I accelerate organizations by helping them to practice creativity at scale
I’m a jazz bassist and the Artistic Director of the Ottawa Jazz Orchestra
I teach people about jazz history and how to apply jazz to business
I wrote the business book The Jazz Process: Collaboration, Innovation, and Agility
I photograph people, places, and wildlife
Thank you for visiting my web site. You’ll find information here about what I do in the worlds of business and jazz and how I combine the two. You’ll also find a lot of quotes from business colleagues, artistic collaborators, critics, audience members, and students. That’s because above anything else, I measure my success by the impact I have on others.
Drawing from decades of experience in business as well as in artistic domains such as music and photography, Adrian Cho practices and teaches individual and collaborative creativity to people and teams through his company Creativity at Scale.
In over thirty years in the software development field he has worked in a variety of engineering and business roles working for both small and large organizations including IBM, Fujitsu, Bankers Trust, and Shopify. Over two decades of this work has involved building internal tools and systems, as well as award-winning products, to support high-performance teamwork at scale.
At Shopify, as the Director of Getting Shit Done, he led a business unit that helped the company accelerate and become more effective at scale by growing culture, hacking process, coaching people and teams, and building automation to reduce friction. His role at Shopify inspired this article. Previously at IBM, Adrian worked on various initiatives to improve developer productivity and operational excellence in IBM’s Rational, Tivoli and Cloud business units. He was a key contributor to IBM’s Eclipse open source community and projects and IBM’s open commercial development Jazz products. Adrian also has many years of experience in consulting, working on financial trading systems, banking systems, and software development tools for companies such as Fujitsu and Bankers Trust.
In over forty years of performing music Adrian has played a number of different instruments and now performs primarily as a jazz bassist. Since 2006 he has been the Artistic Director of the Ottawa Jazz Orchestra, a unique, critically acclaimed symphonic jazz ensemble that brings together an impressive array of professional jazz and symphony musicians. His busy schedule includes a full season of concerts leading the Ottawa Jazz Orchestra at Canada’s National Arts Centre, and teaching at Carleton University’s Learning in Retirement program where his class in jazz history has earned high praise. Alex Hutchinson of the Ottawa Citizen labelled Adrian “a cool guide to hot jazz” while Doug Fischer, also of the Ottawa Citizen, referred to him as “a musical missionary.” John Kelman of All About Jazz wrote that “Cho’s intentions were clearly to educate as much as entertain, and he succeeded on both fronts.”
Combining his experiences in arts and business, Adrian developed The Jazz Process, an execution-oriented framework for collaboration, innovation, and agility that can help teams in any domain improve their performance. His book, The Jazz Process: Collaboration, Innovation and Agility, published by Addison-Wesley in 2010, has been endorsed by a diverse collection of thought leaders. Reviewers have praised the book as “a huge payback for the time invested in reading it,” “a deep exploration of collaborative know-how,” “a concept of leadership and teamwork that’s well suited for the Google-age workplace” and “a top pick for any business collection!”
When Adrian is not practicing or teaching creativity at scale in business or jazz, his individual creative exploits include playing flamenco guitar and traveling the world to photograph people, places, and wildlife.
After spending many decades dedicating myself to many different companies, I’ve now returned to my roots in consulting. Through my company Creativity at Scale, I am working as a part-time advisor for a number of different clients, helping them improve them to become more effective in their software development activities.
Some nice words from past colleagues submitted to my LinkedIn profile
“I’ve worked with Adrian for the last two years as he has led the development of Rational Team Concert to its successful release. Rational Team Concert is a very large, complex product with contributions from product teams across the globe — several locations in US and Canada, Europe, India, China. A key reason for the project’s success was Adrian’s attention to detail. Everyone on the project always knew the overall status of the project and which items required attention. Adrian was very hands-on, with intimate knowledge of how to build, deploy, and test the project. Adrian had personal relationships with all of the key contributors and made sure that the appropriate people were focused on resolving any blocking issues that came up throughout the course of the project. Adrian has a rare combination of project management skills along with intimate knowledge of what makes software development projects successful. For me, working with Adrian was both a learning experience and a pleasure.”
“I have had the pleasure over the last couple of years of working as a team lead with Adrian as the development manager of Rational Team Concert. His job is one of the most difficult and challenging I’ve ever seen, coordinating the activities of development teams distributed around the world in different time zones to ship a single (and complex!) product, while also interacting with supporting groups and keeping at bay the bureaucracy inevitable in large organizations. Adrian has managed repeated successful, on-time product releases, handling all with grace, practicality, extreme dedication, open communications and an unfailing good humor. He is an extraordinary leader with a real understanding of what makes projects successful and what can derail them, a manager who easily gains the trust of those working with him by showing a deep commitment and concern not only for the product deliverables but also for the people who work on them. I am honored to continue to work with Adrian and hope to do so again in the future.”
“I’ve had the absolute pleasure of working with Adrian on the Collaborative Lifecycle Management and Rational Team Concert projects this past year. Both very large and complex projects with high visibility and high pressure. Yet through all the challenges, Adrian’s drive and passion, coupled with his calm demeanor and unwavering attention to process, kept the project focused and moving in the right direction. He practices what he preaches, and then backs it up with results. He has very strong and well-rounded leadership skills. He cares about the project, but also about the team. He earned my respect and trust almost immediately.”
“I have worked for Adrian for the better part of 2014 and I can say without a doubt I have become a better employee because of him. Adrian has a unique ability to cut through the corporate chaos and focus only on what needs to get done. Adrian’s organizational skills and leadership allows his teams to excel and to be empowered to deliver truly exceptional results. It has been a true pleasure working with Adrian.”
“I worked for Adrian until recently for almost 4+ years. He is one the best managers I had ever worked for, and I have very high respect for him. Adrian empowers his team to do the right thing, and help remove roadblocks for his team. He is also one of the most hard working person I have known. He always puts team interest ahead of individual needs, and builds significant trust with his team. He strongly believes and always tell us not to be afraid of challenging a process if it does not bring consistency or optimization in our execution. I have learned a lot from him and thankful for all his coaching. It has been a great pleasure and enjoyable experience working for Adrian.”
“In the past year, I had the pleasure of working with Adrian on the Collaborative Lifecycle Management (CLM) project at IBM Rational. Adrian is one of only a handful of people I know who can deliver a project with such complexity. With drive, passion, integrity and tenacity, he gives his 200% everyday for the business. His motivation to deliver excellence is extremely contagious. I only have great respect for Adrian.”
“Adrian is one of the few individuals I know that can put a strategy into execution. He is persistent, tenacious and patient in achieving the strategic goals for the business. He has an amazing work ethic and is available to answer questions whether technical or non technical at any time. I have had the pleasure of working with Adrian as a team mate for the last 4 years (over this time we have switched roles in the team) and it has been an honor to work with someone like him. Adrian has the innate capability to look at a complex issues and try to figure out the small wins that can be achieved and usually with that attitude he ends up surmounting over all issue. It has been a great experience to part of the same team as Adrian.”
“I’ve been working with Adrian for a couple of years now through the RTC v2 and v3 releases. Adrian has been responsible for pulling together a very large number of people grouped into 20 odd teams who are scattered world wide. Over the last 2 years Adrian has proven himself more than capable of being able to comprehend from a technical and managerial aspect what these teams are working on, their current state and being able to react as necessary to keep these teams moving forward and delivering a product to the market. This product is extremely complex and having someone you can trust to keep it all straight and help lead in the right direction is a must to be successful. Adrian, in my opinion, has proved himself such a leader.”
“I have had the pleasure of working with Adrian at IBM for 11 years on the Eclipse Project and on Rational Team Concert. I believe these projects owe much of their success to Adrian’s attention to detail and commitment to delivering on the complex issues of meeting challenging business requirements, ensuring intellectual property due diligence, and fostering the maturing and talent of a large globally distributed team. With Adrian as my manager, my priorities were clear, I was empowered to lead and could work with efficiency, focus and creativity. He facilitated discussion across and within organizations to establish common goals and collaboration. I have Adrian to thank for much of my professional growth, through his understanding of my interests, his trust, and his support over the years. Adrian is a role model in many areas. A technological leader, an engaging speaker, a talented musician, Adrian creates ease with his good humor and positivity. He makes great things happen.”
“Adrian Cho is the most persistent and patient technical leader I’ve ever worked with. His ability to understand complex projects of a global nature is remarkable and to clearly explain these difficult projects is a rare gift. His confidence and competence are immediately obvious and creates an environment where people want to work with him to produce great results. His passion is obvious. I have learned more about leading a well-managed software development project working with Adrian in the last 6 months than I have in the last 2 years. His commitment to transparency, efficiency and practicality is something all projects need more of. He is concerned for those who work with him, quick to identify talent and takes the time to find the right role for the individual and is always available to mentor and provide constructive feedback.”
Cho’s intentions were clearly to educate as much as entertain, and he succeeded on both fronts.
Cho a cool guide to hot jazz…You couldn’t have asked for a better guide to the music.
Is it time that we start referring to Adrian as the Wynton Marsalis of Ottawa?
A musical missionary, Adrian Cho always seems to have his fingers in a dozen pies. This spring alone, the Ottawa jazz bassist and bandleader premiered a bass and piano work written by composer Eldon Rathburn, recorded a solo bass soundtrack for a dance film, will perform Jewish Sephardic folk music, improvise on the bass for a dance show, play at a wine-tasting dinner and present jazz vespers in a Lutheran church. That’s not a complete list. It does not include the activity for which Cho is best known — leading the Impressions in Jazz Orchestra (IJO), an ambitious repertory ensemble he founded in 2005 to perform a broad range of what he calls “jazz-centric music,” taken from sources as far back as the 1850s up to the present day.
There is only one Wynton Marsalis, but Ottawa may have lucked out with its own individualist, Adrian Cho… Cho himself has more than little of the evangelist in him… It’s not hard to imagine him in a boardroom persuading business executives to let a little jazz into their deal-making, to feel the beat and let it carry them into more exhilarating commerce… One of Cho’s convictions is that jazz is humanizing, not only for business people. To that end, he believes in guiding his audiences towards deeper appreciation…
His work is always well received. His aims and ideals are high and he consistently achieves them.
Adrian is both a visionary and true collaborator.
I play a number of instruments but perform primarily as a bassist and bandleader. In 2005 I began a series of initiatives to present jazz at scale in Ottawa, Canada and this would eventually become the Ottawa Jazz Orchestra, a unique, critically acclaimed symphonic jazz ensemble that brings together an impressive array of professional jazz and symphony musicians with a focus on both entertaining and educating. I’ve led the group since it’s inception and it’s very much a labour of love for the music and sharing the experiences of performing it live. I perform regularly in the Ottawa area and occasionally travel abroad performing and speaking about jazz.
I was MOST impressed with the fabulous musicianship and of course your innovative ideas and leadership throughout. I truly think that you are a gifted teacher
He cares deeply about bringing jazz to the people, and seeks to entertain his audiences. He also cares a lot about the history of jazz, and educating the public about the range of jazz music. His energy and enthusiasm carry the message in an engaging way, and many audience members have told me that they enjoyed learning about the pieces they were about to hear because it greatly enhanced their listening experience. Adrian’s also one of the few organizers I’ve worked with who seems to excel both in preparing a large-scale event, and also in adapting to new developments with creativity and a smile.
I have always been struck by his innovativeness and deep commitment to excellence. Adrian regularly produces one-of-a-kind productions using only the top local talent and does so with the flair of a natural-born leader.
In the past I’ve written frequently about collaboration, agility, innovation, software development, jazz and the parallels between the worlds of business and the performing arts. My book, The Jazz Process: Collaboration, Innovation and Agility, published by Addison-Wesley in 2010, is a treatise on collaboration, innovation, and agility that can help teams in any domain improve their performance. The book has been endorsed by a diverse collection of thought leaders and praised by reviewers.
An insider’s guide to translating the creative techniques of jazz to the business world.
The 14 fundamental principles found in this book are essential to any collaborative venture. Cho lays out a clear path to achieving elegant teamwork, goal-oriented project completion, and winning results.
Jazz demands cooperation, enterprise, creativity, measured risk, and so much more—and so does business. Adrian’s book is an entertaining guide for importing the jazz process into the world of business.
This book has an important message: Effective collaborations are like jazz improvisations. Jazz succeeds because the group shares just the right kind of rules and structures; business teams also need to improvise within the right kind of structure. Cho has years of experience playing jazz and working in business teams, and in this book he applies this experience to analyze the ways that effective business teams balance structure and freedom.
In the Jazz Process, Adrian Cho weaves some unusual and interesting four-part harmony between jazz, business, sport, and information technology around an important theme… teamwork.
Adrian Cho’s insight into high-performance teams is drawn from his personal experiences in music, business and software engineering. Within the Eclipse community we have seen many of these ideas in action and they work. I highly recommend the Jazz Process to anyone seeking to learn how to build agile, effective teams—regardless of your field of endeavour.
The Jazz Process will open your eyes to a different way of thinking about teams, business, and software development. It’s a huge payback for the time invested in reading it.
Teaches how to collaborate more effectively both within the team and with customers and outside interests. A top pick for any business collection!
The Jazz Process provides a very engaging discussion of innovation and innovation processes. Cho provides ample discussion of jazz to support his arguments and provides nine pages of excellent references for further examination. Cho’s examination of innovation and collaboration through the lens of music offers an interesting view of collaboration and creativity in innovation processes.
I found the book useful because it made me more aware of how to be a good team member. For people who want to improve the performance of a team, this book may be particularly helpful. There is a lot to take in in this book, which is a credit to Cho’s experience and dedication to the Jazz Process which he has elaborated. Furthermore, as someone who works in both music and IT, it does make sense and fit in with my experience, unlike some business books I have read in the past. Overall it is very good.
A deep exploration of collaborative know-how…a concept of leadership and teamwork that’s well suited for the Google-age workplace. getAbstract recommends this innovative book to human resources professionals, executives and managers needing new harmonies, and employees who know they could make a better contribution if only someone would let them play a solo.
Both books on innovation address the subject passionately and informatively. The Jazz Process is about team building and collaboration; Innovate the Future is about targeting a market segment and implementing a product successfully. They are vastly different applications of innovation, but could be attractive to someone who is looking for that particular innovative niche.
It was with much joy that I jumped into Adrian Cho’s The Jazz Process and bought into his illustrative mental model for better understanding how collaborative performances should occur with diverse talent. As a management consultant and executive leadership coach, I have been able to expand my tool kit and framework through Cho’s fine work. What makes this book incredibly useful is Cho’s journalistic approach to expanding his solid credentials in the agile development space with in-depth stories concerning special moments in jazz history or professional basketball championships.
I really enjoy reading this book that propose a deep and interesting perspective on the team dimension of software development with multiple references to the jazz and sports domains…The flow of the book is very good, making it enjoyable to read and a recapitulation at the end of each chapter points out the main ideas conveyed in the text. I will recommend this book to every people involved in software development, especially at the management level. It is full of interesting thoughts on the topic that you will enjoy even more if you are in addition fan of jazz and sport.
Aside from appreciating the base metaphor, I also like the content a lot. It includes a number of insights that are common (hire good performers, enable them to lead as needed, watch the health of the team) and some that are not. The discussion of feedback loops and “hunting” is particularly rare. Even rarer, it discusses the good and bad points of its advice, instead of merely advocating One True Way.
I love to teach and have spoken as a keynote speaker at countless conferences, corporate events and universities on many topics including jazz history and performance, business agility and acceleration, personal productivity, team collaboration and software development.
Learn about Jazz
Since 2011 I’ve been teaching a course in jazz history as part of Carleton University’s Learning in Retirement program. This course has consistently received rave reviews from students (see feedback below) and is one of the most popular classes in the Learning in Retirement program. There are six classes and each class is two hours long and typically held on Friday afternoons. One of the classes is a live music performance where I bring in other musicians for an impromptu concert with explanations about how the musicians perform. I teach this class much like a jazz performance, improvising the precise content and delivery for each class. A few people have even taken the course multiple times to benefit from this unique style of presentation. The course follows a loose outline covering jazz from the 1920s to the 1960s with a focus on providing insight into what went on behind the scenes for key performances and recordings as well as understanding the structure of the music and how jazz musicians improvise and collaborate in the moment. I plays, sing, and involves the class in group exercises to help explain form, rhythm and other elements of jazz music. Handouts include unique essays I’ve written for past Ottawa Jazz Orchestra programme concerts. Find out more and register to attend.
Praise for Adrian's teaching
“I learned a tremendous amount about how to listen to jazz, and the underlying rhythmic form of different jazz styles.”
“Adrian had the ability to convey important material in an interesting and lively manner.”
“Very knowledgeable and engaging lecturer; lots of fun.”
“The instructor’s knowledge of the subject matter was extensive and his ability to apply his real life experience to the subject matter made for a most enjoyable class. He accommodated all questions with respect. The live presentation was a key experience. Adrian’s ability to communicate so effectively is a real asset. I hope you will consider offering another lecture by the same lecturer. I liked the loose, non-linear structure of the course especially in the context of the subject matter. Very cool course! I would even consider taking it again!”
“Adrian is an amazing teacher and very knowledgeable about all aspects of Jazz. I would be really keen on taking a more advanced class with him.” “Best course I’ve taken. Adrian was knowledgeable, pleasant, and had a love of his material and a lot of knowledge. I learned a lot.”
“Instructor’s friendly, conversational style of presentation with the right balance of “technical” info and anecdotal background comments, plus samples of jazz material from various artists. It was a large group for this kind of subject, but it was handled extremely well.” “Excellent teacher, wonderful music, interesting information.”
“The instructor was very, very knowledgeable about the subject matter and presented the course in a very engaging and personable manner.”
“Virtuoso teaching performance by Adrian Cho. Bravo!”
“Everything about the course was fantastic. I do not have a musical background so this was extremely instructive but not overwhelming.”
“The instructor was fantastic! Total command of his subject, excellent presentation, amazing music collection to demonstrate what he was talking about. He and a colleague also demonstrated on their own musical instruments.”
“The instructor’s thorough knowledge and ability to bring an inside musician’s perspective to the material.”
“How well prepared Adrian was with the music and his knowledge of jazz and its history.”
“Adrian’s knowledge is phenomenal and his suggestions of what to buy were useful.”
“Adrian’s knowledge and his presentation of the course. It was excellent and he made the class interesting, informative, and fun.”
“The professional approach to teaching, the in depth knowledge of the instructor, the pace was perfect; everything about this course was wonderful. Adrian as a musician knows how to reach his audience, as a teacher he is also spot‐on!”
“Adrian Cho’s ability to present the course in a manner that was informative, engaging, based on expert knowledge, etc.”
“A superb course. The lecturer was knowledgeable, well organized and a fine musician. I learned a lot.”
“I have already recommended the course to my wife. If there was a continuation of the course, I would take it. It was excellent.”
“This class was full. I would take a Part 2 on the history of jazz if it was offered and I’m sure a lot of people feel the same.”
“Our instructor, Adrian Cho, provided interesting lectures and material, e.g. text and A/V notes, live music with a guest artist and recorded music. I feel it was a very pleasant way to spend a Friday afternoon.”
“More courses with this caliber of lecturer please.”
“Course was well prepared and interestingly delivered.”
“Excellent course, most enjoyable and illuminating.”
“His sense of humour, his love of music, and his wide experience were all incredible pluses to the whole experience.”
“Adrian is an excellent lecturer: Well-organized, extremely knowledgeable and approachable. His handouts are superb and using one class for a performance was brilliant.”
“Adrian Cho has an engaging personality, and a very nice style, and his enthusiasm for his subject is hard to resist. As well as the historical context that Adrian’s lecture addressed, he provided us with the musical theory and practical aspects of jazz, which was a great bonus.”
“Adrian Cho was very informative and easy to understand. I appreciated his easy, pleasant style.”
“Adrian Cho is a fantastic lecturer – very knowledgeable and great presenter. Hope he will do more!”
“Adrian Cho was articulate and well prepared. A delightful lecture series.”
“Everything you’d ask for in a lecturer. Excellent communicator, empathetic to the non‐musicians in the class, great sense of humor, guardedly non‐political, incredibly knowledgeable of the music, effortless listening of all the tracks and there were many.”
“Lecturer really knew his material and kept the class moving along at a perfect pace. Could not ask for more.”
“Adrian has an innate ability to interact with the students and his knowledge is amazing.”
I love to take photos of people, places, and wildlife. While there are so many opportunities to capture images on travels, my hometown of Ottawa continues to supply an endless source of inspiration especially in the green areas of the Ottawa-Gatineau region.
Through my the photography line of my company Creativity at Scale I publish photos that can be purchased as prints or for digital use.
I also publish behind-the-scenes details of the creative process and the world travels that I undertake to produce the final images. This is mostly taking place on Instagram right now but in 2019 I’m hoping to start producing a YouTube channel with footage.
Photos posted from the field
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Life behind the scenes
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Random musings about photography and whatever else comes to mind.
Over time, the iPad has become the primary computing device that I interact with. I’ve found myself spending a greater proportion of screen time on an iPad vs a Mac or any other device. I recently purchased the new, second-generation iPad Pro 12.9 and it’s insanely...
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Nothing from September 27, 2020 to September 26, 2021.