On this year’s Belgian itSMF conference I presented “ITSM, building blocks and what we can learn from jazz”. Indeed; this year the conference theme was about building blocks and ITSM frameworks: the pros’s of using them but at the same time daring to ask if ITSM frameworks can become counterproductive in certain circumstances. Having experienced myself how counterproductive processes and frameworks can become for innovation and business agility, and being a musician myself, I found the comparison between a symphony orchestra and a jazz ensemble an enriching metaphor. And playing jazz music I think I was in a good position to do so 🙂 .
The jazz metaphor in business is of course not new. It has been used many times. I remember for instance John Kao’s book Jamming – The art and discipline of business creativity released in 1996. Using the jazz metaphor it was a great book on innovation and presented in 1996 a clear view on the would-be business approach (a correct view as we can experience now).
Pivotal in my presentation is that many of us have a preference to solve problems with a left brain approach, thinking that – referring to the Cynefin model  – we can solve problems with a complex nature with techniques and approaches we have used with success for simple and complicated problems. Or that we can still address business needs with an industrial-speed IT approach . But contemporary business needs have a complex nature and can in the current reality not be addressed with an industrial-speed-IT approach. Instead a digital-speed IT approach is required ; which I would just call business-speed IT.
So too often we apply the symphony orchestra approach. To create the symphony the conductor is the person with the overall authority to pull the individual parts of the orchestra together. The orchestra cannot do this on its own as there is not the ability to communicate across the stage or even hear what other sections are playing. Therefor the musicians – restricted to playing their music scores – need to rely on the conductor to make sense of the whole.
Now jazz music is created most of the time without a music score; or with a lead sheet if melody and/or chords are not known by the musicians. Jazz is about creating music in real-time, being explorative and expressive within a certain concept (a framework if you like). Jazz is about listening and interacting; shared or servant leadership and challenging each other.
Following are some basic elements of jazz which we can use in our business environment as well.
STRATEGY: create a clear framework (enriched with values & culture) with just enough rules and processes (KISS). Create emerging solutions by continuously listen for change and react.
Listening/interacting: the value is created in the interaction; in other words use the power of communication, collaboration, networking, knowledge sharing, etc.
Technique: develop and master your competences but letting them loose again at the right moment. The real danger is in the continual cycles of process improvement and optimization of the wrong capabilities.
Experiment: no solo is perfect but good enough; make the difference between doing things right and doing the right things. Use unexpected outcomes as an opportunity and create emerging solutions.
Small teams: multidisciplinary and no duplication, facilitating empowerment and self-organization where everyone can lead by taking initiative. At the same time no team is an island and must be aware of the context.
Groove: maintain momentum and create continuous progress by establishing regular cycles and steady rhythms. The agile project approach is that respect a best practice.
The new mental model of IT should be based in the first place on a strategy consisting of a two-speed IT approach and creating emergent strategies. It should apply improvisation to create agility by:
Listening and interacting: both lead and follow; less control from IT will bring more value
to the business.
Technique: apply contextual awareness which means using more than one mental model or methodology.
Experiment: embrace uncertainty; error is not failure!
Small teams: create small self-empowered teams (including Right-brains) with a strong outside-in view.
Groove: work with short cycles to keep momentum.
In other words, let’s learn how to groove to the business rhythm.
: Two-Speed IT: A Linchpin for Success in a Digitized World by Antoine Gourévitch, Benjamin Rehberg, and Jean-François Bobier (August 2012).