What Is the Difference between a Group of Musicians and a Team of Engineering Students? A Philosophical Approach to the Problem-Based Nature of Engineering

Søren Rosenlund Frimodt-Møller

Research output: Contribution to book/anthology/report/conference proceedingArticle in proceedingResearchpeer-review


Analogies between the group dynamics of a music ensemble and the general case of teamwork have been a recurring theme in management philosophy. The author of this paper has previously examined such analogies critically in connection with his own research concerning the actual patterns of decision-making in a music performance. One conclusion from this research is that these patterns are, to a large extent, generalizable to decision-making in other group contexts. At the same time, however, analogies always “hide” and “highlight” certain aspects of what they are meant to say something about (to repurpose vocabulary from George Lakoff & Mark Johnson’s Metaphors We Live By). Exploring the limits of an analogy may consequently lead to a clearer idea of the special traits of each of the two compared entities. This paper uses the critical examination of an analogy between a small music ensemble (such as a rock band) and a team of engineering students to emphasize where the two fundamentally differ in their decision-making patterns. At a first glance, the way musicians base their actions in a performance on a combination of goals (broadly construed), expectations for the actions of others, internalized routines, and prior communication with exact agreements, is very close to that of a team of engineering students. Where the two differ is especially in the way goals emerge and are negotiated in a group. Engineering processes tend to be problem- based, and problems can be discussed differently (and often more constructively) than a musical idea.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationVarietas delectat... Complexity is the new normality : Proceedings SEFI 2019 · SEFI 47th Annual Conference · Budapest, 16-20 September, 2019
EditorsBalázs Vince Nagy, Mike Murphy, Hannu-Matti Järvinen, Anikó Kálmán
Number of pages18
PublisherEuropean Society for Engineering Education SEFI
Publication date2019
ISBN (Electronic)978-2-87352-018-2
Publication statusPublished - 2019
EventSEFI annual conference 2019: Varietas delectat: Complexity is the new normality - Budapest University of Technology and Economics, Budapest, Hungary
Duration: 16 Sep 201919 Sep 2019
Conference number: 47


ConferenceSEFI annual conference 2019
LocationBudapest University of Technology and Economics
Internet address


  • PBL
  • decision-making
  • interaction in groups
  • analogies
  • music and engineering

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