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Improvisation and Transformation: Yes to the Mess

Barrett, FJ; Huffaker, J; Fisher, CM; Burgaud, D; (2018) Improvisation and Transformation: Yes to the Mess. In: Neal, J, (ed.) Handbook of Personal and Organizational Transformation. Springer: New York, NY, USA. Green open access

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The field of organizational change has chiefly been studied from a teleological perspective. Most models of change emphasize action that is rational and goal oriented. What often gets overlooked and under theorized is the continuous, iterative nature of organizational life, the unplanned and serendipitous actions by and between people that lead to new discoveries and innovation. Recent research on organizational improvisation seeks to explore this area. In this chapter we will address two questions – what is the experience of improvisation and what are the conditions that support improvisation to flourish in organizations? In the first part of this paper, we look at the phenomenology of improvisation, the actual lived experience of those who improvise in the face of the unknown or in the midst of chaotic conditions. We will explore the strategies that some professional improvisers employ to deliberately create the improvisatory moment. We will then look at the dynamics of organizational life and explore the cultural beliefs, organizational structures, and leadership practices that support improvisation. We will draw primarily upon the model from Barrett (2012) that focuses on the how the nature of jazz improvisation and the factors that support improvisation can be transferred to leadership activities. This falls in the tradition of others who draw upon arts-based metaphors, including jazz music and theatrical improvisation, to suggest insights for leadership and ways of organizing. Since this is a book devoted to individual transformation as well as organizational transformation, we will also touch on the topic of how improvisation is a developmental project and explore the potential for improvisation to lead to personal transformation. We will attempt to move back and forth between both themes – organizational and personal transformation. Ultimately the two topics are not separate. Any significant organizational transformation begins with an improvisation. And any meaningful improvisatory move by a person is potentially a moment of self-discovery and an identity-shaping event.

Type: Book chapter
Title: Improvisation and Transformation: Yes to the Mess
ISBN-13: 978-3-319-29587-9
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
DOI: 10.1007/978-3-319-29587-9_6-2
Publisher version: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-29587-9_6-2
Language: English
Additional information: This version is the author accepted manuscript. For information on re-use, please refer to the publisher’s terms and conditions.
Keywords: Improvisation, Organizational improvisation, Jazz, Theatrical improvisation, Leadership, Leadership practices, Innovation
UCL classification: UCL
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL BEAMS
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL BEAMS > Faculty of Engineering Science
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL BEAMS > Faculty of Engineering Science > UCL School of Management
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10043882
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