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Trying not to try: The paradox of intentionality in jazz improvisation and its implications for organizational scholarship

Fisher, CM; Demir-Caliskan, O; Hua, MY; Cronin, MA; (2021) Trying not to try: The paradox of intentionality in jazz improvisation and its implications for organizational scholarship. In: Research in the Sociology of Organizations. (pp. 123-137). Emerald: Bingley, UK. Green open access

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Abstract

Organizational scholars have long been interested in how jazz musicians manage tensions between structure and freedom, plans and action, and familiarity and novelty. Although improvisation has been conceptualized as a way of managing such paradoxes, the process of improvisation itself contains paradoxes. In this essay, we return to jazz improvisation to identify a new paradox of interest to organizational scholars: the paradox of intentionality. To improvise creatively, jazz musicians report that they must “try not to try,” or risk undermining the very spontaneity that is prized in jazz. Jazz improvisers must therefore control their ability to relinquish deliberate control of their actions. To accomplish this, they engage in three interdependent practices. Jazz musicians intentionally surrender their sense of active control (“letting go”) while creating a passive externalized role for this sense of active control (using a “third ear”). Letting go allows new and unexpected ideas to emerge, while the metaphorical third ear can identify promising ideas or problematic execution and, in doing so, re-engage active agency (“grabbing hold”). Examining the practices within creative improvisation reveals the complexity of the lived experience of the paradox, which we argue suggests further integration among organizational research on improvisation, creativity, and paradox.

Type: Book chapter
Title: Trying not to try: The paradox of intentionality in jazz improvisation and its implications for organizational scholarship
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
DOI: 10.1108/S0733-558X2021000073b009
Publisher version: https://doi.org/10.1108/S0733-558X2021000073b009
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.
UCL classification: UCL
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/10130123
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