Friday, 29 March 2013

Pay attention to beginnings

Tchaikovsky states that the fanfares at the opening of his 4th Symphony are ‘the kernel, the quintessence, the chief thought of the whole symphony’. The famous four-note motif at the start of Beethoven’s 5th Symphony could be described in a similar way with regard to its first movement.

This emphasis upon the beginning of things can also be found within the way music is rehearsed and performed. Carlos Kleiber, the famous conductor, once spent 3 hours rehearsing 80 seconds of the opening to Richard Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier. He knew instinctively that how the music developed during the rest of the performance would be influenced greatly by how it was conceived and executed at its start.

Addressing issues and problems effectively can be less about where and how we finish and more about where and how we begin. It can be very tempting, and seemingly effective, to focus upon the outputs we require and then identify and address the main obstacles to their achievement. This is much like a musician who, thinking of the perfect performance, is drawn immediately towards practising the most difficult and demanding passages of a piece of music. Wise musicians, however, will resist this temptation. They will first seek to gain a deep understanding of a piece’s fundamental roots: its essential themes, harmonies and structures. They will then use this understanding to anchor and then develop their performance: growing up and into a piece’s more complex areas rather than unsteadily stretching and grasping for them.

If you want to enhance your ability to understand and address the problems you face, begin by gaining a clear and thorough understanding of their beginnings. Get into the habit of asking the following:

·      Where and when did people first recognise, hear about or experience the problem?

·      How did it first appear to people?

·      What did it look and feel like initially?

·      What, upon being first identified, were its most important or outstanding characteristics?

·      What were the initial consequences of the problem?

·      Why did it appear when and where it did?

·      What was the context within which it first appeared?

·      What were the forces and pressures that created it?

·      Where, how and why were the initial foundations of the problem laid and what were they made of?

Sunday, 17 March 2013

Create a virtuous feedback loop

Whilst talking about her life as a musician a young cellist mentioned that when she was even younger she had questioned the need for orchestral conductors, especially when they were conducting top orchestras and the number of players was relatively small.

Then one day this young cellist saw Carlos Kleiber conducting a top orchestra and she began to understand what a great conductor could contribute to a performance. Kleiber’s gestures clearly communicated his deep felt interpretation of the music. More than this, Kleiber encouraged the orchestra to become an active part of the communication. His gestures coaxed skilfully crafted musical phrases from his players. This beautiful response inspired Kleiber to increase the expressiveness of his conducting, so encouraging even greater beauty from his orchestra – and so on and so on and so on throughout the performance.

A virtuous feedback loop had been created between conductor and orchestra that melded and enhanced the talents of both.
Outstanding creativity is about more than individuals having innovative ideas. It is about realising even greater innovations by taking advantage of the synergy that results from combining people’s varying contributions.
Gain maximum advantage from your creative problem solving by identifying how your ideas and contributions can combine with and enhance those of others and how others’ ideas and contributions can do the same with yours. Then keep repeating the loop to create a virtuous cycle of ever-increasing innovation.
To start your virtuous feedback loop and increase its momentum, ask yourself the following questions:
  • How can your ideas make others’ ideas more efficient and/or effective (and vice versa)?      
  • How can your ideas widen the scope and potential uses of others’ ideas (and vice versa)?  
  • How can your ideas make others’ ideas more attractive (and vice versa)?
  • How can your ideas make others’ ideas more practical and useful (and vice versa)?
  • How can your ideas make others’ ideas easier to implement (and vice versa)?
  • How can your ideas combine with others’ ideas to create not only better ideas but also new and groundbreaking ideas?
  • How can your ideas make others’ ideas easier to understand (and vice versa)?


Friday, 8 March 2013

Bridge the gap between opposites

When Brahms wrote his Academic Festival Overture, which is full of the optimism of youth and new beginnings, he also wrote his darkly turbulent and tormented Tragic Overture. As balance and proportion were very important to Brahms's compositional style, it is not surprising that he did this. Brahms succinctly described the difference in character between the two pieces by saying that "one weeps and the other laughs".

It is very easy to imagine Brahms hard at work on one of these pieces, his thoughts occasionally flitting to the other: dark inspirations originating from bright beginnings and vice versa.

Sometimes our thinking and approach to problems can be limited by our one-sided view of them; we tend to see things as good or bad or right or wrong rather than allowing our thoughts to cross-fertilise with the opposite interpretation or point of view.

The next time you are addressing a difficult situation or problem, allow your mind to bridge the gap between opposites. Ask yourself the following:
  • What is positive about a negative situation?
  • What is negative about of a positive situation?
  • What positive consequences could grow out of a negative situation?
  • What negative consequences could grow out of a positive situation?
  • What is the opposite point of view to your own and what interesting, intriguing and/or useful insights does it provide?

Remember that sometimes opposites, just like salt and pepper or sweet and sour, can complement rather than contradict each other.

Friday, 1 March 2013

Apply the art of fugue

A fugue is a piece of music that begins with a single melody that is then repeated by other voices or instruments, each of which introduces itself in turn, one after another. As each person begins singing or playing, an additional melody or 'counter subject' needs to be found for those already performing, so the complexity of the piece grows steadily.

During the first part of a fugue, its initial melody is presented in a slightly altered way each time it is played, because each voice or instrument introduced sings or plays higher or lower notes than those used at the very beginning of the piece. 

As the fugue develops, the initial melody and its accompanying ‘counter subjects’ are stretched, shortened, modulated, swapped between voices and instruments and variously combined in new, interesting and stimulating ways. Creative synergies are sort between different and competing musical ideas.

The above aspects of fugue can be applied to many of the more complex problems presented to us.

A characteristic of complex problems is that most of the issues involved can be fairly equal in importance because of the influence they have on each other (just like the melodies and counter subjects within a fugue). Sometimes, therefore, the more we try to break down a problem and address its component parts, the more difficult and challenging it can become; the solutions we propose in one area of the problem begin to cause unforeseen complications elsewhere, perhaps even making things worse.

In these circumstances it is usually best to build up our perception of the problem rather than break it down into compartmentalised chunks. Instead of focusing on each detail separately, look carefully for any new insights created by the counterpoint that exists between them. When different people describe the problem how does it sound, look or feel? What similarities and differences are there between the various descriptions? When two parts of the problem are put side by side how do they look together? Are there any unexpected connections or relationships between them? Add in other related issues or problems. How does the picture evolve as the component parts of the problem are brought together? What patterns or consistent messages emerge when all the diverse issues and problems are considered as an interrelated whole?

The above process of bringing together separate items can also be applied to the generation of solutions to problems. When creating solutions explore what happens when two or more separate ideas are considered side by side. Does trying to identify connections between the ideas lead to even better solutions? Can the best aspects of each idea be integrated into one idea that is even more useful?  

Fugues were particularly popular during the Baroque Period of Music (1600 to 1750). J.S. Bach was one of the greatest of fugue writers, as exemplified by his The Art of Fugue BWV 1080.