If complexity and turbulence are the key words for the contemporary world we live in, then organizational settings constitute a net of superposed time schedules and contingent, sudden aggregations of communication. The economy of production and organizational technologies unfolds in a texture of cooperation based on tacit knowledge, shown in diverse models of partnership1starting from (a) a small cooperative cell (the team) within an organization or company, (b) the organizational design of a company or nonprofit organization as an entity in itself with explicit structures and implicit knowledge, and (c) the strategic alliances between different types of organizations and stakeholders. The variety of different relations share a common challenge: although determined by explicit, most often rationally planned structures, they are—quite often paradoxically—driven by implicit and "tacit" knowledge, and emotionally-based decision-making processes. The more complex situations and settings, the more planning and rationality are loosing ground in the process of organizing (Weick & Westley, 1996).

To detect the language of tacit knowledge we need to experiment with new sensorial channels and metaphors: if we could "hear" the dynamic processes of organizations, the communicative sensorium in the workplace will be expanded to a new and deeper level which allows access both to aesthetic and emotional dimensions of processes. Music as a performing art can be a key to the deep level of organizing and innovative processes beyond the rational visibility of organizational structures and processes. Music—and also other types of art—can be used as a reflective tool for both managers and employees to start a dynamic and creative process of learning for organizational systems and individuals. To imagine organizational processes as a piece of music opens up organizational systems often stuck in strategic plans and workflows and helps to creatively redesign the system.

Here, a special form of musical production is necessary in order to foster learning in complex and constantly changing settings which call for the ability for continuous sense-making and serendipity (Weick & Westley, 1996): the technology of improvisation recently has inspired organizational theory as a metaphor (Barrett, 1998; Hatch 1999; Weick & Westley, 1996), but will be even more important for organizational processes if we look at music not only in an receptive or interpretative mode, but also as a tool for sense-making. Improvisation then will be the ability not only to cope with unknown potentials and uncertain processes, but also to redesign patterns and minimal structures (Kamoche & Cunha, 2001), out of which implicit knowing in organizations is constructed, in a creative way. Already today and even more in the future, organizational situations and settings have emerged in which the tentative becomes the status quo. On a global scale, both the dynamic processes and the unpredictability of financial markets and its failure or technological disasters (like Deep Sea Horizon or Fukushima) are urging for rediscovering the patterns of management beyond rational planning. Thus, the inventive production of improvisation becomes a norm in itself: challenge and possibility.


Improvisation etymologically descends from the Latin "improvisus," which means unforeseen, unexpected. The term improvisation belongs to the realm of what-is-not-yet. Thus improvisation cannot be described in itself, but can be localized as a continuous readiness and an ability to act-in-an-instant (Scharmer, 2009). Everything else will come out of the situations and their processes. Field, network, variation principles, are the categories of action on fluid ground. Therefore, to improvise in situations of ambiguity, alertness and presence will become key features of any organization. Moderation and facilitation is no more the model of governing teams and situations. Improvisation positions itself as a technology that also takes into account the agreement, the actual state and the autobiographic characteristics of the individual in a group process.

Schôn (1983), in describing the "reflective practitioner," already relied on the task of jazz-musicians to use improvisation in order to create coherence in unpredictable situations: musicians—while collectively trying to develop a creative and inspiring new dynamic of sound—use metric, melodic and harmonic patterns which each one of them is familiar with and shapes the tune or the sound. Musicians most of the time only intuitively grasp the idea of where the tune is developing based on their performance: they will be able to pick up the new sense and adapt their individual play for the new goal. Successful improvisations not only are inspiring examples of "reflective practice"—says Donald Schôn—but organizational improvisation also can be seen as the basis of a new praxis of organizing complex systems which are innovative in nature (Johnson, 2011).

Improvisation does not differentiate between thinking and acting, but intensifies the movement between the systems of the body. Improvisation therefore acts as a controlling system in the navigation between the difference of intersubjective openness and solipsistic moments of subjectivity. Then, intellectual work, social experience and practical—intuitive competence are converging—as is the difference between the individual and the collective in social systems, and the difference between the past and the future in time (Scharmer, 2009). If improvisation acts in a mode of permanent crisis and in the mode of permanent decision making, we have not defined how the decisions come about. Here the abilities come into play that empower us to judge. Hannah Arendt (1992) points out, that Kant's (1987) notion of the faculty of judgement is connected with the sensus communis, understanding the community as the site that allows us to develop and discuss: critique becomes an open system. So the power of judgment develops its criteria and defines the public sphere of negotiation. Improvisation in contemporary societies is the faculty of judgement in real time.

< Prev   CONTENTS   Next >