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Andrew Hodges
Category: Improvisation

The Successful Improvising Organisation: 'The Pre-conditions'

It is my belief that the behaviours and processes that underpin the improvisational metaphor go way beyond musical boundaries.  They can even be related directly to the causes of current world economic instabilities.   There are huge synergies with current mathematical thinking particularly Chaos Theory which puts to rest any notions that the world is ultimately knowable and hence capable of human systems of control.    Improvisation Theory recognises the principle that in Chaos Theory the roots of system instability are embedded in the pre-conditions surrounding the system.   Catastrophic instability is not ultimately caused by localised recent events but often in minute variations at the initiation of the system.  Through the recognition of the pre-conditions of the Effective Improvising Organisation I believe it is possible to create applications that increase the likelihood of building long-term stability into systems of government, organisations and their management whilst maintaining the promotion of creative potential within the system.  It is an effective replacement for old-style socialist ‘Command and Control’ economies, mechanistic Newtonian approaches to industrial organisation & and the inherent instability of ‘Free Market’ Games Theory rules applied inappropriately to non-competitive structures (e.g. the NHS and public transport). 

Treat these 'pre-conditions' as working principles as you facilitate the development of your team, band, musical group, jazz band, organisation, workshop, negotiation, training programme or business.  Start with these pre-conditions in mind.   Whatever you are creating is likely to be much more capable of riding the storms of instability in this 'Age of Chaos'.

1.    All behaviour can be perceived as a form of an improvisation.

2.    Improvisational activity takes place uniquely in space and time.

3.    Improvisation involves all of the senses, not merely sound.

4.    All participants in an improvisation perceive the improvisation from their own unique point of view.

5.    Improvisers make the best choices available to them at the time, given their unique perception of the situation.

6.    Improvisation is a systemic process.   All actions within the improvisational system create responses.   Even a nil reaction is still a response, which means that all actions influence, even those that do not appear to elicit a response.

7.    All improvisational activities have meaning to a greater or lesser extent, however the intention behind the improvisation is not necessarily its meaning. The meaning of an improvisational act is the effect it creates.

8.    Effective improvisational activity is driven by positive intention and healthy ethical values.   Improvisational activity coloured by unethical values and negative intention charactise the experience with confusion.

9.    Improvising decisions obey vague or ‘fuzzy laws’ which means that decisions are never completely right nor totally wrong but are usually sufficient for the purpose (and for the time being)

10.  In a musical improvisation there is no such thing as a wrong note or wrong input only an opportunity for further creativity.   So-called ‘wrong input’ is best seen as a naturally occurring ‘surprise’.   Improvisations will organically adapt to the new input and can create new circumstances where needed for the new input to be developed or enfolded into the process.

11.  Improvisations can be deemed to be 'working' when they appear to  be ‘taking on a life of their own’.

12.  The prerequisite values of a successful improvisation are adaptivity, flexibility, variety of choice, supportiveness and safety.

13.  Improvisations may be commenced by an initial agreed ‘holding form’ which embodies the characteristics of rule 12 providing the 'adaptivity' prerequisite allows for the possibility that even the holding form can be discarded or changed when it is felt appropriate to do so or when the improvisation ‘takes on a life of its own’. For more information on the 'Holding Form' read Dr. Rod Paton.

14.  Improvising organisations can be trusted to create their own form or internal structure.

15.  The primary task for leaders of improvising organisations is to maintain and support the group by means of the initial holding form and release the improvisation from the holding form when its own form emerges.

16.  Effective improvisational interactions will tend to result in useful outcomes.   This means that useful outcomes need not be forced or driven.   However all outcomes need to be accepted and respected (even a nil outcome).

17.  Effective improvisation often best occurs when judgment is temporarily suspended.   As such improvisational states best occur when what appears is accepted as neither right nor wrong.  

18.  The person with the most improvisational flexibility within the organisation tends to lead the improvisation irrespective of their nominal position within the organisation.

19.  Everyone already has all the resources they need to play a valuable part in the improvisation.

20.  Simple behaviours tend be more effective than complex behaviours.

21.  The ends of improvisations are unforced and are intuited by the participants.   However endings don't always end - they sometimes begin.  

22.  As the improvisation adjusts so does the leader.

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