Kind of Blue

It is unlikely that a book on choice will offer an insight on organization. Sheena Iyengar, in her ‘The Art of Choosing‘, talks about her conversation with the jazz player Wynton Marsalis.
Wynton Marsalis : You need to have some restrictions in jazz. Anyone can improvise with no restrictions, but that’s no jazz. Jazz always has some restrictions. Otherwise it might sound like noise. The ability to improvise comes from fundamental knowledge, and this knowledge limits the choice you can make and will make. Knowledge is always important where there’s a choice. 
The resulting action is based on informed intuition, or as he calls it, superthought. In jazz, superthought goes beyond determining the “right” answer: It allows one to see new possibilities where others see only more of the same, and to construct the rare useful combination. …. Insisting on more when one already has a great deal is usually considered a sign of greed. In the case of choice, it is also a sign of the failure if the imagination, which we must avoid or overcome if we wish to solve our multiple choice problem.
It is not uncommon to find agile being misconstrued as ‘we can do whatever’; or worse, ‘follow it by the book’. A framework such as Scrum offers you the guidelines within which to play. You have all the freedom to unleash your creativity. And anyone who talks about either-or (between restrictions and creativity) is bringing in false dichotomy. It’s not about limits of freedom, it’s about rules of the game. The rules don’t take away freedom from you, or restrict your creativity. Rather, it gives us a semantics to work together; a common language of expectations and behavior.
Frank Barrett, jazz pianist, and author of ‘Yes to the Mess: Surprising Leadership Lessons from Jazz’, talks about Miles Davis during his recording of ‘Kind of Blue’.
“… I love Miles Davis’s quote. He says, if you’re not making a mistake, it’s a mistake. And what’s behind that is, he’s saying you need to be experimenting and exploring and trying new things all the time. So if everything you play is clean and fresh and slick, that means you’ve given up experimentation. And so, for jazz improvisation to work, there’s going to be mistakes and wrong notes. You just treat those as more material to be explored and gleaned and to see where they can lead.”

Frank Barrett called it elegantly as ‘an aesthetic of forgiveness’, where wrong notes are encouraged to be forgiven if the musician’s sincere efforts are behind it. 

Later then “…one of the principles that jazz musicians live by is what I call mastering the art of unlearning because the enemy to jazz improvisation is your own routines and habits and success traps. There’s a temptation to play what you’ve done well in the past because you’re on the spot having to make something up in front of an audience. 

So jazz musicians have to sort of trick themselves into unlearning their own routines and habits so they don’t automatically fall back into cliches.

Processes, in a way, are route maps of practices. Practices follow from principles. And never should it be the other way around. Jim Highsmith says it best :

“..what happens in too many organizations is that practices become static and then quietly elevated to the level of principle—something that can’t be violated…What happens is that slowly and surely, good practices become bad principles, or pseudo-principles”. So, for heaven’s sake, don’t get into this process trap.


Cliches and nuggets

On a journey, sooner or later, wisdom creeps in. Or the lack thereof. Some cliches/nuggets collected on the way:

Working harder the same way to solve a recurrent problem is, well, stupidity, at best.

Make do with less, unless it starts breaking down. Less data, less processes, less code…

We make things complex because making it simple is far more difficult.

Culture, by far, is the most important thing leaders can build for an organization.

Culture building starts from hiring.

Don’t create another document, or another process, or another hierarchal level, when a problem presents itself.

Documents, plans, suits, meetings, more often than not, creates an illusion of work. This illusion gives an illusion of safety.

Social skills are great but they hardly replace the skills needed to do the job. More so, if you are hands on.

Good by accident is different from good by design. Don’t confuse between the two. Good by accident is short lived.

Technology per se don’t live long, unless they solve a human problem.

Data outlasts applications.

Ideas are dime a dozen, it’s implementation that matters.

P.S: This is a lazy post to break the hiatus, as you might have guessed. Tomorrow will be a better day.