How often have you made a plan, mapped out how to meet a goal, or imagined how things should be, only to find that the unanticipated occurred, something shifted, somebody said or did something that wasn’t part of the plan and suddenly what you envisioned seems impossible?
My favorite album is the 1975 Köln Concert. It is a live recording of the jazz improvisations of pianist Keith Jarrett. It is the best-selling piano recording in history. The backstory to the concert is intriguing and reveals much about the nature of facing challenges with creativity.
Jarrett had requested the Bösendorfer 290 Imperial concert grand piano. It seems the concert hall staff found a small Bösendorfer piano backstage, but not the Imperial 290 model requested. The piano on the stage was harsh sounding, it had black notes that stuck, many were out of tune, a thin upper register, and a weak lower register. Jarrett took one look at the piano and said he would not play the concert if they didn’t get him another instrument.
There was no time or means to get another piano. Despite the limited nature of the piano Jarrett played the concert. He rolled the notes in the bass to make the piano sound fuller, he avoided the upper register and stuck as best as he could to the middle keys. Sometimes he stood up and seemed to bang the keys to get the sound he wanted. He improvised, made the best of what he had, played with passion and created something beautiful despite, and maybe even because of, the limited instrument. The album is magical.
If you’re interested take a listen:
Record producer Manfred Eicher later said:
“Probably [Jarrett] played it the way he did because it was not a good piano. Because he could not fall in love with the sound of it, he found another way to get the most out of it.”
Improvising is not just for jazz musicians. We improvise every day. Our conversations, the encounters with co-workers, dealing with on-going projects, are in many ways examples of improvisation.
Daniel Goleman in the book Adaptability: A Primer states that adaptable leaders are focused and achieve their goals because they are able to adjust and meet challenges as they arise. They are responsive; they know how to improvise. They are creative despite the obstacles they face.
We are often asked to do more with less: there are not enough resources, not enough time, and limited knowledge. Like Keith Jarrett, we all need to play to the strengths of the people and resources we have at our disposal. And when we do, I think we will gain a bit more appreciation for the unexpected advantages and opportunities of having to cope with a little mess.
Those challenges that we didn’t plan for or anticipate just might bring some unexpected creativity.
This blog is a sample from an upcoming book ACHIEVE is publishing. The book will be released January 2019.
This book will draw heavily on “A Great Place to Work” Survey. We would love to hear your input.