I’m a big music fan – big art fan in general – but I’ve never felt like I had much artistic talent. Just average. Truth be told, I never stuck with any one instrument long enough to get really good at it. I’m told this is common with kids that are praised too much for being smart and talented because they get frustrated when they don’t get really good at something really quickly and are afraid to fail. Gee, thanks mom.
But my point here isn’t really about me and the arts. It’s about where I finally found my outlet for creative expression. Years back, while I was wasting away on Wall Street, where “creativity” was measured in abstruse structured financial instruments and trading algorithms with names like “Cloak and Dagger,” I began reading the evangelists of design thinking. It clicked. Problem solving can be as creative as painting, and I could actually hone the craft and learn the art of business innovation. A year later I was back in school in the Bay Area where I could surround myself with design thought leaders and like minded students.
I was reminded of all this recently while watching a documentary called It Might Get Loud. In it there is a scene where Jimmy Page is playing a song – Link Wray’s Rumble – for the person behind the camera. He’s giddy, talking about how this song had influenced him, the man who inspired thousands more guitarists after him. He describes the nuances of the song with unfaded awe and emotion. You can’t help but come away humbled, with a new appreciation for the music and the musician alike. Jack White shares a similar anecdote about Son House, and again it clicked.
The potential for innovation really opens up (pun intended) when we take on the mentality of a musician. Musicians admire and enjoy each others work; they learn from it, borrow, adapt and improvise to create something new and wonderful. Sure, some quibble over copyrights, but when greed doesn’t get in the way, great things happen. To be fair, I may be late to the game on this one comparison. Others have been using the jazz analogy for awhile, but the look on Jimmy Page’s face made it visceral. (Maybe there’s something to be explored here about the power of video as well.)
There is also a lot more depth to the analogy than just bandmates jamming together. Great business innovators play on the various elements of a business model like a guitarist on strings or a composer with a symphony (sorry, I don’t mean to get too grandiose here). Like a musician on-stage with an audience, great brands connect with customers on an emotional level because emotions are actually critical to purchasing decisions. When you challenge your team and appeal to their intrinsic motivations, they will get carried away with their work in a state of flow, like with a great song. And how great would it be to do something in business that you can look back on the way a musician recalls an early recording with a smile?