The Soul of a Project #6: Modern Art, Jazz Improv, and Project Management

by Gary Monti on March 2, 2012

Wish there were more creativity, flexibility, and discipline on your project? Take a page from modern art and improvisational jazz (improv). Improvisational jazz may sound undisciplined. Criticisms can be similar to those leveled against modern art, ” My five year-old can paint like that!”

Taking a page from modern art, Picasso was in reality thinking very deeply trying to determine, among other things, how much he could subtract from the visual image and be left with the essence of what he was seeing (“Bull”).

Similarly, improv can be very deep. One thing it tries to accomplish is playing with the rules to see where things go. (The soloist in a band could switch from Inuit pentatonic scale to Egyptian heptatonic to see if the other players can keep up.) Well, if one is going to play with the rules they’d better have a good idea what they are! Discipline is important.

By manipulating the rules a whole new frame of mind can be created, one that takes people to new places.  Think of Dali’s “Persistence of Memory” with the melting watches.

So what would happen if we combined the two frames of mind? How could this be applied to projects? When stymied the team might breakout from being stuck and frustrated. What would happen if they stripped the project to its essence?

What does the customer need vs. want? How do the components relate? What are the rules? Can we play with them and create a project model that simultaneously covers the breadth of customer needs while integrating the components in a meaningful way?

Think of the creation of the iPad (upon which this blog is being created at 22,000 feet). Remember the early comments that there was no market for it? It is just another gadget with no serious application. It’s too small to be a computer and too large to be a phone.

Working this way is risky. But what if the team broke out to design and implement what would definitely meet the customer’s needs and maybe even more? Could they have a sense of pride, of accomplishment, of being leaders in their specialty? Think about it.

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