In Chapter 4 Barrett continues by saying that improvisation needs some order and rules in order to thrive. This allows for complexity in jazz and in an organizational system because it provides the freedom to create novelty, but also vigilance to attend to the other members of the organization. In organizations this can work in areas such as rapid prototyping where different people come up with ideas and then test them out quickly seeing if they work or not. If they do not work then they rapidly readjust to another way of doing things but it gives them the structure to try.
Meg Wheatley and Ralph Stacey (organizational development experts) write "that systems are most creative when they operate with a combination of order and chaos." They say that when systems live on the edge of chaos they are able to abandon undesirable ways of doing things and embrace more suitable patterns. Barrett says that by allowing improvisation in the organization it creates the condition for "guided autonomy" or finding the limiting structures that allow for coordination around core activities. This maximizes opportunities for diversity and the opportunity to experiment.
He gives the example of rebuilding after 9/11 where Mike Burton, the executive deputy commissioner of the New York City Department of Design and Construction, ended up taking over the reconstruction efforts. He happened to be downtown at the time of the attacks. He immediately began to call four companies who he knew were qualified and could support the reconstruction. He set twice daily meetings to coordinate activities. He divided the work into four areas so that each company could handle one section. Each of these decisions created the "guided autonomy" to allow for the rebuilding to occur with some improvisation from the beginning.
Where can you implement some "guided autonomy" in your organization? What limited structures can you put into place in order to allow for novelty to be created?
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.