Collaborative transformation with music thinking

collaborative transformation with music thinking

The Dutch cooperative Faebric is specialised in collaborative transformation and the music thinking approach.

When the dutch railway’s asked them to design and lead the integration of the commercial organisation with the IT department they choose to do this with the music thinking approach and instruments in mind. The whole collaborative transformation incorporated 500 employees and involved e.g. the workers’ council and six collaborators from Faebric with capabilities like organisational design, leadership coaching, HR tech, service design thinking, design management, agile kanban, lego serious play, commercial and data strategy. 

How to start with music thinking?

At the beginning of the project, a work team was established, and duo’s were built to establish a team feel down to the smallest entity. Half of the group members were elected by the organisation and the other half appointed by the leadership. Collaborators from outside the organisation were added along the way to scale up with additional expertise. The decision to start in duos was a crucial one and led to focus on flexibility, sharability and accountability. The group members were also encouraged to work in different constellations from duo to bigger ensembles in stand-ups, demos, and retrospectives.

How to use the Jam Cards

In one of the first meetings, the Jam Cards were used in a serendipity lab workshop to explore and ‘sense the field of change’ and to finally come to design challenges that would connect ‘the unanswered question’ of the new organisation. This was also done in the style of a design challenge.

Serendipity Lab with the jam cards for collaborative transformation
Serendipity Lab to find the unanswered questions
 the chosen jam cards for collaborative transformation and formulating a design challenge
Selection of the jam cards that play a role in the next steps

The Jam Cards were used in many ways. For example, in onboarding and offboarding of new team members, with the question of What card summarises the experience while working on the project?

offboarding from the project with the jam cards
off-boarding ritual of a team member


Or when the prototyping teams of new organisational entities were established every member – with the use of one of the jam cards – could make a wish for the new organisation.
These rituals helped to make the wishes more explicit, bring complicated things down to a single card and create a shared meaningful moment with the group.

Dynamics in the collaborative transformation

The phases of the music thinking framework are Listen, Tune, Play and Perform. There are many ways how these phases interact and overlap each other. Here the analogy of music comes into play. The different typicalities of a musical style, e.g. the classical music style with its step-by-step approach is very different from the jazz style where all phases overlap. Or in the Rock genre, the PLAY phase (in green) represents among other things the prototyping activities.

Dynamics of the collaborative transformation project at dutch railways
Visualisation of the dynamics regarding the sprints and overall project


From a management consulting perspective, the dynamics of the music thinking framework show the visualisation of the two weekly organisation sprints. They reveal the different dynamics of the design phase.

This helped to establish that not every sprint is equal, that every two-week-sprint can have a particular dynamic and that the dynamic of its own is whether good or bad, but just different.

Other Music Thinking Instruments

The six cues were the starting point to connect instruments with interactions. The SCORE cue and the REMIX cue were the basis to iterate from the organisational design via prototyping to first operation.

Deep Listening exercises in the style of Pauline Oliveros (the difference between listening and hearing) were part of the first leadership sessions.

Later the four perspectives of listening by Otto Scharmer (Theory U) were trained and exercised with an online self-assessment tool, to keep track of the changes in the listening style.

Otto Scharmer explaining the 4 levels of listening

Every leadership session started with – then in corona time and everybody locked at home – a meditation ritual, e.g. a sonic meditation including singing bowl sounds.

In addition to the mentioned instruments above the music thinking framework poster was always at hand to explain the connections and get inspiration from different tools.

A variety of playlists complemented the music thinking approach. They were used as a discussion starter and to capture the collective knowledge of how the team is listening.

About Faebric cooperative

We are Fæbric; we facilitate change by collaboration and design. ​ We help leaders, teams and organisations to interpret and to act upon the signs of the time. We do this through collaborative transformation. We offer our expertise in leadership, strategy, design and technology, to deliver value by approaching challenges and solutions in new ways. With a strong understanding of collaboration, learning and engagement, we facilitate you to perform your potential.

Read more about the NS (Nationale Spoorwegen) case on the Faebric website.

Limitation as the starting point for creativity

To see limitations as the starting point for creativity is a great skill to develop.

Every day we face limitations. And limitations are everywhere. We find mental or physical boundaries of circumstances we might have chosen or not. We depend on beliefs, on schedules, on language, on nature, on the weather, on others, on our helpers, colleagues or family.

But we also might experience limitations where others see possibilities. If we want it or not, boundaries help us to focus. To focus on the limited options that are left. So we take them as a starting point to make the best out of it to diverge from our boundaries, develop new ideas and live the mantra ‘less is more’.

The Limitations Card

The essence of the limitations card is how can we de-focus from our experienced horizons and be curious about what else there is. This means take limitations as a start for new choices and divergent thinking to develop new innovations.

The picture

The picture is a snapshot with my iPhone. One morning I came down to the living room and saw my Ukulele with a broken string. Besides the fact that I had to fix this, I was charmed by the nice picture.
Because the way the a-string was standing in the air with this lovely curve gave me a sense of not just fixing this problem but trying to use it as it is.
I played half an hour with only three strings and it struck me how easy and convenient it was. My playing was totally different than normal. More simple, like an exercise in focusing.

The quote

To Achieve Great Things, Two Things Are Needed;
A Plan, And Not Quite Enough Time.

I love this quote by Amercain composer and conductor Leonard Bernstein. This is not just about improvising but about focus. To start with a plan that gives you the focus on vision and guidance is essential. The limitation in time to speed up decision making and on the spot creation of choices is the starting point for creativity.

The sonic trigger

The limitations card does not have a musical sample. The Spotify link leads to the spoken words of Leonard Bernstein, a disclaimer before the performance of Brahms c-minor concerto.
This is a great example of leadership and followership together. In leading, in this case, the New York Philharmonic and in following, in this case, the ideas of Glenn Gould. So the ‘limitation’ of working together and taking a step back in leading and giving the partner the space to introduce his ideas and bringing this all together is great leader-followership.

Please take your time to listen to the introduction and also to the concerto, it is worth it.

The cues

On this card SCORE, AGILITY and PERSONALITY are interconnected. The SCORE is the plan, in this case, the original composition of Brahms. It is connected with the PERSONALITY of Bernstein and Gould, so interesting it is not one PERSONALITY but in this case two. In AGILITY you have to make decisions, sometimes on the spot. This means before you would REMIX, this would be the performance, AGILITY is making sense of PERSONALITY and SCORE.

Some inspirational links:

5 Hours of Glenn Gould Outtakes. Why? Listen and Find Out.
Leonard Bernstein Artful Learning

Music Thinking Jam Cards

 An inspirational card set for change makers, pattern recognisers, innovators, transformers and natural collaborators. The Jam Cards consist of 38 inspiration cards and six cue cards. All inspiration cards have a keyword, a visual and a sonic trigger, a trigger question, an inspirational quote, and six cues that connect with the Music Thinking Framework. You can use the cards from a strategic point of view, knowing what you want or need and a serendipity approach open to everything that will happen. ‘Music Thinking’ lets people work and play together in a new way with inspirations from the rich world of music.

Order the Music Thinking Jam Cards

You can order the jam cards via your local bookstore (worldwide) and have a nice chat with the people there and try the cards right away, or just buy them directly at BIS Publishers.

Yes, you can also find them at Amazon.com, Amazon.de, and Bol.com