I forget where I came across Artful Making: What Managers Need to Know About How Artists Work, by Rob Austin and Lee Devin. But something about the description led me to put it on my wish list, which led to getting the book for Christmas. (Thanks, Alexis.)
The book uses analogies to how theater companies create a dynamic performance under set time pressures to describe how managers can lead without defining each step along the way towards the goal. In many ways — as the authors recognize — artful making complements the idea of agile development.
Agile, as I’ve learned it, has been more about development than full organizational process and thinking. But certainly some of the same lessons apply in a world where work can be (and often is) about delivering an experience, defined by code and language, through nothing but the product of several individual brains.
The authors emphasize their theater model, even in their language. In a quote that struck me, I’ve changed “director/manager” to director for simplicity:
A manager cannot necessarily know what workers are doing, cannot tell them what to do, but can often influence their focus. Focus is hard for individuals, as we have seen. It’s even harder for organizations. But through influence on focus, good directors can lead the group to release in productive directions, into territory rich with potential. [p. 93]
Since my work is a rich combination of my own individual contributions and coordinating the contributions of individuals, Artful Making helped describe the practices in a meaningful way. It doesn’t hurt that the language is not dense with business jargon, and the total volume is relatively light. The authors stay away from repeating themselves too much, which seems to be a standard practice in business books. While it’s a poor website, navigationally, you can read the introduction online for free to get a sense of the ideas.