The Music of Business May 23, 2013Posted by keithsawyer in Enhancing creativity, Genius Groups.
Tags: AC/DC, Academy of Rock, Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, Peter Cook, Prince
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I just spoke with Peter Cook, the author of the new book The Music of Business and the creator of the executive workshop “The Academy of Rock.” The core theme of Peter’s book is that rock music can provide valuable lessons for managers. Peter has the perfect background to write this book; he’s a musician, he’s been a band manager, he’s managed R&D teams in pharmaceutical companies, and he’s been running these workshops for years. Although I’m primarily a jazz pianist, in my 20s I played for a total of about five years in two different rock bands in Boston–an all-original early 1980s band called Video Free Europe, and then a Grateful Dead cover band called Slipknot–so I really enjoyed Peter’s book.
So Peter, tell me about your Academy of Rock executive workshops. What kind of experience do the participants have?
The Academy of Rock is the high-visibility “brand” of my business. The core is mixing music with business. My design follows the Honey-Mumford learning cycle…I take concepts from academia, get people to try them out in a personal experience, and then reflect on the experience and identify the take-aways. With music, they have a much more powerful and engaging experience in a short time. Adding music is engaging, and people get the message faster. Music also helps you retain the take-home message better. A BBC 4 reporter described what I do as “sexing up” business, which sounds just fine to me.
Sometimes I bring a band with me to perform on stage along with my keynote remarks. I like to use the blues, because the basic structure is easy for non-musicians to understand. Jazz is a bit too complex. I’ve used some big-name musicians in my seminars—for example, Ozzy Osbourne’s guitarist.
I like to get people up on stage, but I always ask for volunteers. If there are musicians in the audience who volunteer, I have instruments available and I have them play. For the non musicians, I have a lot of percussion instruments that just about anyone can play…triangles, even “found objects” like water hoses from cars. I always bring a box full of rock musician clothing, and a bunch of long-hair wigs, to help with the role-playing element of the experience and make them feel that they are in a rock band.
Some audiences are very shy. So sometimes I take the instruments out into the audience, so they can play without actually getting up on stage.
In your book, you say that rock is “an industry that encourages repetition” (p. 46). You start your book talking about the band AC/DC, which you say always sounds the same. But isn’t this the opposite of innovation? Why is this a good model for innovative business? There’ve been a lot of books that have used jazz improvisation as a model for business and leadership, emphasizing the emergent and improvisational aspects of jazz. So is the repetition and stability of rock a better model for business? Is jazz too improvisational?
AC/DC has rehearsed everything. They are non-adaptive. They succeed because they’ve developed a strong brand, and the fans want to hear the same thing over and over. They performed the same songs for forty years. The most successful business model in the rock business is when bands keep playing the same songs—the Rolling Stones, AC/DC–and people like that. But music industry insiders have told me that AC/DC wouldn’t last 40 years if they started now. You could do that in the 1970s, because there weren’t that many media channels.
But some bands change constantly. The example I use in the book is Prince; he is a “boundary crosser” (p. 139). Prince’s band is an example of an adaptive organization, and he’s managed to keep his audience even through his many changes. But there’s a very real possibility that you will lose your fan base, or some of them.
So is the message, don’t be too innovative? I am reminded of Microsoft’s Windows 8 operating system. It’s very innovative and it’s won design awards, but the existing Microsoft Windows customers mostly don’t like it.
So how do you change and yet keep your audience? Do you warn them in advance? Do you simply lead, and wait for them to follow? I think the best strategy is scaffolding…bring the audience along, keep things in it that they can build on, that are familiar.
Some rock bands are more improvisational. You use the example of Deep Purple in your book, and I see that you’re now wearing a Deep Purple t-shirt.
Yes, they are noted for improvising, not just doing their set pieces. Particularly when they started. You can see videos online of Ritchie Blackmore directing the rest of the band, in a very didactic way. Extremely strong leadership style. Deep Purple are exceptional, especially when compared with a band like Black Sabbath. The creative tension between the members of Deep Purple drove great creativity, but the band eventually broke up due to this same creative tension.
So how do you manage creative tension and keep everyone together?
Creative leadership involves enabling and facilitating, allowing mistakes, transforming the problem, giving it space.
I spent a lot of time doing R&D at a pharmaceutical company, leading teams of maverick scientists. Leading more than managing, getting them facing in the general direction of what we wanted to do. Small startups can afford to be more jazz-like, they are focused more on breakthrough innovation. They’re doing front end, leading-edge stuff, and the jazz metaphor is very appropriate to that.
Richard Branson, on the other hand, says big industries can’t do anything clever. I’m not sure I agree, but I think the rock thing is appropriate for things that have reached a certain size. R&D might be more appropriate for a jazz approach. But manufacturing is not the place to do a lot of improvisation. They’re looking for order, control, certainty. And the rock thing works better there.
What are the key take-home lessons of your book?
First, I think organizations are over-structured right now. Creativity is vital and yet scarce resource. All organizations need to improvise and dance a bit more.
Second, I focus on the end-product rather than the input. You need to be able to commercialize the creativity. A lot of organizations are really bad at preserving the novelty that they’ve produced. Turning creativity into innovation is as important as creativity itself.
Third, leaders, in the current age, can’t run organizations with command and control. You need to lead with emotional intelligence, consult and listen carefully (also to markets). Everyone needs to get better at using their ears.
Peter Cook, thank you so much for your time, and for your fascinating book The Music of Business.
Burt Bacharach’s Creativity Technique May 21, 2013Posted by keithsawyer in Enhancing creativity.
Tags: burt bacharach, incubation, spencer bailey, zig zag
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Burt Bacharach said this in an interview with Spencer Bailey in the New York Times:
When I’m stuck with musicians in the studio and don’t know what’s wrong, I will break and go into a stall in the men’s room. I will sit on the toilet seat. Nobody talks to me there, and I get no advice from any musician. I work it through in my head, and four out of four times, I come out a winner.
I give very similar advice in my book Zig Zag: The Surprising Path to Greater Creativity. I call this technique “Incubate” and in addition to the toilet seat, here are some common places that people have sudden inspiration (page 114):
- In the tub
- On the treadmill
- Mowing the lawn
- Sorting the recycling
- Waiting in the doctor’s office
- Listening to talk show radio
- Listening to a boring lecture
- Sitting through a boring meeting
- Commuting to and from work
I really should have added Burt Bacharach’s technique to the list!
What Americans Think About Creativity May 15, 2013Posted by keithsawyer in Everyday life.
Tags: bill clinton, microsoft, mpaa, time magazine
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I just read the results of a fascinating new survey of 2,040 adult U.S. consumers, conducted online in April for TIME Magazine, Microsoft, and the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA). #strangebedfellows
First of all, Americans value creativity in others more than just about any other characteristic:
And although 83% of people say creativity is important in their job, a whopping 91% say it’s important in their personal life.
Fifty percent of people think creatively in pictures, only 34% in words. And 4% think creatively in sound…probably the musicians!
For you students and teachers out there: 62% say that creativity is more important to job success than they thought it would be when they were in school.
*If you follow the link below to the online article, you’ll discover that the survey is connected to a conference held on April 26, 2013, hosted by the MPAA, called “The Creativity Conference,” and you can watch video excerpts there (including of President Bill Clinton).
The Torrance Center for Creativity April 19, 2013Posted by keithsawyer in Education, Uncategorized.
Tags: paul torrance, TTCT
This week, I’m visiting the legendary Torrance Center at the University of Georgia. I’m honored to be delivering the 2013 annual Torrance Lecture, invited by center directory Bonnie Cramond. My topic was “Group Genius: The Creative Power of Collaboration.”
Paul Torrance was one of the first-wave creativity researchers, who helped to found the field back in the 1950s and 1960s. In the late 1950s, he developed the first version of his creativity test, which soon became known as the Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking, or TTCT. This test continues to be the most widely used creativity test in the world–often used for admission to gifted and talented programs, for example. You can read more about this history in my 2012 book Explaining Creativity.
In the mid-1960s, Torrance argued that schools should teach creativity, and that curriculum for all subjects should be designed to foster creative learning outcomes. He even developed a series of curricular materials that teachers could use to help students be more creative. He was way ahead of his time–in the last ten years, education leaders around the world have been advocating for creative learning as a “21st century skill,” and I also believe that we need to do a better job of fostering creativity in our students.
He lived a long and productive life, most of it at the University of Georgia, passing on in 2003–and leaving part of his estate to UGA to fund the Torrance center’s ongoing research.
It was awesome to stand in front of the glass display case containing all of Dr. Torrance’s awards. And I wish I’d had more time to peruse his book collection, which lines the walls of the center’s conference room. It was a wonderful visit–to be surrounded by people dedicated to the study of creativity.
Tags: director, francesca zambello, glimmerglass, washington national opera
There’s a fascinating interview in yesterday’s New York Times* with Francesca Zambello, artistic director of the Washington National Opera. Her personal experience aligns exactly with my research on collaboration and creativity:
Creativity cannot explode if you do not have the ability to step back, take in what everybody else says and then fuse it with your own ideas. Theater is one of the most collaborative art forms, and you have to be able to absorb everything that people tell you….When I go into meetings with successful business people, I’m always amazed at how much they’re able to just sit there and absorb things and then make a really good decision.
Having original ideas is what makes you successful, if you know how to implement them. It’s a rare thing because some people have the ideas and other people have the mechanics, but they can’t do both.
You have to learn how to fail.
Perhaps my biggest study of group creativity was my study of Chicago improvisational theater groups. I learned that theater is truly an ensemble art form: the purest example of group genius.
*Adam Bryant, “First, make sure your idea works on a small stage.” New York Times, Sunday April 7, 2013, page BU2.
Teaching Creativity in the University April 2, 2013Posted by keithsawyer in Education, Uncategorized.
Tags: carnegie mellon, creative thinking, dan berrett, divergent thinking, stanford, studio model, university of kentucky
Colleges and universities around the United States are increasingly introducing creativity into their undergraduate curriculum. They’re responding to national calls for greater creativity and entrepreneurship, and hoping to help solve pressing social problems–climate change, income inequality, global water scarcity. These challenging problems can’t be solved only with technical knowledge, or with the standard textbook procedures. In most cases, they require innovative interdisciplinary teams. Influential national reports from the Business Roundtable and the Council on Competitiveness have argued that our schools need to “educate for innovation,” that we need to transform the way we teach students. Best-sellers by authors like Dan Pink and Tom Friedman, and a popular TED talk by Sir Ken Robinson, have spread the message widely.
Colleges are now getting the message. Many of them are now requiring students to participate in creative activities, or to take courses in creative thinking, as writer Dan Berrett describes in this week’s Chronicle of Higher Education.* Starting this Fall, Stanford will require all incoming students to take at least one course in “creative expression.” Students at Carnegie Mellon now have to satisfy a “creating” requirement, when they create a painting or a musical composition, or design and build a robot, or develop a creative experimental design. Both the University of Kansas and the City University of New York have recently adopted general education requirements that all students take a course in creative thinking. The University of Kentucky requires all 20,000 undergraduates to take a three-credit course in creativity.
The goal is to help students learn about how creativity works; about how to negotiate the twists and turns in the creative process; and to develop their own confidence in their ability to generate creative solutions. I completely support these curricular changes; after all, the 21st century is the creative age, and every career is going to require creative thinking (except for the repetitive jobs that are being automated anyway). Most graduates will change jobs multiple times; many of them will end up in careers that don’t even exist today. They need creativity, adaptability, and flexibility more than just about any other course we might require.
There are lots of challenges to getting this right. First, creativity research shows that you get the best results when you teach creativity within the context of a specific discipline (rather than teaching one “general creativity” course). This means that if you want creative physicists, then your physics department classes need to be changed; if you want creative computer scientists, then the computer science curriculum needs to be changed. If you just add a three-credit creativity course, but then students get the same old memorize-and-regurgitate curriculum in their STEM classes, the creativity course won’t be able to overcome the uncreative STEM teaching.
Second, different departments on campus are likely to have different perspectives on what counts as “creativity.” The professors in the art school and the music department often associate creativity with the arts; but creativity is important in all disciplines, even in science and math, and especially in engineering. (The Engineer of 2020 report, by the National Academy of Engineering, starts with the sentence “Engineering is a profoundly creative occupation.”) If you’re taking a piano class and memorizing a composition by Beethoven for the piano, is that really creative? And what about a computer science class where you design a user interface for a web site? That certainly seems creative… but, what if you’re designing a new database algorithm for a large international bank? Isn’t that creative too? (Even though the soulless depths of a bank’s back office seem to be about as far away from creativity as one can get…)
This is one reason that I’m now studying how professors teach in schools of art and design and architecture. These professors have been teaching for creativity for decades, while at the same time guiding their students towards learning important discipline-specific skills and procedures. Their teaching is domain specific, which is perfectly aligned with creativity research. My hope is that by documenting this “studio model,” I can draw out important lessons for how to reform teaching in science, math, and engineering.
I’m glad to see that so many universities are responding to the need for greater creativity!
*Dan Berrett. “The Creativity Cure.” Chronicle of Higher Education, April 1, 2013
How to Foster Entrepreneurship in China? March 26, 2013Posted by keithsawyer in Education.
Tags: entrepreneurship, Kauffman campus, li hongbin
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A recent study* found that U.S. graduates are much more likely than Chinese graduates to found a startup or join one. This survey of engineering students at three top Chinese universities and Stanford University found that 22 percent of Stanford grads planned to start or join a startup; 52 percent of top Chinese graduates plan to join the government. One 25-year-old graduate in international business explained it this way: “If you work for private-sector Chinese firms, your family will lose face. Those aren’t famous firms.” She went on to say that entrepreneurial jobs are too risky. In Wenzhou, a city whose recent success has been driven by entrepreneurship, “entrepreneurs were viewed suspiciously by many residents.” Li Hongbin, a Tsinghua University economist who worked on the study, says
The current education system does not produce people who are innovative. That makes it harder for the country to reach its long-term goal of building an innovative society.
The government in Beijing knows that entrepreneurship has driven the Chinese economy, and they now have policies in place–for example, to bring back Chinese professionals who attended university in other countries and stayed there. One policy offers a bonus of as much as $160,000 for those who return; and yet, since 2008, only 3,300 professionals have taken up the offer.
Some of China’s top universities are beginning to offer entrepreneurship education programs, of the sort that are now common in the U.S. thanks in part to the funding of the Kauffman Foundation, which has famously sponsored many “Kauffman campuses” where students can major in entrepreneurship and participant in business plan competitions, under the guidance of experienced local mentors. (My employer, Washington University, is a Kauffman campus.) Three of China’s most elite universities, Tsinghua and Peking Universities in Beijing, and Fudan University in Shanghai, have created incubator programs to help entrepreneurs develop commercial applications.
So what’s the solution for entrepreneurship in China? Schools and universities are an important part of the solution; many Chinese perceive their own schools and colleges to be focused on rote learning and not receptive to creativity and critical thinking. One international business student chose to attend an English language university, run by Britain’s Nottingham University, specifically to acquire the “critical thinking” that her uncle says is lacking in Chinese graduates.
But colleges can’t solve the problem alone. Cultural attitudes need to change to value entrepreneurs. Venture capital is an essential component, and a business climate of open and fair market competition. Many would-be entrepreneurs give up after they realize the bribes they’re expected to pay, and the unfair advantages given to large state-owned enterprises (SOEs). The path to greater Chinese innovation is complex, but education is one of the core components of greater creativity and entrepreneurship.
*Bob Davis, 2013. “Chinese college graduates play it safe and lose out.” WSJ, Page A1, A10.
Sequestration Rhymes March 20, 2013Posted by keithsawyer in Uncategorized.
Tags: american federation of government employees, john kluczynski federal building, protest
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A protest against the automatic budget cuts, known as “sequestration,” is taking place today in Chicago. The organizers had lots of trouble coming up with catchy protest chants. Here’s the best they could come up with (according to the Wall Street Journal):
- Thank you for the irritation, We say no to sequestration
- We have major detestation, for your idea of sequestration
- Congress should have sterilization, when they thought of sequestration
- Hey we ask for dispensation, from your fast, called sequestration (you have to understand Lent to get this one)
- Congress needs some liquidation, they dreamed up this sequestration.
*Elizabeth Williamson, March 20 2013, “Demonstration against sequestration has reasons, but few rhymes.” Wall Street Journal page A1. (Awesome headline, by the way!)
Intellectual Property Law Update March 15, 2013Posted by keithsawyer in Organizational innovation, Uncategorized.
Tags: copyright, first to file, first to invent, library of congress, patent, pto, sound recordings
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Today’s Wall Street Journal reports two new developments in U.S. IP law.
First, on Saturday March 16, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) is dramatically changing its patent system, from a “first to invent” to a “first to file.”* Under the old first-to-invent system, if you could document that you were the first person to come up with an idea, you got the rights to that idea–even if someone else had filed a patent for that idea first. So what’s wrong with that? It sounds logical: if you thought of it first, it shouldn’t matter that you didn’t run to the PTO before everyone else.
There are two problems: First, every other country in the world uses a first-to-file system, which means if you filed first for the patent on the idea, it’s yours, no matter who can prove they really thought of it two years before you did (from their lab notebooks or whatever). In an increasingly international economy, having our patent system align with the rest of the world is a big deal.
Second, under first-to-invent, imagine how complex the court cases get, when some inventor somewhere says that they actually thought of that idea five years ago. Then, lawyers are poring over old lab notebooks and reading hundreds of emails. It might sound simple: All you have to do is find the email that contains the idea on a certain date–but in fact, it always takes a lot of complex interpretation. Was this lab notebook sketch really evidence of the idea? Usually, it’s close but not quite exactly the idea that’s in the patent. Many inventors think their idea really was this idea, but everyone thinks their idea has a broader scope than it really does under patent law. Companies have been spending billions defending themselves against patent lawsuits, and this change is intended to reduce the litigation.
The second article** talks about copyright protection on sound recordings. The Library of Congress wants to convert their old (and decaying) sound recordings to digital, and then make these digital versions available to their patrons. And it turns out, that’s illegal for something like 177 years after the recording was originally made. The copyright protection even for the oldest recordings, made when the technology was first invented back in the 19th century, will not end until 2067 at the earliest. In Europe, in contrast, sound recordings enter the public domain 50 years after their initial release.
The more I learn about IP law, the more I realize it’s a huge complicated mess. I’ve been impressed with my IP law colleagues, negotiating complex issues at the intersection of law, economy, and psychology of creativity (hence my involvement with the issue). But as I concluded back in 2007 in my book Group Genius, patent and copyright regimes today are too restrictive, and this is reducing societal innovation.
*Ashby Jones, “Inventors race to file patents.” WSJ March 15, 2013, p. B6
**Terry Teachout, “Copyright protection that serves to destroy.” WSJ March 15, 2013, p. D6