"Yes to the Mess" by Frank Barrett is a book that discusses leadership from the perspective of jazz improvisation. In Chapter one Barrett begins by saying that in this new complex world there needs to be built a mindset of our best laid plans are likely and figuratively going to be get turned upside down. He says that there is so much turbulence in this current environment that improvisation of action, decisions, leveraging a diverse set of opinions and dedicated to innovation and creativity is necessary to surviving and prospering in such an environment. He says this is similar to jazz in that, as he urges jazz players to do, he urges leaders to embrace complexity, take informed risks, and say "yes to the mess."
Barrett continues by saying that for jazz musicians as well as for leaders they need to live in the same paradox of needing to transcend too much reliance on learned habits as it limits risks needed for creative growth, and letting go of too much control which restricts the interplay of ideas and they need to surrender to the flow. He gives the example of Steve Jobs speaking of the development of the iPad and saying that while it was risky in the moment there was a huge potential upside.
He says we need to not get tied to our strategic plans. While they are good guides leaders need to be able to follow them, while paying attention to what emerges, taking action as a result and then making sense of it all later. He says that, "Sometimes leadership means letting go of the dream of certainty, leaping in, acting first, and reflecting later on the impact of the action."
Barrett continues in chapter one by saying that one way to begin to say yes, is to abandon old routines. We have to often let go of the familiar and routine in order to welcome in new possibilities and opportunities. It is only in this way that leaders can see the potential coming from new and unexpected areas.
Barrett's end the chapter with the premise for the book being that "without being guided by an outside entity or prescripted plan, a system can self-organize and produce even more efficient and effective outcomes."
Monica Thakrar has over 18 years experience in business focused mainly on strategy, change management, leadership development, training and coaching resulting in successful implementations of large scale transformation programs.