Generally, we want to avoid the mess, the uncertainty, the chaos, yet as good as we become at managing and making decisions, there it is: The Mess. We can continue to work at managing it, which might burn us out. Or, we can find ways to work with the mess. This is the gist of Frank J. Barrett’s new book, Yes to the Mess: Surprising Leadership Lessons From Jazz.
Sure, working with the chaos sounds simple, but what does that mean? As Barrett, a management scholar and accomplished jazz pianist explains, it’s mostly about what you can do, particularly how you approach the work, from listening, to creativity, to skill set, to follow through, to supporting others, and more. Anyone with an inkling of understanding of jazz, improvisation, and business knows – changes can be constant, but when we know that, really understand it, we begin to see our purpose for being in that chaos – to take it on, contribute to it in positive ways, guide the changes, and make them work more in our favor.
In a system of distributed, decentralized control, what are the implications for leadership? How does someone lead “structured chaos”? What is the role of the leader in a group creation? Leaders often must act without full awareness of the consequences of their action, even without any full articulation of what the plan might be or how it is likely to change in progress. That’s organizational life in the twenty-first century. Frequently, only after action is initiated are actual goals and preferences discovered, and it’s only in hindsight that we understand what motivated our judgments and actions.
This is a short but powerful book about how to be more focused at work, how to understand chaos as opportunity, and how to be better prepared to approach it. And it’s a Harvard Business Review Press title, so it’s not all about music and jazz life – it’s about the principles that exist in both music and business and how we can learn from them – a great read.