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Improvisation May Be the Key to Successfully Managing Change, Says MIT

Jazz-inspired Improvisation

It’s great to see organizations taking arts-based learning seriously. In the case of MIT, the Leadership Center has published an article by professor Wanda J. Orlikowski on a Jazz-inspired approach to Change Management. She says, “Change does not always lend itself to well-rehearsed orchestration. The organizations most responsive to change are often the ones that replace the orchestral model with a new one — the jazz combo.”

Improvisation is necessary to adaptation to uncertain and changing business conditions. In today’s world,  companies have to be agile in order to survive. Orlikowski  says, “Organizations that stay flexible take advantage of new opportunities, explore new ways of working, and resolve unanticipated consequences.” Here are her tips for managing change via improvisation:

  1. Plan to improvise– sometimes you can anticipate change, and if you can do that, you should plan to address that change in a flexible way
  2. Adapt when you cannot foresee – as business rules are changing, adapt and test on a smaller, departmental scale before making company-wide changes
  3. Create a learning environment – encourage communication between your employees in different locations and departments, push everyone to learn from each other
  4. Encourage flexibility – to allow for improvisation, CEOs need to release some control and allow employees to experiment
  5. Improvise today for success tomorrow – create a culture of experimentation and improvisation even when you’re not experiencing extreme change in practice for when you do need to change


About the Author: Linda Naiman

Linda is founder of Creativity at Work and co-author of Orchestrating Collaboration at Work. She helps executives and their teams develop creativity, innovation, and leadership capabilities, through coaching, training and consulting. Linda brings a multi-disciplinary approach to learning and development by leveraging arts-based practices to foster creativity at work, and design thinking as a strategy for innovation.

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