Using the jazz metaphor, conventional wisdom suggests that managers (jazz band leaders) should lead knowledge workers engaged in emergent work processes (jazz band members), using plans as guides, becoming experts in the work they’re managing, hiding the emergent nature of the work from their customers, and leading charismatically in the face of uncertainty. The authors’ research and experience, with both jazz and management, indicates that this conventional wisdom does not capture the essence of what either successful managers or jazz leaders do, since it separates learning from doing the business of emergent work. Instead, successful managers of emergent work focus on conversations, not plans; they rely on and constantly build mental maps of the expertise in their ‘bands’; they engage rather than hide from the public, as knowledge about the work emerges, and they lead through making connections, not through charismatic showmanship.

“A plan, in this conventional wisdom, is one with objectives about what employees should accomplish. Emergence is managed by allowing the plan to change as conditions change.”

Dr Mathias Kirchmer, Ann Majchrzak, Dave Logan, Ron McCurdy