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Organizational jazz: Extraordinary performance through extraordinary leadership

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By David Napoli, Alma M Whiteley, Kathrine S Johansen

Published: 2005
ISBN: 978-0-9757710-6-8
Pages: xii+244
Imprint: Verdant House


Myths that we operate in certain and predictable worlds, and that mankind can control its environment, do not help us to build productive, satisfying and sustainable organizations.

Constant, rapid and unpredictable changes, both internal and external, are challenging the time-honoured business models we are taught to follow - as we strive to manage our complex, evolving organizations.

Drawing on the science of complex adaptive systems, this book offers a lens through which we search for new ways of thinking about, and working with, the unpredictability of our dynamic complex world.

Organizations of today need 'Extraordinary Leaders' who can 'dance' with change by embracing the principles of complexity science to create highly adaptable and innovative organizations that recognise the value of intangible assets.

The success of an organization usually depends on those working closest to the value-adding end of the business. It is those employees and their immediate leaders, who seem to have the greatest impact on the success of an organization. Managers-as-leaders can ease the way for those who depend on them for support and encouragement. This exceptional book provides structure, applications, workshops and tips.

It is obvious that the world is caught in the process of constant, rapid and unpredictable change. Such changes are challenging the time-honoured business models that we hold, as we strive to understand the changes around us and survive.

This book offers a lens through which we search for new ways of thinking about, and working in our dynamic complex world. The search draws on the science of complex adaptive systems.

Organizations of today need ‘Extraordinary Leaders’ who can ‘dance’ with these changes by embracing the principles of complexity science to create highly adaptable and innovative organizations that recognise the value of intangible assets. The success of an organization usually depends on those working closest to the value-adding end of the business. It is those employees and their immediate leaders, who seem to have the greatest impact on the success of an organization. Managers-as-leaders can ease the way for those who depend on them for support and encouragement. People are the only true agents in a business or organization. All assets, whether tangible or intangible, are the result of human actions. Therefore, it is essential that people in organizations experience high levels of commitment to their work and value relationships and respect. These are fundamental requirements if rapid, timely and comprehensive information is to flow to the decision points within the organization in productive and sustainable ways.

This book places people at the centre of the organization working within the theoretical framework of complex adaptive systems and shows how and why it works to create wealth and dignity. Organizational Jazz symbolically represents the joining of the certain with the uncertain creating an environment for innovation and performance.

Table of Contents


Chapter 1: Introduction


Chapter 2: The Dance and the Music

  • Nature of change
  • Closed change
  • Contained change
  • Open-ended change
  • Close to certainty
  • Far from certainty
  • Some questions to ponder


Chapter 3: Mechanistic Management

  • Rules, regulations and procedures
  • Questions to ponder
  • Defined and rigid structures
  • Question to ponder
  • Detailed plans and budgets
  • Question to ponder
  • Rational problem solving processes
  • Question to ponder
  • Single loop learning
  • Performance management from above
  • A scenario to ponder
  • The bureaucratic structure
  • A scenario to ponder
  • The attributes of mechanistic management
    • License to operate
    • Control and limitation
  • Questions to ponder


Chapter 4: Transformational edge

  • Complex adaptive systems
  • Strange attractors
  • Situation to ponder


Chapter 5: Extraordinary Leadership

Part One

  • Extraordinary Leadership: Performance = direction + willingness
  • Boundaries and guidelines
  • Extraordinary Leadership: Relationships
  • Flexible budgets to Guide
  • Extraordinary Leadership: Communities of practice, networks and partnerships
  • Communities of practice
  • Networks
  • Partnerships
  • Learning and not blame
  • Discovery
  • Performance management from a broad base
  • Information model of organization

Part Two

  • Vision and values
  • Rules driven employee story
  • Values driven employee story
  • Trust and support
  • Identity and purpose
  • Personal responsibility
    • Submission to authority
    • Denial of self-expression
    • Sacrifice for unnamed future rewards
    • A belief that the above are just
  • Customer focus
  • Points to ponder


Chapter 6: Extraordinary Leadership Workshop

  • The workshop
  • Complex adaptive systems - A memory jog
  • The Beginning - What no agenda?
  • The first day
  • As the week develops
  • Along the path
  • Observations and learning
  • Values, feelings and trust
  • Tension
  • Sustainability and support from organizations
  • Extraordinary leadership workshop - Stories
  • The magic pebbles
  • The wheel and the light
  • Maybe
  • Sir Christopher Wren
  • The 'born again' participant
  • Back at the workplace and the rusty conveyer problem


Chapter 7: PATOP

  • Philosophy, assumptions, theories of organizing and practices
  • Why philosophy?
  • The thinking
  • The first question in PATOP
  • Rational economic philosophy
  • Applying PATOP to rational economic philosophy
  • Socio-technical systems theory
  • Applying PATOP to socio-technical systems theory
  • Using PATOP to test assumptions
  • Using PATOP to manage change
  • PATOP for the workgroup


Chapter 8: Learning Through Reflection

  • The new leader
  • Ten conclusions


Chapter 9: Constraints - Shackled by Bureaucracy

  • So what?


Chapter 10: Introduction to Stories - 'The World of Experiences'

  • Dalrymple Bay Coal Terminal (DCBCT)
  • Mineral International
  • The Whyalla Rolling Mills
  • The Metropolitan Cemeteries Board


Chapter 11: Complex Adaptive Systems in Practice at DBCT


Chapter 12: Mineral International

  • The tension
  • Background
  • The new strategy
  • The spread
  • The tension
  • The results


Chapter 13: BHP's Whyalla Rolling Mills: Managing Change which Benefits All

  • The Rolling Mills vision
  • Involvement programmes
  • Teams today
  • Vision/business target
  • Supervisor network
  • Lessons learnt
  • Operator network
  • Lessons learnt
  • Area teams
  • Lessons learnt
  • Maintenance network
  • Managing safety in a changing culture
  • A new challenge
  • Lessons learnt
  • Summary


Chapter 14: The Metropolitan Cemeteries Board

  • Habit 1 - Be proactive
  • Habit 2 - Begin with the end in mind
  • Habit 3 - Put first things first
  • Habit 4 - Think win-win
  • Habit 5 - Seek first to understand, then to be understood
  • Habit 6 - Synergise
  • Habit 7 - Sharpen the saw



This book is a conversation and we start with a fun comment. It has been four years in the making and we have lived through many of the experiences we recount or make sense of. We are delighted to mention seminal authors but maintain that this book is not an academic text. Like the jazz metaphor we explain below, there is and always has been an underlying theme to our approach to organizational life. The theme is the people. The variety is the way people are constantly surprising us with their wisdom and energy. This book is for them, the people in the workplace who have shared with us their wisdom and understanding.

It is interesting that when we tell people the title of the book on which we are working, they hardly stop and think, before nodding. It seems so natural. Jazz as a metaphor, conjures stability in the tune and uncertainty in the improvisations. This is what we try to do also in this manager-as-leader practitioner book. From our experience, we blend theory and practical examples. We are privileged to bring stories of organizations that have gone beyond limited expectations by creating environments that endorse innovation and productivity whilst allowing people to work with dignity. What they deliver, as we see it is an improvised piece of 'organizational' jazz.

Jazz inspires creative musicians to improvise, yet work together with others in the orchestra. Improvising, even in general terms, is often not respected in organizations for various reasons. Often, there is the expectation that things really ought to be done to a certain way of thinking. This sort of thinking suggests that deviation from the normal is dangerous. This, we think, is very limiting. For us, beyond the 'risks horizon' lies exciting possibilities.

Returning to music, the classics, although recorded in a structured manner for exact reproduction, have their roots in improvisation during original conception. Those that follow a set score, note for note, repeating the past over and over, undoubtedly produce beauty.

However, those crazy risqué jazz musicians can take the past and create further unlimited variations, giving colour and the unexpected quality of possibility to the underlying score. The conductor and orchestra 'master and followers' relationship is replaced in the jazz 'band' of people so that each learns from the other. They create inspiration not only for themselves, but engage those who listen in anticipation. Yet, they work within boundaries such as musical key, technical competence, melody line and tempo. To these they add spontaneity to achieve exciting and creative music beyond limitation.

This book is not an academic undertaking, although conventions of writing and referencing have been followed. It is a storybook, a series of thoughts and conversations between those engaged in organizational life and the authors (who include our storytellers). We have chosen to share our ideas and memories with the reader in the spirit of promoting conversation and innovative thinking.

Our ultimate aim is to promote organizations that enable people to not only create wealth for shareholders but for society at large and in a way that offers respect and dignity. We believe that to waste the resources of society is not acceptable and we hope to suggest ways in which resources, including human resources, are optimized. With new thinking it is possible that these ambitions may be achieved as we pass the management baton to the next generation.

We are keen to challenge some of the underlying beliefs that govern behaviour in organizations. The belief that we operate in a certain and predictable world is a fantasy that society can no longer afford. The belief that mankind can control its environment is a myth that has been thrust upon most of us from an early age. Such fantasies and myths are no longer helpful in building productive, satisfying and sustainable organizations.

Albert Einstein suggested that no problem could be solved by using the same thinking that created it. We need to search with new eyes and new ways of thinking. He also said that imagination is more important than knowledge, but just in case...we have brought you both. We believe strongly that the success of an organisation usually depends on those working closest to the value-adding end of the business.

It is those employees and their immediate leaders, who seem to have the greatest impact on the success of an organization. They drive the pedals, they pull the levers and push the buttons and they deliver the service to the final customers. Ultimately, it is they who add value to their organizations' processes. Managers and others have a different job to do. They may be able to do little more than read the dials of performance but they can ease the way for those who depend on them for support and encouragement. They are responsible for providing leadership.

This book is directed mostly to those who drive the pedals, pull the levers, push the buttons and deliver the service to the customer. We also hope that it will provide insights for those responsible for creating environments where people not only can, but want to, release the discretionary energy that is always there, waiting to emerge. We are passionate about creating wealth for every organizational member and we invite you to join us in our journey.




There are many fellow travellers on this journey and they include the many courageous 'front line employees', managers and executives. We are grateful for the support, encouragement and the opportunities to travel with them. People who supported the journey and gave generously their time and thoughts on the change programmes include Peter Vaughton, Keith Hillier, Gary Langton, Ian Healey, Bob Frizell, Simon Linge, Louis Caruana, Bob McArdle, John Cleary, Mike Byrne, Ian Tunnecliffe, Hans Langendam, Chong-Jin Chong, Greg Waters, Rob Crawford, Mike O'Loughlin, Steve Wickham, Damien Marantelli, Rowena Smith, Alan Gageler, Graeme Fitzgerald, John Monoghan, Geoff Voigt, Daphne Hart, Bernie Cooper, Bronic Karcz, Andy Paton, Sean Winstone, Rob Elder, Peter MacLean, Susan Feeney, John Vickers, Paul Day, Barry Nicholls and the many thousands of participants in the workshops, who provided a rich and unique education for us.

We also acknowledge all the unique individuals that we have met in our lives who have taught us how complex human systems are. We would like to acknowledge Jann Barker for her support over the years and Yvonne and Lindsay Quann from Karriview Lodge, for their generosity during the writing of this book. We are particularly indebted to Bob Dick and the late Fred Emery who have contributed to our learning over many years. Also, we are deeply indebted to Andrew Carter and his team for their insights and, the courage to do something extraordinary to achieve extraordinary tangible results. Lastly, thank you to Terry Thomas, Carolyn Gay and Barbara Ridyard, who reviewed drafts of this book.

David, Alma and Kathrine


Reviewer: Paul Waight
Lecturer in Management and HRM
Central Queensland University, Rockhampton, QLD, Australia


Organizational Jazz offers the reader a less conventional lens focusing on what Napoli, Whiteley and Johansen term 'Extraordinary Leadership', and its effect on organisational performance. The volume reflects on the difficulty of managing organisations using traditional methods based in the organisational principles of Weber, the management principles of Fayol and the work design methods of Taylor. Instead of these traditional approaches the authors suggest that managers should pursue management and leadership skills based on the dynamic concepts proffered by Peter Senge (The Fifth Discipline 1990), Margaret Wheatley (Leadership and the New Science 1994) and Ralph Stacey (Strategic Management and Organizational Dynamics 1993) and others. To back up this proposition, the book focuses on examples of the application of these principles in various Australian organisations. The book concludes with a more detailed case-like discussion of three organisations that have applied these principles and techniques in diverse circumstances and industries.

The title of the book gives a hint as to its contents. In the preface, organisational life is equated in terms of jazz - 'stability in the tune and uncertainty in the improvisations' (p.x). The analogy is quite appropriate; organisations by and large exist in uncertain times, and whilst pursuing stability in various forms, must contend with massive uncertainty both externally and internally. The book attempts to explain how newer theories of organisation might be applied to the task of operating in an environment that is more likely to be chaotic than stable.

The book consists of fourteen chapters with nine being devoted to the exploration of management and leadership, and the final five devoted to discussion of organisations that have applied some of the new theories and practices in the face of increasingly complex operating environments. In the first two chapters, the authors point out that traditional ways of looking at strategy and leadership are inadequate in an environment where change is one of the few certainties. The focus then becomes, how can organisations be managed in operational environments that lack certainty, and the level of agreement between key players is low?

The third chapter progresses the argument relating to certainty and agreement, and demonstrates how in environments where there is a reasonable level of certainty and agreement, 'mechanistic management' might well be appropriate. The authors point out that in all organisations, there is a need for some level of mechanistic management in areas such as health and safety, legal compliance and the like. The suggestion is that mechanistic management underpins the organisation's 'licence to operate'. In examining the tenets of mechanistic management, the authors note the limitations of such processes, and introduce their alternative based on systems theory and complex adaptive systems theory (chaos theory).

Chapter four is titled the 'Transformational Edge'. A description of complex adaptive systems is tied to the leadership requirements of organisations that are operating 'on the edge of chaos'. The chapter only briefly describes the underlying principles of chaos theory, and many readers might need to look further for a more robust explanation of its application to management and leadership. Napoli and colleagues map the concepts of mechanistic management and extraordinary leadership on a two dimensional grid with 'agreement' and 'certainty' forming the two axes. In conditions of close agreement and prediction close to certainty, mechanistic management processes are legitimate; as organisations move away from certainty and agreement they move towards the edge of chaos. According to the authors, the bridge between the two is the concept of 'Extraordinary Leadership'. Whereas mechanistic management is described as 'licence to operate - control, limits, predictability, permission'. Extraordinary leadership is to do with 'performance, innovation, growth, willingness, discretionary energy, responsiveness and judgement'.

Extraordinary leadership is discussed in detail in the two-part chapter five. Part 1 discusses the idea of boundaries and guidelines instead of rules and regulations, issues of relationships and trust, the use of budgets as a guide to action not a rigid blueprint, the ideas surrounding communities of practice, networks and partnerships, the principles of the learning organisation, and a broad-based view of performance management. This chapter briefly touches on the growing importance of personal competence (especially in areas such as emotional intelligence), the need to foster and maintain multiple relationships that are outside the formal organisational structure, and an appreciation of the 'shadow organisation'.

The second part of chapter five continues the discussion of the elements of the 'new' leadership model, with an exploration of the roles of vision and values, trust and support, identity and purpose, personal responsibility, and the need to be customer focused. Again, familiar concepts are being discussed, but the contrast between the assumptions of mechanistic management and those of 'extraordinary leadership' give food for thought, with many useful and interesting sources cited.

Chapter six is titled 'Extraordinary Leadership Workshop' and discusses some of the ways in which the authors have used the concepts of complex adaptive theory and systems theory to help several organisations reconceptualise the role of leadership, and to move to a new way of performing in a complex, ever-changing environment. Whilst there is some descriptive material here, the chapter seems somewhat disjointed, and I'm not sure that a clear picture of the intervention process emerges.

Chapter seven introduces the PATOP model; Philosophy, Assumptions, Theory of Organising and Practices. This is a useful concept that allows managers to examine the alignment of their organisation, and identify areas and issues that might need modification.

The final two content chapters, 'Learning Through Reflection' and 'Constraints - Shackled by Bureaucracy' summarise the main arguments of the book, and in the constraints chapter, further issues relating to bureaucratic organisational structures are discussed.

This section gives further food for thought regarding the inability of such structures to meet the needs and demands of the current environment. The argument against hierarchical, bureaucratic organisations is neatly summed up in the following statement: 'The desire for stability, certainty, and predictability can only be found by looking inwards and upwards in a hierarchical structure. This becomes seductive. The alternative is to look outwards, where customers are living with unpredictability and change as their currency' (p.199).

The final five chapters give various perspectives of how some to the principles expounded in the volume have been applied to organisations. The three examples discusses offer an interesting diversity with a high volume coal terminal, a steel rolling mill, and a cemeteries board used to demonstrate how organisations can benefit from using leadership principles based on the ideas of chaos theory, systems theory and the concept of the learning organisation.

Overall I found the book to be an interesting read. However, whilst the material appears to be aimed at practitioners rather than academe, the underpinning theoretical perspectives of complex adaptive theory and systems theory have not been clearly explained. As I am reasonably familiar with the theoretical underpinnings, and the concepts put forward by Stacey, Senge, Wheatley and others, I could follow the main arguments, even though in some places this was not as easy as it could be. For those not familiar with chaos theory as it applies to organisations, or Peter Senge's 'fifth discipline' (systems theory), fitting the ideas into some sort of framework might be problematic. But on the whole, the book may prompt an exploration of, or a revisit to, some of the more interesting speculation in the field of management and leadership.

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