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Yes to the Mess: Surprising Leadership Lessons from Jazz
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Yes to the Mess: Surprising Leadership Lessons from Jazz

3.94  ·  Rating details ·  67 ratings  ·  6 reviews
What Duke Ellington and Miles Davis teach us about leadership

How do you cope when faced with complexity and constant change at work? Here’s what the world’s best leaders and teams do: they improvise. They invent novel responses and take calculated risks without a scripted plan or a safety net that guarantees specific outcomes. They negotiate with each other as they proceed
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Kindle Edition, 228 pages
Published July 24th 2012 by Harvard Business Review Press
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3.94  · 
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 ·  67 ratings  ·  6 reviews


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Derrick Trimble
Apr 02, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: leadership
I will muse on 'Yes to the Mess' for quite some time. The theme of improvisational leadership in context of a team orientation as demonstrated by timeless jazz innovators is riveting. The frequent anecdotes of Ellington, Davis, and others coaxing their peers and protégés to stretch under live conditions are memorable examples of leadership brilliance.

Barrett introduces a number of new phrases and gives old ones new life. New phrases like 'provocative competence' open uncharted avenues for explo
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Sergej van Middendorp
Jan 03, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Last Summer, Harvard Business Review Press published Frank Barrett's Yes to the Mess(1). I have been working with Frank's ideas from organizational improvisation for the past seven years in our jazzinbusiness workshops and I am lucky and happy to have him as one of the mentor's on my doctoral dissertation committee. This review provides a guidepost to the book and provides a synthesis and a challenge to Frank going forward.

Frank's book builds on the seven principles he originally described in hi
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Roberto Machado
Jun 22, 2018 rated it really liked it
An interesting reflexion on how jazz bands can teach today’s business thrive on a world of uncertainty. Focusing on people and their capability to work together and quickly adapt is typical of a jazz band jamming all night. Contemporary companies in fast moving markets need that type of adaptability and that’s what this book eloquently shows. How we can get ideas from jazz.
Cara Spaccarelli
May 31, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: sabbatical-books
p.124 ". . . improvisation cannot succeed . . . unless the players are extraordinarily adept at both leadership and followership. Indeed, the simple practice of taking turns leading and supporting might be the single practice most responsible for relational breakthroughs."

p.26 "the jazz improviser attends closely to what is happening, seeing the potential for embellishing on motifs, linking familiar with new utterances, and adjusting to unanticipated musical cues that reframe previous material.
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Neena Verma
Sep 15, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Prof Barrett offers a curious perspective about Jazz being a metaphor for leadership. An interesting read.
Pat Gibson
May 09, 2016 rated it liked it
This book takes a very interesting point of view on leadership. Worth considering if you are teaching about leadership.
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“You say yes to the mess by surrendering control-by opening yourself up to the capriciousness of the crowd, with no guarantee of success for your efforts. Ultimately, that takes one quality above all others: courage.” 0 likes
“Instead of looking at leadership as decision making—as a rational process of sifting through data, analyzing trends, and making decisions based on predicting futures—a design framework emphasizes pragmatic experimentation.” 0 likes
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