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!
Debra Kaye’s New Book, Red Thread Thinking March 12, 2013Posted by keithsawyer in Enhancing creativity.
Tags: american express, Apple, brand strategy, colgate, creativity, innovation, marketing
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I really enjoyed Debra Kaye’s new book about entrepreneurship and innovation, Red Thread Thinking. Kaye is what I would call a marketing expert, but nowadays the trendier more correct term for marketing is “brand strategy”. She’s an expert on consumer product trends, and she’s consulted for Apple, Colgate, McDonalds, American Express, you name it–she is a tapped in thought leader.
I was intrigued to find a marketing expert (sorry, branding expert) writing a book about innovation, but after reading Kaye’s book it makes perfect sense. For Kaye, successful branding and marketing depends on identifying the hidden links between observations, experiences, facts, and feelings–and when we do that, we uncover fresh and surprising new insights. She’s right: the psychological research likewise shows that the most original and surprising ideas come from making hidden and distant connections. The first epigraph in her book is Steve Jobs saying “Creativity is connecting things” (I quote the same epigraph in my new book, Zig Zag!)
Kaye’s book tells you how to identify and understand these hidden “cultural codes and shifts in consumer perception” with the goal of “catapulting fresh products to iconic status.” Every Chief Marketing Officer wants that! So how do we do it? Kaye identifies five “red threads”
1. Become better at observing and interpreting what’s around us
2. Take a fresh look at the past
3. Know what makes your market tick
4. Learn how to create a new “language” to make your product stand out, and yet also be universally understood
5. Persevere, review, and refine your ideas but without compromising integrity or core beliefs
I liked this book, because I am a psychologist studying creativity, and this brings a completely different perspective to the same phenomenon: How to engage in behaviors and habits that lead to consistent and deliberate creativity.
The Entrepreneur’s DNA March 4, 2013Posted by keithsawyer in Enhancing creativity.
Tags: clayton christensen, hal gregersen, jeff dyer, zig zag
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Last Tuesday’s Wall Street Journal had a special section on “Unleashing Innovation,” with stories that emerged from a recent conference in Singapore. I was particularly interested in an interview with Hal Gregersen, a professor of innovation at Insead business school, and a coauthor (with Jeff Dyer and Clayton Christensen) of The Innovator’s DNA. The “DNA” refers to the five defining traits of innovative people:
- Associating: Drawing connections between questions, problems, or ideas from related fields
- Questioning: Posing queries that challenge common wisdom.
- Networking: Meeting people with different ideas and perspectives.
- Observing: Scrutinizing the behavior of customers, suppliers and competitors to identify new ways of doing things.
- Experimenting: Constructing interactive experiences and providing unorthodox responses to see what insights emerge.
In my forthcoming book Zig Zag, I draw on creativity research to identify eight “habits of mind” or disciplines that lead to greater creativity. The overlap with Gregersen’s five is pretty close!
- “Associating” is essentially identical to my sixth step, FUSE.
- “Questioning” is just like my first step, ASK.
- “Networking” overlaps with a couple of my steps, but mostly with LOOK, or staying aware and mindful of new ideas. “Networking” is even more closely associated with my 2007 book Group Genius.
- “Observing” is basically the same as my third step, LOOK.
- “Experimenting” is similar to my eighth and final step, MAKE. For me, MAKE is about externalizing your ideas early and often, and then to interact, refine, and revise.
I’m excited to see that Gregersen’s research shows that entrepreneurs are particularly good at engaging in these five activities. In addition, my research shows that these work for all creativity, not only entrepreneurship but also visual arts, music, science, cooking, family life…the eight steps of Zig Zag lead to greater creativity in all aspects of your life.
*Gregerson, Feb 26, 2013, “The Entrepreneur’s DNA.” WSJ, page B13.
Bruce Nussbaum’s New Book Creative Intelligence March 2, 2013Posted by keithsawyer in Enhancing creativity.
Tags: design thinking, group genius, inside innovation, keith richards, little bets, peter sims
Bruce Nussbaum is known for his excellent work as an editor at Business Week, where he founded their quarterly innovation insert called IN: Inside Innovation. He’s now a professor of innovation and design at Parsons School of Design in New York, and he’s just published his first book, Creative Intelligence. It’s a pleasure to read, it’s filled with timely anecdotes, and it’s grounded in the latest research. There are almost 70 pages of footnotes!
What I really like about Nussbaum’s book is his perspective as an expert in design thinking. He tells the story of how his title, “Creative Intelligence,” emerged from a Stanford conference called “The Future of Design” in 2010. In his view, the “design thinking” trend is fading a bit, and giving way to an increasing focus on creativity. The last few years have seen creativity research converge on a core set of shared findings, starting with my 2007 book Group Genius, then with Peter Sims’ 2011 Little Bets, Steven Johnson’s 2011 Where Good Ideas Come From, and Jonah Lehrer’s book now-discredited 2012 book Imagination (which was largely derived from these earlier works). Nussbaum knows this research well, and his book contains many of these messages–particularly emphasizing the importance of collaboration in creativity–but using several anecdotes I wasn’t familiar with. For example, he quotes Keith Richards saying
What I found about the blues and music, tracing things back, was that nothing came from itself. This is not one stroke of genius. This cat was listening to somebody and it’s his variation on the theme. And so you suddenly realize that everybody’s connected here. They’re all interconnected. (p. 9)
As Nussbaum later says, “Creative Intelligence is social: We increase our creative ability by learning from others, collaborating, sharing.” (p. 30)
Nussbaum organizes the research into five “competencies of creative intelligence”: Knowledge Mining, Framing, Playing, Making, and Pivoting. I checked these out pretty closely, because in my own forthcoming book, Zig Zag, I propose eight creativity disciplines. Nussbaum’s five overlap quite a bit with my eight, and I’m intrigued by the differences, as well.
Knowledge Mining. This corresponds to the second and third steps in my book, LEARN and LOOK. Creativity depends on a large body of domain-specific expertise, that’s why it takes years of work before a person can make a creative contribution. But creativity also benefits from an open and inquisitive mind.
Framing. This is closely related to what creativity researchers call “problem finding”–the ability to frame and formulate a question in the most promising way. This is my first step and I call it ASK.
Playing. Sure enough, my book’s fourth step is PLAY. Imagine, get silly, have fun.
Making. And again, my book’s eighth and last step is MAKE. This section of Nussbaum’s book is strong; he describes the new maker and DIY culture, and the impact of cheap 3-D printers.
Pivoting. This trendy term usually gets used to describe when a startup company switches direction in response to customer feedback. My own book’s title, “Zig Zag,” describes the frequent twists and turns that precede successful creativity. By “Pivoting,” Nussbaum means the process that leads “from the inception to the production side of creation.” The core message of my book is that the creative process zigs and zags during that process, and Nussbaum would agree with that. This section of his book has some great practical advice about how to manage the process successfully.
The core message of Creative Intelligence is perfectly aligned with the latest research:
Creative intelligence is about tools, not lightbulbs. It’s something we do, not something that happens to us. It’s about what happens during those moments of insight, but also after; it’s the hard work and the collaborations that can help bring your idea out of your mind and into the world.
Stamen Design Understands the Zigzag February 8, 2013Posted by keithsawyer in Enhancing creativity.
Tags: creative process, eric rodenbeck, project management, stamen design, zig zag, zigzag
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The creative process is not linear. Just the opposite: It zigs and zags. Eric Rodenbeck, founder and CEO of Stamen Design, really understands this. Check out this image he generated, for Business Week magazine, of how projects get developed at Stamen.* The neat stairway from left to right shows the traditional path of project development, from Requirements through Design, Implementation, Test, and Deliver. The zig-zaggy purple path is tagged “How Stamen works.”
For a hundred years, creativity researchers have tried to figure out the linear stages of the creative process. It usually looks a lot like the stairway in this picture, with the traditional stages being something like Preparation, Incubation, Insight, Verification, and Elaboration. But in the last decade or so, it’s become increasingly clear that the creative process zigs and zags constantly.
That’s why my new book about creativity is called Zig Zag: The Surprising Path to Greater Creativity. In the book, I identify the eight steps involved in being creative, but I don’t think they follow one another in a neat line. Creative lives pass in and out of all eight steps, daily and weekly, as they zigzag toward that surprising, successful creation.
The first step in my book is ASK, finding the right question. And even though it’s the first step, sometimes it comes all the way at the end of the process. Eric Rodenbeck understands this too; as he puts it,
The important part is the questions you’ve discovered along the way.
*”Eric Rodenbeck on leading creativity.” Business Week, “The Design Issue,” January 28-February 3, 2013, page 67.
China’s Innovation Riddle January 17, 2013Posted by keithsawyer in Education, Enhancing creativity.
Tags: beijing geely, china, education revolution, innovation, keith bradsher, li shufu, sanya university
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For years, China has been known for cheap labor and cheap manufacturing costs–that’s why the United States has outsourced so many jobs there. But China’s leaders are trying to change this and to become a more innovative economy. One of their core strategies is to increase the number of college graduates, as Keith Bradsher writes in today’s New York Times:
The aim is to change the current system, in which a tiny, highly educated elite oversees vast armies of semi-trained factory workers and rural laborers. China wants to move up the development curve by fostering a much more broadly educated public.
China is investing $250 billion each year in its universities. In the last ten years, the number of colleges in China has doubled, to 2,409. That’s 1,200 new universities in ten years, which is 120 new universities every year! And Keith Bradsher reports that these are not just phantom campuses–all of the classroom seats are filled. (Their biggest problem is finding qualified instructors.) By 2020, China’s goal is to have 195 million graduates each year (compared to the 120 million predicted in the U.S. that year).
But simply having more graduates won’t automatically result in more innovation:
Much depends on whether China’s authoritarian political system can create an educational system that encourages the world-class creativity and innovation that modern economies require….
The overarching question for China’s colleges is whether they can cultivate innovation on a wide scale–vying with America’s best and brightest in multi-media hardware and software applications, or outdesigning and outengineering Germans in making muscular cars and automated factory equipment.
Bradsher calls this “the innovation riddle” and compares China’s current situation to Japan just after World War II. In the 1950s and 1960s, Japan focused on university education much like China is doing now. In many ways, it was a huge success; Japan has a large middle class and one of the world’s largest economies. “But partly because of a culture where fitting in is often more prized than standing out, Japan hit an economic plateau.” Economists predict that China’s cost advantage in labor and cheap capital will disappear within 10 to 15 years. The riddle is: How can China transform itself into an innovation economy in just ten years?
What It Really Takes to Be Creative January 7, 2013Posted by keithsawyer in Enhancing creativity.
Tags: be wrong, hugo lindgren, john lasseter, pixar, wall-e
Hugo Lindgren, editor of the New York Times Sunday Magazine, just published a wonderful article* about what it really takes to be creative. It’s titled “Be Wrong As Fast As You Can,” but that’s just part of it. The title is a quotation from a Charlie Rose interview with John Lasseter, a founder of Pixar. (I often use Pixar as a case study when I’m teaching executives how to manage innovation.) Lasseter says
Every Pixar film was the worst motion picture ever made at one time or another. People don’t believe that, but it’s true.
I believe it. Take the Pixar movie WALL-E, and listen to how horrible this pitch sounds: “After humans destroy the planet and all life on it, by smothering it with their huge piles of trash, we watch a silent robot for 30 minutes as he cleans up piles of waste.”
As Lindgren puts it, this is “an acknowledgement of just how deep into the muck of mediocrity a creative project can sink as it takes those first vulnerable steps from luxurious abstraction to unforgiving reality.” He continues:
I know that the next brilliant brainstorm is never going to be the one that will just write itself, any more than the last one did. Ideas, in a sense, are overrated….It’s really about where you take the idea, and how committed you are to solving the endless problems that come up in the execution.
A lot of people have a huge misconception about creativity: They think it’s about having a brilliant idea. They don’t realize that it’s not about the idea; it’s about the unpredictable, winding path that you stumble down as you work to realize the idea. That’s why I’m calling my next book Zig Zag: The Surprising Path to Greater Creativity (coming in March 2013, preorder it now!).
I love this quotation from writer Thomas Mann (from page 323 of my 2012 book Explaining Creativity):
A writer is somebody for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.
If you smile in recognition (or even in pain) when you read this, then you, my friend, are a writer.
*Lindgren, Hugo. 2013. “Be wrong as fast as you can.” New York Times Sunday Magazine, January 6, pages 44-45.
How To Be a Polymath December 11, 2012Posted by keithsawyer in Enhancing creativity.
Tags: jeremy gleick, john mackay, paul maeda, polymath, zig zag, zigzag
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Many successful creators are polymaths: people who seek knowledge relentlessly, who teach themselves a broad range of odd things. The successful venture capitalist Paul Maeda noted that entrepreneurs have a common trait: they all keep educating themselves. For example, John Mackay, founder of Whole Foods, reads a new book every week.
One of my most popular posts, from 2011, summarized a 2009 article in Intelligent Life suggesting that today’s world is too complicated for anyone to be a polymath. Back in the 1700s, a smart person could actually learn just about everything humanity had ever discovered, whereas today, there is simply too much knowledge out there. In a way, that’s true. But there are still polymaths out there, and their thirst for diverse knowledge leads to greater creativity. And you can do it, too.
In 2012, The New York Times reported on a UCLA student, Jeremy Gleick, who has a unique habit: every day he finds time for a “learning hour”—one hour devoted to learning something new. In 2012, he passed his 1,000th hour of self-study, most of it done online.
Gleick has logged every hour of learning in a spreadsheet. The topics range over the breadth of human knowledge: Seventeen hours total on art history; 39 on the Civil War; 14 on weaponry; 41 hours on hypnosis. He’s also learned juggling, glass blowing, banjo, and mandolin. He is, unabashedly, a “dilettante”—defined as a dabbler, an amateur, a nonprofessional. And he says he has yet to find a subject that isn’t at least somewhat interesting to him.
Jeremy Gleick’s Favorite One-Hour Learning Topics:
Humanities (354 total hours):
- “Papyrus of Ani” Book of the Dead (Internet Sacred Text Archive)
- “Jazz Insights” audio series with Gordon Vernick of Georgia State (WMLB 1690 AM)
- “History of Philosophy Without Any Gaps” audio podcast by Peter Adamson of King’s College London (iTunes U)
Science (254 total hours):
- A Brief History of Time, 1998 book by physicist Stephen Hawking
- “Introduction to Psychology” audio lectures by Jeremy Wolfe (MIT OpenCourseWare)
- “What Technology Wants” lecture by Kevin Kelly (Fora.tv)
Skills (423 total hours):
- Blacksmithing class, The Crucible arts center, Oakland, CA
- “The Street Hypnotist’s Handbook” steps to hypnosis by Nathan Thomas (keystothemind.com)
- ASLPro online dictionary, American Sign Language
- Card trick tutorials, videos (Expert Village channel, YouTube)
As I write in my forthcoming book, Zig Zag: The Surprising Path to Greater Creativity (coming in March, 2013):
Learning is a lifelong scavenger hunt. The wonderful beauty of the creative life is that no authentic, thoughtful experience, no new glimmer of knowledge, is ever wasted.