Creativity, Business and Music : 5 Tips from a Google Hangout

I had the pleasure and privilege of sharing a Google Hangout with six creativity champions from around the world recently.  Our next hangout on Creativity and Music is scheduled for Sunday 16th June at 16.00 GMT.  The dialogue from this first hangout was so rich that I decided to capture some of the insights in this blog.

We started the session by looking at the notion of ‘combination’ as a strategy for creativity in music, business and life.  ‘Combine’ is one of the keywords in the “SCAMPER” creativity method, beloved of companies I’ve worked for such as Pfizer, 3M, Unilever and so on.  Drop me a line for more information on SCAMPER.  We started our conversation with a look at the ‘recombinant DNA of music’.  Cue the film:

Our first stop on our dialogue was in the Netherlands with Christof Zürn.  Christof is a online brand strategist / creative director and evangelist of Music Thinking.  He had this to say on the notion of creativity and music:

“Making music is about pattern recognition (listening) and pattern generation (playing).  For example, if you know the ‘Smoke on the Water’ riff by Deep Purple, you can answer with the ‘Burn’ riff, which is made of similar notes, as indeed is ‘The Man on the Silver Mountain’ by Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow.  If you don’t know it, or you don’t want to go this way, you can come up with something else.  So you can play with the knowledge and listening skills or invent and respond with new melodies. I think creativity works the same way.”

Insight # 1. The good thing with music is that it is not only about playing, but also about listening. With creativity it is the same. If you only broadcast idea’s and don’t listen, you may be a creative person, but not a good co-worker or leader.

Cue Clarice Dankers from Portland, Oregon, a writer and story mentor. We moved on somehow in the conversation to discussing what the cultural signifiers of a good piece of writing were.  Clarice pointed out that there were clearly identifiable hallmarks of a good story and we drew parallels with music, website design and many other areas.  Clarice takes up the story:

“I think the process of creation has at least two stages. The first is the “Muse” phase in which we generate ideas—whether we are talking about words or music or web design or anything else. This phase is often a wild, passionate, emotional time in which ideas flow rapidly and we struggle to get them down “on paper” as quickly as possible–before they evaporate from consciousness.

Connecting to our muse is only the first phase, however. Blobs of color splattered across a website, a diarrhea of words jumbled across a computer screen, or random notes scrawled across a five-line staff will fail to communicate if they lack form. Precise structural elements such as counterpoint, harmony, organization and rhythm immediately identify a Bach concerto as “Baroque.” Similarly, polyrhythms, syncopations and improvisations immediately identify a piece by John Coltrane as “Jazz.”

In the business world, a website needs to be structured in a way that visitors can immediately identify what the site is about (What’s in it for me?). It also needs to have a navigation system that clearly and easily guides visitors through the site. Similarly, any kind of writing that communicates successfully with readers is based upon precise types of structure and organization. For example, website content and press releases are built upon a reverse pyramid structure in which the most important information is given in the first two or three paragraphs (i.e., above the fold).

Creations that lack form confuse and frustrate readers, listeners and viewers. Creations that fail to go through the Muse phase are dull, shallow and lifeless. Both are necessary to successfully communicate our ideas to others.”

Clarice offers a free book about the creative process and the structures used in business writing called “All Writing Tells a Story.” Get it here in one click All Writing Tells a Story.

Insight # 2.  Storytelling is a powerful way to excite our synapses to think new thoughts and see the familiar in new ways.

Stewart Rogers Twitter @TheRealSJR is a technology marketing specialist and shares a love of the artist known as Prince to boot.  Stewart shared some great business examples of how some elements of the SCAMPER methodology has been used in practice.  I will update the blog as these become available.

Insight # 3.  Techniques for creativity replicate the strategies and skills of naturally creative people.  In the hands of skilled practitioners, they can turn basic brainstorming into sustainable competitive advantage.

Simon Kiteley added the vital insight from his own experience of a website designer that great websites have a single ‘banana’ on each page – something you can buy or what you need to do next..  Trouble is that sometimes there are too many trees in the ‘forest’ to see the banana.  Wise words indeed and I’ve been working on my own website quite a bit with his advice in mind! 🙂

Insight # 4. Whereas creativity can be complex, when we are communicating  creativity to others, we need to aim for simplicity and brevity.  There is a real but different skill in being able to communicate complex ideas simply and briefly without dumbing them down, as compared with simply having the idea.  This skill is in relatively short supply in my long experience of working within companies trying to turn creativity into innovation.

Albert Combrink is a classically trained pianist with special interests in Tango, Opera and Accompanying.  Albert raised the issue of improvisation in music.  He pointed out that it is the musician’s job to bring a sense of uniqueness to a piece of improvisation, even when the music is itself  a ‘standard’.  We were reminded of the classic guitar solo in Free’s “Alright Now” which has been ruthlessly copied in open mic jam sessions the world over.  Paradoxically, legend has it that Paul Kosoff played the paradigm setting solo once in the studio and never felt he had to copy the design ever again, preferring to invent something new on each live performance.  Lest we forget how the ‘karaoke’ version goes.  Check the hairdo’s out as well:

Insight # 5.  The trick move in staying continuously creative is to see each situation as if it is the first time you have encountered it.  In the words of Madonna “Like a Virgin”.

Although the hangout was not a ‘show’, I was goaded by Stewart to perform a piece of music.  Here’s a version of the piece, a simple piece of structured improvisation around a few drum / music loops, entitled “Stargazing”:


Read more about creativity and innovation in “The Music of Business“.  Check the references out below:

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3 responses to “Creativity, Business and Music : 5 Tips from a Google Hangout

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