Yes to the Mess: Surprising Leadership Lessons from Jazz

Posted: Aug 24, 2021 in Book Reviews, Business, Leadership, Psychology
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In this book, Frank Barrett writes remarkable stories on leadership, learning, and innovation from a range of industry settings-from Jazz performance to automotive manufacturing.

Saying ‘Yes to the Mess’ ultimately means accepting as a management team that you don’t have control over how the teams on the front line get to the end goal or get a detailed plan on how they’re going to get there, and Instead, you can see how the team navigate through the uncertainty by learning along the way, being curious, creative, innovative, driven to succeed no matter how many experiments fail, and having fun along the way…aka improvisation.

Whilst there is no mention of product management in the book, there are clear lessons that can be learnt from jazz, which are also covered in other Lean product development books on how to handle uncertainty – by providing a vision and empowering the team to decide how they are going to get there, which as a result yields creativity, ownership, autonomy, learning, loyalty, speed, and value.

Jazz is a ‘risky business’ and the mindset of jazz would work in a multitude of environments with high uncertainty such as a product innovation hub, a new product that hasn’t been validated in the market, or a brand new feature for an existing product. Everything is an experiment to a jazz player, which reminds me of the hypothesis-driven product development approach.

After reading this book I definitely have a greater appreciation of jazz because of the level of risk and improvisation that takes place.

This wasn’t an easy read, but I enjoyed it, as it provided a unique angle on leadership from different perspectives.

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