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Yes to the Mess: Surprising Leadership Lessons from Jazz by Frank Barrett

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CHAPTER FOUR
Minimal Structure–Maximal Autonomy
Balancing Freedom and Constraints

Jazz bassist and composer Charles Mingus once famously said, “You can’t improvise on nothing. You gotta improvise on something.” Musicians need a song, a motif, a set of notes on which to embellish and create an improvisation, and they’re not alone in feeling that way. One of the greatest actors of our generation, Robert De Niro, famous for inventing brilliant scenes on the fly, argues that actors need constraints of character and situation in order to meaningfully improvise. Improvisation, in short, needs rules and some kind of order.

Jazz improvisation is a complex system. Information flows freely yet is restrained, members are diverse yet conform and remain ...

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