Tag Archives: planning

Jazz as business metaphor

As a fan of avant garde jazz and an MBA who reads a lot of professional develpment stuff, I’m often frustrated by articles that use jazz as a metaphor or analogy to impart some advice about the importance of improvisation in business. However, I liked several things in Michael Blanding’s recent review of Michael Wheeler’s book on negotiation: The Art of Negotiation.

Blanding opens the review with a quote from Eisenhower that I really like:

There’s a saying in the military: “Plans go out the window at the first contact with the enemy.” Even General Dwight Eisenhower—who oversaw the most ambitious military invasion in modern history—said, “Plans are worthless.” But he added an important caveat: “Planning is everything.”

The review covers many aspects of negotiation, from the aforementioned planning/preparedness, to dealing with uncertainty, to listening, to strategy, to mindfulness and more. Quotes from great negotiators are laid side by side with quotes from recognized artists/improvisers. Near the end of the review, Blanding says:

Being centered emotionally is essential to negotiation success. Wheeler says it requires being comfortable with seemingly contradictory feelings—for example, being simultaneously calm and alert—and approaching negotiation as an ongoing process of discovery about the situation, your counterpart, and perhaps even yourself.

And as long as I’m discussing this, I might as well provide a link to my friend Scott’s article a few years ago, talking about what jazz soloists know about creative collaboration.



One of the people I’m coaching at work has been resisting delegation even though she feels overwhelmed. Her main concern is that delegation takes too much time, because most people don’t do the task right and she has to go back and re-do it anyway. We’ve talked through figuring out which tasks are best for delegation: tasks easily taught, tasks that will be repeated multiple times in the future (so investing time in initial training is worthwhile), tasks where imperfection can be tolerated, etc. This has worked well for relatively simple, rote tasks that need to be delegated, but is not enough guidance for larger projects.

In preparing for our next coaching session, I found an article from Bridgespan entitled Effective Delegation in Three Simple Steps. It describes delegation as “a balance between trusting others to get the work done and taking steps to ensure that those you’ve delegated to have the support needed to meet expectations.” 

I’ll be sharing the full article with her, but thought I would also summarize here. Step one is to hand over the responsibility and agree on expectations (cover what the project is, why the project is important and why you chose this person to handle it, who else is involved and should be included, where the person can get help and resources, when it needs to be done, and a little bit of how it should be done). Step two is “don’t delegate and disappear,” which seems simple. However, it can be difficult to strike the right balance between hovering over someone as they work and waiting too long to find out they’ve put too much time and energy into going in the wrong direction – the article has a good discussion of one example and how it was handled. Step three is “create learning opportunities” which reminds us to debrief on how the project went, even (especially) if it went well – often we learn from our mistakes, but forget to take the time to learn from our successes as well.

I also printed out a worksheet from The Management Center, linked in the article, that provides a framework to help think through assigning roles when delegating. This framework, called The MOCHA Model, articulates the roles of Manager, Owner, Consulted, Helper, and Approver. We just had a meeting last week where we found that a project had stalled because roles and responsibilites were not clear, so I think this will be really helpful as well.