Some time ago, delivering a Project management training in France, I had a discussion with a participant on the words ‘in a structured manner’ being part of the definition of project management. The participant was adamantly against ‘structure’, I argued that it was indeed the structure in my preparation that allowed me to improvise in the delivery.
To me, structure represents the black and yellow poles sticking out of thick snow that prevent you from losing your way in winter mountains. Probably you’re off the path more than on it, but you are getting to your destination:
Only true professionals properly improvise, that is, act instantaneously and effectively. Think of professionals like Navy Seals, negotiators, the RAC mechanics, the stand-up comedians at Boom Chicago on the Rozengracht in Amsterdam. In these cases successful improvisation is not a coincidence, it is enabled by their rigorous preparation. Structure again?
Another thing I find that comes with rigorous preparation, is an opportunity for flow (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flow_(psychology)). When you can take your mind of the stuff that needs to be there in any case, you can let go in the discussions, in the free associations. And really relish the experience.
Structure versus improvisation is not a black or white issue. Professor Wim de Moor once presented to me structure versus improvisation on a continuum. Both extremes of the continuum were clearly over the top, be it at the one end stasis – stagnant uniform thinking i.e. extreme bureaucracy – or at the other chaos – stagnant anarchy. At the one extreme the organisation will implode, at the other it will explode. In the middle though, we find dynamism, creativity, innovation, flexibility and entrepreneurship. That is the positive centre of our balancing, dependent on circumstances and avoiding the extremes.
Structure? Yes, as much as needed and no more than necessary!
This blog was published earlier on the 3rd of September 2010