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Book summary: The Jazz Process (IV)

This is the fourth (and last) part of my summary of “The Jazz Process” by Adrian Cho. See also parts one, two and three in this blog. This part will cover the rest of “Executing” and “Innovating”.

Executing: stay healthy

It’s often necessary to build instability to enable high performance (e.g. talented people with troubled personalities). The trick is managing instability so it doesn’t turn into unrecoverable or damaging situations.

Poor health has an effect on people’s impression and can create a positive feedback loop. If someone was hurting you or another person, you would tell them to stop immediately. That’s the reaction people inside a team should have. To stop a positive loop, do everything you can to stop the actions causing the loop; to stop hunting, increase the speed of reaction or increase friction by slowing down and relaxing.

On measuring health: compromised team stability/integrity or poor performance as a result of mistakes or failures indicates problems. It should be possible to create a useful measure of general health for any activity or system. E.g.: number of unresolved defects, number of  incomplete features, performance test results, etc. The problem with those reports is that they can be misused or misinterpreted, esp. if reduced to a traffic light-style of health. It’s important to take a strategic view and ensure that problems, not symptoms, are addressed.

Innovating: exchange ideas

Joy Paul Guilford, American psychologist, defined two types of thinking: convergent (associated to math/science: find a single solution to a problem) and divergent (arts, generating many possible solutions to a problem). The latter, Guilford associated to four skills: fluency (quickly produce large number of solutions), flexibility (simultaneously consider many solutions to the same problem), originality (produce solutions others haven’t thought of), elaboration (adding to/developing existing solutions).

Diversity can improve the success of innovation, either by producing more initial good ideas or by rejecting the poor ones at the end. Collaboration improves the success of innovation by leveraging free exchange of ideas. This is not always easy to achieve: it’s not a free-for-all or selecting what’s the best idea, it’s creating a common pool by listening, respecting, suspending and voicing (see William Isaacs and p.244).

Innovation is enabled by risk-taking, collaboration, diversity and exchange of ideas. Now, how do you create a culture of innovation? First, people must feel there’s room for it (not have all time committed to things that absolutely must be done). People often feel they don’t have the time or freedom (Google’s 20% time and such). They also must feel there’s room for mistakes.

I'm so glad you made this mistake. Because I want to run a company where we are moving too quickly and doing too much, not being too cautious and doing too little. If we don't have any of these mistakes, we're just not taking enough risk. > > Larry Page > >

Also important is to allow/encourage people to form groups for those things and work in whatever they want: top-heavy approaches can stifle innovation, especially if execs aren’t tuned in or don’t have the time and become a bottleneck.

Innovating: take measured risks

Basic options for risk management: avoid, transfer, share, reduce/mitigate, accept, ignore, exploit. Perils of not enough diversity: one study found that across the entire universe of patients, the single largest indicator of treatment wasn’t symptoms or background, but the doctor’s background.

Specific risks of the jazz process principles:

Final comments

“The Jazz Process” is a very good book, recommended to anyone interested in how groups of people can achieve high performance in any activity. It also has many jazz references, which make the book even more interesting if you’re into jazz. If I had to say something bad about the book, I’d say that it could be easier to skim if you just want to get information from it (it’s written to be read from beginning to end, it seems). Of course, if you want to read it the “traditional way” it’s probably an advantage, because it’s fun reading about jazz and other fields and it makes the reading flow better.