What are the similarities between jazz and marketing? News Editor, Brian Carruthers, went to hear a man who does both: Neuro-Insight’s John Zweig.

Having a shared goal helps release creative energy, according to John Zweig, global CEO of Neuro-Insight. That goal might be as simple as not embarrassing ourselves, he added as he picked up a guitar he’d never played before to duet with Martin, a bass player he’d never met before.

Previously with WPP (“I used to work with a different Martin, who wasn’t as easy to work with as you”), Zweig was at a London Neuro-Insight event demonstrating his jazz chops and musing on sound and co-creativity.

“You have to know your instrument,” he said. “And the thing about jazz that’s similar to marketing is that there’s a structure, a framework, there are chord changes.” And within the framework of any song there’s room to create.

Anyone who’s ever been to a jazz gig will know how every individual in the band gets their moment in the limelight, a few bars to showcase their abilities before the rest of the ensemble comes back in, and that requires a particular aptitude.

“The capacity to be able to perform when you love something depends on one thing more than anything else and that’s listening,” said Zweig. “If you listen not only might you hear the sound of the music but you [might] hear your own inner voice.”

If that seems a bit too mystical, marketers can always look to other musical genres.  Ciaran Carson’s Last Night’s Fun, for example, explores how Irish traditional music has sometimes evolved via half-remembered song snippets and misheard names of tunes during sessions in the pub to create something new.

Any would-be musician starts by copying the work of others, learning to play standards and borrowing from their peers. Marketers often do pretty much the same, as Faris Yakob (Genius Steals) and Mark Earls (Copy, Copy, Copy) would no doubt agree.

But Zweig comes back to listening and everything that follows. The way we live nowadays makes listening more difficult, he suggested. “Music is ubiquitous yet we don’t hear it. To the degree that we can really listen – which is a function of openness – then we can trust. And trust is the essential ingredient to be able to communicate.”

For a jazz musician, one word – a song or a key – can be sufficient to form a mutual goal. “Music is a function of our ability to listen, to trust, to communicate, to form a shared goal,” Zweig observed. “And then you can work together. You do not go directly to working together.”

In a work context, when there’s a shared goal, “people trust the leadership, they give everything on behalf of the mission and more creative energy is released. You can relax controls and there’s an upward cycle.

“But when there’s not a shared goal, people work with their exit in mind, with the idea they’ll trade their time and expertise for the money. Less creative energy is released, more controls clamp down and there’s a downward cycle.”

In keeping with his new position at Neuro-Insight, Zweig also wondered about the current need for objective thinking and causality. “Embedded in our nervous system is a mystery that does not conform to causality and objective thinking in our data and analytics. Yet it does respond to human aspiration – it’s about accessing the unconscious.”

And music can be a direct channel to that part of the brain, as Lindsay Clay of Thinkbox had earlier shown with  a series of classic TV ads that used music to build fame, emotion and, crucially, likeability.

Read Neuro-Insight's full research report Tuning in to sound: The under-used creative resource.