Thursday, 14 May 2015

Go beyond ego and self-involvement: look before, around and after

"Bach and Mozart are at the apex of everything in terms of what we call the creative process, because they have in some sense gone beyond ego and self-involvement in their work."

Richard Danielpour from The Muse That Sings: Composers Speak about the Creative Process by Ann McCutchan   

We often make two crucial errors when trying to creatively problem solve:
  1. We concentrate solely upon the problem, its internal characteristics and workings.
  2. We respond to a problem exclusively from our own internal perspectives. 
This means, like composers who fail to consider their audiences and lose themselves in the complexities of their music, that we severely limit our ability to develop ideas that are not only creative but also feasible and attractive. 

It also means we fail to understand the multi-dimensional nature of problems, which only becomes clear when problems are seen not in isolation but as part of a system that includes the markers and traces that lead to and surround them and the artefacts they leave behind.

Picture a pharaoh buried in his tomb. We learn something of the man by examining his mummified remains; we learn about the man and much more about his life and the world he lived in by examining the markers and traces of his rich existence and the artefacts placed around him.

To avoid the above errors and develop creative, attractive and feasible solutions we need to look for and examine what led to, surrounds and is left behind by problems:

What conditions prefaced the problems? What were things like immediately before the problems emerged? When and where were the first ripples of their emergence? Who noticed them first and why?

What reactions are the problems causing and what marks are they making?

What traces and artefacts have the problems left behind? What recollections do people have of the problems? What lasting impacts have there been upon people's memories and lives?

What footprints in the sand have problems left behind? 

How long will the footprints take to wash away? 

To where do the footprints lead?

Thursday, 7 May 2015

Mix the unrepeatable with the repeatable

"I can sculpt with sound, using musician's personal languages to create a composition that could not exist in any other situation."

John Zorn from The Muse That Sings: Composers Speak about the Creative Process by Ann McCutchan

The composer John Zorn likes to work with musicians who improvise, capturing their unique and unrepeatable sounds and mixing them with what he can write down, capture and repeat.

This entanglement of exactness and improvisation creates pieces that are, quite literally, of their time: only able to exist in one particular way at one particular time in one particular place.

This imbues Zorn's pieces with an immediacy: a freshness and a sense of being a one-time happening of special significance to all involved in or witnessing it. Players and audience alike tune into the music that much more, enjoy it that much more, work that much more at making the whole experience as successful and memorable as possible.

And they invariably succeed.

This mixing of the unrepeatable with the repeatable is key to creating not only memorably successful musical moments but also memorably successful ideas and solutions.

Many problems, situations or challenges possess their own uniqueness: their own mix of people, events, characteristics and countless other things that will entangle and interact to produce distinctive, unrepeatable tones and flavours.

This is why a solution that works in one place may not work when applied to another that is seemingly similar: the subtle, sometimes not so subtle, overtones and flavours of the new context being sufficiently different to make the difference between success and failure.

To create memorably successful solutions allow the unique, unrepeatable and often ever changing tones and flavours of a problem, situation or challenge to penetrate into your clearly laid out ideas and approaches for solving things.

Do not assume that what worked in one situation will automatically work when applied to a similar situation elsewhere. Work at exposing your idea to the elements of the new situation to see if it will take and be taken: to see if it will tangle up with and grow within the new environment and interact effectively with the people and things present there.

See if being soaked and stained with the flavours and tones of a context or situation makes your idea more readily and effectively, even enthusiastically, accepted, adopted and adapted.

Encourage people to:
  • Describe and present your idea in their own ways using their own words.
  • Play with and rearrange your idea using their unique knowledge and skills and the resources they have to hand.
  • Expose your idea to the dynamic elements of their problem or situation to see how it 'weathers' and reacts.
  • Adapt your idea to their preferences and needs and to the demands of their specific 'climates' and situations.

Tuesday, 5 May 2015


Here is an interesting piece by Thomas May from his blog "Memeteria":

Memeteria by Thomas May

It is about the music of Krzysztof Penderecki, (a polish contemporary composer) and focuses mainly upon his "Concerto Grosso for Three Cellos".

For me, given my interest in how the principles and practices of music and musicians can help us all be more creative, two things stand out as very significant:
  1. Penderecki has very wide and diverse interests. He has deep interests in philosophy, classical antiquity, science fiction, theatre, visual arts and botany. This is significant because, time and time again, I see this trait being possessed by those widely recognised as some of the most creative and innovative of thinkers: Fry and Silver (the scientists who invented "Post It" notes); Bill Bowerman (the inventor of the rubber soled trainer); Carlos Kleiber (the renowned conductor); Leonardo da Vinci (the archetypal Renaissance Man). Whatever the fields of endeavour, the most creative and innovative within them have wide and diverse interests. Having wide interests helps people see opportunities and make connections that others do not. It also helps people to describe things in new and original ways that can lead to unique insights and interpretations. (For example, Carlos Kleiber used descriptions of the pictures of Caspar David Friedrich to inspire his orchestras to create memorably great performances.)     
  2. Penderecki's "Concerto Grosso for Three Cellos" treats each solo cellist as a personality with something of its own to say within the context of the piece as a whole. Again, this is significant because it emphasises another key aspect of effective creativity and innovation: individual voices need to be heard, acknowledged, valued and developed within the context of the creative endeavour as a whole. People need to work together to creatively problem solve but whilst doing so they need to aim for unity of purpose rather than uniformity of perspective. They need to develop and support each other's individual insights and ideas and work together to harvest those that lead to the best, most innovative solutions.            

Friday, 1 May 2015

Don't leave things unfinished

Have you ever had the feeling that you have left something unfinished? When I was in my early twenties I wrote a piece for brass band that played on my mind for years and years. I would repeatedly go back to it, read through its score, listen to it, play it and variously tinker with it, but whatever I did I could not get rid of its mental itch.

Then one day something clicked into place within my mind. I went back to the score and added a few bars to the very end of the piece. The piece felt finished and the itch disappeared.

Many musicians demonstrate this compulsion to finish things off. Composers and musicologists put immense effort into completing works that the great composers left unfinished. Performers and conductors devote years to preparing and performing complete cycles of a composer’s work.

In fact completing things, finishing things off in a satisfying way is a deep need within most of us and fulfilling it is essential to effective creativity and innovation. Every time we ignore the nagging call of an unfinished idea the greater the danger of it fading away, leaving only a glimmer of a suspicion that something of value has been lost.

Do not ignore the nagging call of your unfinished ideas. Go back to them. Look them over and identify what you need to do to finish them off. You will then begin to realise their potential value and eventually feel the satisfaction and fulfilment that comes of a job well and truly done.