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Improvisation May Be the Key to Successfully Managing Change, Says MIT

MIT research notes that, “contrary to conventional wisdom, the most successful business transformations aren’t always those with the most detailed upfront plans.” The MIT Leadership Center’s research stresses the importance of organizational flexibility in taking advantage of new technologies and safeguarding yourself against unanticipated consequences.

Agility , flexibility, improvisation – a company’s ability to quickly change is crucial to its long-term success. MIT’s Leadership Center published an article by professor Wanda J. Orlikowski that equates a successful company to an orchestra. The CEO, conductor, leads a complex group of artists to make beautiful music.

Sometimes, however, the conductor needs to let go and let its skilled and creative musicians lead. The same is said for an organization; improvisation is necessary to adaptation to uncertain and changing business conditions. As our world continues to change rapidly, companies have to be agile in order to survice.

Orlikowski says, “Organizations that stay flexible take advantage of new opportunities, explore new ways of working, and resolveunanticipated consequences.” Here are her tips for creating such an organization:

  1. Plan to improvise – sometimes you can anticipate change, and if you can do that, you should plan to address that change in a flexible way
  2. Adapt when you cannot foresee – as business rules are changing, adapt and test on a smaller, departmental scale before making company-wide changes
  3. Create a learning environment – encourage communication between your employees in different locations and departments, push everyone to learn from each other
  4. Encourage flexibility – to allow for improvisation, CEOs need to release some control and allow employees to experiment
  5. Improvise today for success tomorrow – create a culture of experimentation and improvisation even when you’re not experiencing extreme change in practice for when you do need to change

Read: Jazz-Inspired: Manage Change by Improvising


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