Here is a summary of a talk I gave at an executive conference in Copenhagen recently about the Jazzcode:
How to prepare when every day is different? We started with a song written by the pianist, Lars Jansson. Thomas Fonnesbæk played bass, Hans Ulrik played sax, and the four of us (me on drums) had never played together before this event. The artwork shown during the performance was made by my mother, Sidsel Paaske (1937-1980). I posed the question - how to prepare when every day is different? How to get the most out of knowledge workers. These are the big questions I tried to address during the performance.
Emergency Room -- always new situations managed by experts in real-time. I spoke of how a knowledge intensive company is very much like an emergency room where experts must play together in a high complexity, real-time environment. You must work in concert with other experts because your expertise is only valuable when combined with the expertise of others. High complexity: Every case is different (and you only get the difficult cases) and every decision requires systemic thinking. Real-time: If you stop the patient will die and the back-log will build behind you. In this setting, presence to use professional judgement and empowerment to decide what is the right thing to do is what is needed.
Tools, not rules This new work environment is fundamentally different from the factory floor where most management techniques were hatched almost 100 years ago. Every easy, repetitive job has been outsourced or automated. This leaves us with complex, messy tasks that can´t be automated. Every day is different. We create value by being able to solve new and novel problems in real-time using our judgement, knowledge and experience. In the old factory environment efficiency was realized by breaking things down into small tasks that could be optimized. The question was not "what" but "how" can we do something in the most efficient manner.
Shared references, small groups, complimentary roles. The jazzcode has evolved to optimize each player´s presence in the moment. The presence -- or release of excess mental capacity -- is needed for each player to determine how their expertise can fit in with the unfolding context. I highlighted how this is accomplished through small groups with shared references and complimentary roles.
Small groups gives more flexibility. Keeping donw the number of active players is maybe the most important lever one can use when trying to improve the real-time performance of an improvising group. The mental capacity of each player can focus on fewer things, it is easier to establish the same perception of a situation and maintain focus on one interaction. Smaller groups are more flexible, it becomes easier to create alignment around a shared goal. The same dynamic takes place in larger groups; in order to minimize complexity and stay focused, we reduce the number of simultaneous interactions. In larger groups this requires more rules.
Shared references: used to simplify, build trust and alignment. Shared references are used to create trust, to simplify, and to quickly align a team around a common goal. The more we have in common, the easier it is to make ourselves understood. With a common understanding we spend less time discussing "what" and "how" and it accelerate our time to performance, key when working in ad-hoc teams. By shared references I mean language, definitions, symbols, work processes, common understanding of roles, past experiences, people we both know, places -- anything that can create a sense of sameness and trust. When we meet new people, we ask, "where do you come from, what do you do, where did you go to school etc." in order to find shared references. In jazz we use shared references to quickly establish targets and as a way to align ourselves and our understanding of a common goal. And of course, we have strict standards for key, tuning, tempo and role. ## Instruments -- complimentary roles In order to quickly get to high-performance we each play a different instrument, thus avoiding overlap. Each instrument has its own role and this reduces time needed to coordinate. There are many instances in the history of jazz where the level of conflict has been increased by introducing players in an ensemble with overlapping roles -- like Coltrane and Cannonball in Miles Davis´ quintet.
Crisis management - depends on openness. Finally I told the story of what my family has learned from crisis after my wife had a stroke. We decided to be very open about what had happened -- we started a blog -- and realized that the openness made it possible for those around us to self-organize. By having the same reference and the same information, a large number of people were able to get together and help us because we were able to communicate what our needs were at the time. Later we have also realized that in order to move on, we have had to accept that we are on a different path than the one we planned. In order to embrace the new possibilities inherent in our new situation, we had to let go of our old plan. This has huge implications in improvising teams. In order to maximize the value of the current context, you can´t afford to spend energy on the original plan. This is parallel to improv theatre; if someone brings up a new idea, you have to "accept the offer." We had to learn that in order to keep a positive outlook on life, and in order to use our limited energy wisely, we had to avoid spending energy on something that was not going to happen. This was a quick summary of the talk.
Please contact me at carl at jazzcode.com if you want to discuss further or if you have comments. Or just leave them here.