Say “YES!” to the Mess

The title of this post is also the title of a book that landed in my hands this last week: Yes to the Mess: Surprising Leadership Lessons from Jazz by Frank J. Barrett. It was a quick and novel read about the parallels of jazz music and leadership. WOW – so many great analogies!


I was intrigued by the idea that the best improvisational musicians are amazing listeners; they hear the chords, repeats, and notes and they build new riffs off what exists already. AHA! So true for life in general – all good relationships need this foundation of trust, acknowledgement and attention.

My experience in theatre resonated with this whole idea. Improv techniques on stage work much the same way – the concept is to accept what comes to you and add to it. Performers agree to say “Yes!” to the mess another actor initiates (in words or actions) and keep moving it forward.  The story-line typically comes around in an unexpected way and whatever transpires is typically better for the effort of getting dirty and working through whatever was presented.

It isn’t a long-stretch to apply this same thinking to the potential of a coaching situation. When we say “Yes!” to the mess we perceive is rolling around in our heads and get curious about what it might be like to play this out another way, we move into the same mindset as the jazz musician. Staying present, listening and then taking cues from what is – experimenting without judgment – has enormous potential for bring something beautiful into existence!

Play on!

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