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.

Knowledge speaks, wisdom listens.

Knowledge speaks, wisdom listens is a quote by Jimi Hendrix.
Maybe there are so many things said about listening that we might not want to hear any more about it. But is it really listening we mean or just hearing? What’s the difference?

Let’s do an experiment: close your eyes now for 20 seconds and focus on everything that you can hear in this very moment. Listen to the loud sounds – maybe there are people in the room or sounds outside – but also to the very soft sounds, tones that you might not have noticed before. Concentrate on all possible sonic expressions and listen deeply to the sounds that are there.
Done? Now compare these experiences with what you heard the last time you have entered a room with people. You might have been in a conversation or heard some random voices or sounds.

This is actually the difference between hearing and listening. Our ears are always open; every moment we get new information via our ears into our brain. Our ears function as a sense organ. Listening needs focus and attention.

In the Music Thinking Framework the Listen phase is the first of the four phases and is consequently also active during the others. This means that we should switch from just hearing what is there to listen to what needs attention. As a result, Listen is not just about the data but about the meaning of it.

The Listen Card

The essence of the Listen card is to establish active listening. Listening can be a leadership practice to move from knowledge to wisdom. Or in other words to find the signal in the noise.

The picture

This iPhone snapshot was taken in the French Pavillion on the Venice Art Biennale 2017. The Pavillion is an architectural installation or living sculpture with different space that are intended as a recording studio. The idea of Studio Venezia by the artist Xavier Veilhan was to share moments of fragility, love, relationships and attention with musicians and art lovers. The inside – inspired by the Merzbau of Kurt Schwitters – was all wood in a monochrome colour, where different musical instruments were built in the environment to bring emotion into visual art. Furthermore, during the exhibition, there were concerts from baroque, classical music, experimental jazz, pop to electronic music to share a sense of curiosity in sound and musical texture.

The quote

Knowledge speaks, wisdom listens.

To me, this quote tells two things: on the one hand to share knowledge we need to speak and on the other to get knowledge and transform it into wisdom and also in actions it requires listening.
Jimi Hendrix was one of the greatest and influential electrical guitarists of all times.

The sonic trigger

5-minute version at the end of the LP Electric Ladyland

Voodoo Child (slight return) is one of Hendrix’s best-known songs; it was a feature of his concert performances throughout his career, and several live renditions were recorded and released on later albums. I really love the beginning, the sonic quality and rhythm played with a wah-wah pedal and the great panning later in the song (listen with headphones). Thats why the song is not only an improvisation with guitar, voice, bass and drums but also great studio work that was evolving at the end of the 60s.

Here is another version together with Stevie Winwood:

15-minute version, the bluesy version with a lot of improvisation

The cues

On this card, we have the two cues that are playing the main role in the listening step at the beginning of a process: JAMMIN” and EMPATHY. First of all JAMMIN’ has two functions: to open up and to sense (what might come). While the EMPATHY cue stands for listening – deep and active listening – and also for understanding.

Some inspirational links

Video of the French Pavillion at Biennale di Venezia 2017

Deep Listening Institute Pauline Oliveros

Like what you have read above?

The ‘Listen Card’ is only one of the 44 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. 

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Boxed set 
44 cards
18.5 x 18.5 cm
ISBN 978 90 6369 514 9
29,00 Euro

Buy the Jam Cards at Amazon.comAmazon.de, BIS Publishers, Bol.com and all the other online stores.