“Art is the desire of a man to express himself, to record the reactions of his personality to the world he lives in.”
—Amy Lowell, nineteenth-century American poet
About This Book
This book is an artistic expression that captures some of my personal thoughts about the world in which we work and play. Although I didn’t write this book with a thematic approach in mind, three themes emerged from the text in support of the concepts you’ll find herein. Their presence is no surprise, as they are principles I value and have come to rely on over the years.
The first of these themes is diversity. I feel fortunate to have been exposed to a degree of diversity throughout my life. From a cultural perspective, I was born in Australia, where I spent the first 30 years of my life. My mother is Chinese, and my father was most likely Australian, although I can’t be certain. In primary (elementary) school, I was the only child of Asian descent in a student body of approximately 600 students. Back then, Australia was less racially diverse than it is today. My reaction to the way other children treated me was to reject my Chinese ancestry. Fortunately, my attitude changed as I grew up, and I began to embrace the differences that come with diversity and to realize how those differences have enriched my life. In 2000, I moved to Ottawa, Canada, where I live with my wife, Deborah, an American Lutheran pastor. We live on the rural outskirts of Ottawa and share our home with a large family of cats and dogs. Career-wise, my interests have always been many and varied, but arts and technology were particularly important to me since an early age. I could never decide between the two and eventually developed parallel careers in the software industry and in music. I’ve long been fascinated by diversity in teams. In the arts, I am always looking for ways to bring together artists from multiple genres or disciplines. I like to form musical ensembles that include both classical and jazz musicians and perform works that span genres and challenge both musicians and audiences. I also like to stage productions that bring together artists from a variety of disciplines, including visual artists, actors, dancers, and musicians. In business, I enjoy the dynamics of cross-functional teams, and I’m often trying to find ways to integrate multiple disciplines.
Unification is another strong current in this book. It comes from the belief that although people are all different, many ties bind us together. More specifically, although we all work and play in a wide variety of domains, certain principles are universally applicable. We all deal collectively with many of the same fundamental problems; only our contexts differ. Jazz musicians must constantly collaborate, innovate, and manage change, and they have to do so in real time. The same is true of a basketball team, a squad of soldiers, and a team in business. Although it’s natural to look toward fellow disciples when seeking solutions to the problems we encounter in our work, I’ve found that some of the best inspiration can come from people working in completely different disciplines. In this book, you’ll find examples of excellence drawn not only from software development and music, but also from business, military operations, and sports. You’ll also find the application of laws from the disciplines of sociology, psychology, physics, biology, and systems theory.
The final theme that plays out in this book is that of execution. I am always concerned by the glut of leadership, strategy and management education, and the dearth of focus on execution. It’s not simply that there are so many more words and minutes given to the former, and it has nothing to do with management versus those who work in the trenches. One person’s strategy is another person’s execution. Middle management executes the strategy set by upper management. Even the most senior people in an organization execute on behalf of a board, and they in turn are answerable to shareholders. The problem is that many leaders do not give enough respect or consideration to the realities of executing strategies defined in isolation. The result is usually failure that leads to finger-pointing all around. The strategies that are most likely to succeed are those created collaboratively with input from all stakeholders. Execution is another one of those universally applicable principles that must permeate an organization at all levels so that it moves in concert like a symphony orchestra. Successful artistic leaders who help deliver great performances with minimal planning and rehearsal understand and/or give due consideration to execution. In jazz, ensembles often execute with no plan or rehearsal whatsoever.
Reading This Book
The Jazz Process provides a framework for improving collaboration, innovation, and agility by offering a method for execution and 14 best principles that act on that method. Many books begin with an overview and then drill down into the details, a kind of “top-down” approach. In contrast, I’ve chosen a linear approach, resulting in a more natural progression for discussing the subject matter, somewhat akin to telling a story. Consequently, you won’t see the big picture until we’ve laid a foundation by discussing five principles for working. If you just can’t wait and you would like to see a high-level view right now, take a peek at the listing of the principles of the jazz process in the figure on page 85 and the execution cycle illustrated in the figure on page 98 in the “The Essentials of Execution” section in Part II.
As a domain-agnostic view of the way in which high-performance teams succeed in the face of challenges, the Jazz Process is inherently abstract. To put it to work, you must translate its method for execution and its principles into concrete practices that work specifically for your team and its activities. You’ll find many concrete examples to help you do that throughout this book. As you read through this book, you’ll find it beneficial to ask yourself how you can put the Jazz Process to work for you. You can find out more about the Jazz Process and even participate in discussions at http://www.jazzprocess.com.
© Copyright Pearson Education. All rights reserved.