How Latticing Is Like Jazz

In October 2014 I was part of a panel about new career paths at the annual conference of the Materials Handling Institute. (That’s the industry that gets the stuff you need to the right place at the right time, in one piece.)

The industry desperately needs new ways to attract, retain and advance people – all people.  Eager engineers tend to flock to Silicon Valley, not to warehouses. But as I watched keynote John Kao play the piano as he explained the difference between innovation and creativity, I realized he was talking just as much about re-inventing career paths as he was about re-inventing big-scale processes and data handling and such.

Kao’s main point: Innovation blends skill and opportunity, to forge a new way of thinking or doing something. It’s flexing at the moment of inspiration – flexing with well developed skills.

Basically, you have to have muscle memory so that when the moment emerges, you can seize it. Kao illustrates this by improvising jazz on a piano right in front of the audience. He knows the keyboard and chords so well that he can smoothly riff on a theme. That, he says, is innovation.

Latticing is also innovation.  It’s career innovation that you craft when you see a chance to move over to gain experience, business skills or new technical skills.  But  it takes finesse to make lateral moves. You can’t just jump from one log to another in a moving river. You have to keep your balance.

Just as practicing the piano enables Kao to spin out jazz improvisations, you need to practice lateral moves so you are confident in the skill of latticing. You don’t want to lose a plum lateral opportunity because you weren’t able to make your case, win buy-in from peer influencers, and step into the new role.