Monday, 24 March 2014

Set yourself a one-day challenge

The composer John Zorn described his group Naked City as 'a compositional workshop for pieces I could write in a day'.

By setting himself the constraint of writing a piece in one day, Zorn forced his creative processes down avenues he would not have explored otherwise and succeeded in creating short songs packed with immense energy and variation.

Only once (and more modestly) have I experienced a similar type of process. A friend of mine knocked on my door one Saturday morning and said, 'You know that gig this evening? We are going to arrange and rehearse a piece to play during it!'

I thought he was joking, but it soon became evident that he was not. Half an hour later I found myself in a rehearsal room transcribing my trumpet part from a recording and working with three other musicians to mesh everything together and make something playable and enjoyable for an audience to hear.

The work was intense but also fun. The challenge of the timescale and the fact that we were going to perform the piece that evening (my friend had already promised it would be on the programme) not only focused our energies but also stimulated our creativity. I found myself listening more keenly, communicating more directly and improvising more readily. We succeeded in making a quirky arrangement of a well-known jazz song (which had a bit of an Arabic twist) for the unusual combination of bassoon, trumpet, snare drum and miscellaneous percussion instruments. Basically, we used the musicians and instruments we had to hand.

We got it all together for the evening performance and it went off well. What I remember most is the immediacy and simplicity of the music, the fun we had in putting it together and performing it, and the audience's enthusiastic reaction to our playing. If we had been given longer to think about and work on things perhaps the results would not have been as good as they turned out.

When finding solutions to problems, especially those needed within a business or organisational environment, we often make the assumption that the process will take much longer than one day. Even when we seek to identify 'quick wins' we tend to think about actions we can implement in two or three weeks, or even two or three months. There is something about the world of business and work that demands we spend a long time on the identification and implementation of solutions: that insists we are seen to provide value for money through the significant investment of time.

Now, it is certainly true that, owing to their complexity, many business and organisational problems do take a long time to sort out. But is this always the case? What if we occasionally questioned this assumption? What if we were to call a 'One-Day Challenge Workshop' at which people would be encouraged to identify solutions they could implement that day?

Such a workshop would certainly generate a lot of energy and encourage people to share a wide range of ideas. Also, it would probably generate a fair number of solutions innovative for their simplicity and the immediacy of their application.

Try it; see what happens.

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