have you done it? You will find a lot of information about who you are, as well as your past, present and future. It is all true: date and place of birth, full name, residence, marital status, profession, hair color, photography and references (the signature of the mayor). The future is not as clear as the past and the present and yet it is also there. If you are just born, you will have a long life ahead of you but you will appear fragile; if you have an important surname, this will create more expectations than you are aware of, and every news about you is projected into the future and induces thoughts, attitudes, expectations and behaviors. To build a  valuable “timbre” you must tell the truth about who you are. If you consider every single element of your company’s “ID card”, go in depth, and discover who or what you really are. If, for example, the company was founded in 1970, it has been around for 45 years already (congratulations!) and back then, it was not easy to survive. Try to find out what happened that year in relation to your business: products, brands, patents, competition, customers, manufacturing processes. Tell your audience/potential clients how you started. Retrace dates, places, people, products, faces, successes, achievements, pertaining to your identity. Tell your story, and try to become a good story to tell! Repeat the exercise for each element of your company’s “ID card”. Let as many people as possible know the results: customers, suppliers, employees, shareholders, banks, "neighbors" (associations, parish, social workers), institutions. Then celebrate the most significant deadlines (the beginning of the year, anniversaries), wear your colors, honor your most important figures (sales, profits, customers), put the most evocative photos on the wall, collect your products, be proud of your identity. The public will then know who you are, know your history, appreciate your present and help you conquer your future. As the best music artists and bands attract an audience of loyal fans, so can you!

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