Organizational Jazz – Extraordinary Performance through Extraordinary Leadership

Last week I finished reading the really interesting book ‘Organizational Jazz – Extraordinary Performance through Extraordinary Leadership’ (David NapoliAlma WhiteleyKathrine Johansen) which I borrowed from Steve Leybourne from Boston University. It describes in a passioned way how most managers try to hang on to the myth of a certain and predictable world, but that we have to transform our way of working to create sustainable organizations. What do we do when our environment is close to chaos? We dance.

‘Constant, rapid and unpredictable changes, both internal and external, are challenging the time-honoured business models we are taught to follow – as we strive to manage our complex, evolving organizations.Drawing on the science of complex adaptive systems, this book offers a lens through which we search for new ways of thinking about, and working with, the unpredictability of our dynamic complex world.Organizations of today need ‘Extraordinary Leaders’ who can ‘dance’ with change by embracing the principles of complexity science to create highly adaptable and innovative organizations that recognise the value of intangible assets.The success of an organization usually depends on those working closest to the value-adding end of the business. It is those employees and their immediate leaders, who seem to have the greatest impact on the success of an organization. Managers-as-leaders can ease the way for those who depend on them for support and encouragement.’

Interesting issues mentioned are:

  • Mechanistic Leadership (certain environment) vs Extraordinary Leadership (uncertain environment).
  • Value Driven Organizations (opportunity and empowerment), in stead of depending on rules that limit people. Which is really strange if you think of it…
  • The movement from Ego to Eco (picture from earlier post) to cope with complexity. There is sometimes a narcissistic tendency in our Western culture to love great leaders, and to underestimate great teams.  So try to create Teams which act as a magnet, in stead of  a classroom with a teacher with students who wait for the lunch break.
  • Embracing complexity, in stead of trying to control it with strategic planning and control. People can cope with complexity as long as they dance with it and not try to make it what they expected it to be (older post on improvisation). Readers who have children will probably recognize this.
  • Being highly adaptive and innovative to become a sustainable organization.

I found it is really worthwhile to read this book, and can advise it to anybody whose interested in dealing with complexity, innovation, value driven organizations, and improvisation. You can read the first 128 pages (which were the most interesting…) on this google books site.

David Napoli, Alma M. Whiteley and Kathrine S. Johansen
ISBN 978-0-9757710-6-8


MIT offers OpenCourseWare in which you can probably find your favorite subject, and look at the sheets and sometimes even videos of a course that was given some time ago. I found this page about Dynamic Leadership and Improvisation. It is not really something new, but I found it fun to watch how they teach improvisation skills and mindset at MIT. It combines some powerpoint slides with videos taken in the class.

Dynamic Leadership: Using Improvisation in Business (OpenCourseWare MIT)

“The first two week of this course are an overview of performing improvisation with introductory and advanced exercises in the techniques of improvisation. The final four weeks focus on applying these concepts in business situations to practice and mastering these improvisation tools in leadership learning.”

Trainer Betsy Day draws Innovation. Where is the leader?

Last night I was as a Sustainable Seafood Facilitator at the Cambridge Science Festival in the Museum of Science in Boston. I like fish. Apparently just as co-facilitator Betsy Day who is  is a executive trainer “from Assessment to Action”. She is just as me a member of the interesting Boston Facilitators Roundtable. We had a great brainstorm about Leadership, Social Entrepreneurship and Innovation, and the possible differences across the Ocean.

The outcome is potentially a round table about this subject in the coming months (please feel free to contribute in anyway you want). And of course I asked her to draw her vision on Innovation. We noticed that nobody until now has drawn a leader in the Innovation process, and straight lines are not be found. Is it Is it flow or chaos?

Guy Kawasaki: Rules for Revolutionaries

Steve Leybourne from Boston University advised me (among other things) to read the book ‘Rules for Revolutionaries’ written by Apple icon Guy Kawasaki. It made me think of how I can feel as an improvisation actor on stage. Enthusiastic about creating something ‘brilliant’ with the others in my team. Performing without hesitation and contagious for the audience. ‘Don’t worry, be crappy!’

The thin book contains a easy to read story about how to  create a successful start-up. It is written to stick with a lot of funny metaphors and without any hesitation how the world turns. This bold way of describing things like ‘death magnet #3: Monkey see what gorilla do’ or ‘Create like a god, command like a king, work as a slave’ is maybe very American, but it is fun to read and I must admit inspiring to dare to make a difference. Don’t think too much about all possible things that can go wrong in an Innovation process. Possible failure is a certainty anyway, so why bother to focus on that. In the Netherlands we would call this arrogant, but I think overenthusiastic would be a better connotation. If you’re not your own beveliever, why would others then be your evangelists?


In this badly taped video, Guy Kawasaki presents the outline of his book. Use it as a radio, and you will be fine.

Izzy Gesell: Finding business cases on Improvisation in Organizations

This afternoon I had the pleasure to meet Izzy Gesell. An Organizational Alchemist with a great experise in Improvisation. He makes things simple and accessible, like you can see in the video below. We spoke about the (apparent) tension between planning and improvisation, innovation and comfort, and knowing and doing. He notices that more and more organization are familiar with the principles of improvisation and play, endorse these principles, but find it difficult to implement them in their everyday work. Like with all innovative processes, it takes leadership to change behavior even when you know that the outcome is an improvement. There is however a exciting flow in the leadership development landscape with concepts like gamification, improvisation, theory U, etc. that contribute to the acceptance of play in professional environments.

Help needed
We’re now looking to find new business cases that can be used as best practices to take this flow to the next level. You can help with this by writing about these, or bringing me in contact with organizations who had success or failure in creating playful environments.