Sunday, 27 January 2019

Set a vibrant tempo to the rhythm of your thinking

Huapango by José Pablo Moncayo makes you feel like dancing.

Its lively river of rhythm sparkles with diverse patterns and shapes that twirl and swirl within and upon it and spring and leap from and along it; shining sounds cause smiles as they dance in time with the onward flow.

Set an enjoyable and vibrant tempo to the rhythm of your thinking, and encourage your ideas to flow:
  • Regularly review ongoing progress and acknowledge, explore and enjoy the ideas that are emerging and developing.
  • Identify the ideas that leap out at you as most promising and attractive and work at realising their potential.
  • Create a sense of insistent and stimulating onward movement by celebrating milestones and successes and aiming for goals that build upon them.

Wednesday, 23 January 2019

Grasp and fashion ideas from your feelings and mood

I improvise at the piano.

I have noticed that my musical ideas arise from feelings; the melodies, rhythms and harmonies I explore and develop whilst improvising are formed from the feel and pulse of my mood.

Reflective and relaxed: the notes touch and caress; busy and anxious: they scatter and clash; sad: they float and cry; happy: they bounce and tease.

My mood is transformed into a flowing river of improvisation, and my hands dip into it to play with the shapes and patterns floating or swimming or swirling there.

Shimmering and shifting music emerges and grows from mood.

What is your mood? How can you express it? What can you grasp from within it?

How can you fashion what you hold into something new and uniquely yours?

Wednesday, 16 January 2019

Change things at the last moment

I recently saw a Facebook post by Tasmin Little, the virtuoso violinist. Tasmin had posted a photo of a page from a piece of music. There were many handwritten markings and numbers above the notes on the page.

Tasmin explained that the page was from a piece of music she was going to perform in a few hours time and that the markings were changes she had that moment made to her bowing and fingerings (these being the precise way her bow and fingers would contact the strings of the violin to produce the notes).

Why does Tasmin make these last minute changes? Are they made because of last minute doubts and insecurities caused by weak self-confidence? Or are they made purposefully and positively as a result of strong self-confidence? The results she achieves clearly indicate the latter rather than the former: Tasmin Little consistently produces top class, vibrant performances.

These last minute changes help Tasmin maintain and build upon her enthusiasm for her music. They also add a sense of risk that encourages Tasmin to focus fully upon her performance: to apply her entire mental and musical faculties towards meeting the challenges, some of them self-imposed, that the music presents.

Bringing this enthusiasm and energy, sense of risk, freshness and enhanced mental and musical focus into the "here and now" moment of performance significantly increases the likelihood of Tasmin giving exceptional performances: performances which help both her and her audience hear the music in new ways.

Music on a page is transformed into unique creative experiences discovered by and shared between Tasmin and her audiences.

Tasmin can identify and implement creative and performance enhancing changes to her music because she has the following:
  1. An in depth knowledge of her music and the different ways it can be interpreted and performed.
  2. The skills required to implement her last minute changes and manage their associated risks. 
  3. The willingness, ability and enthusiasm to take risks. 
  4. Willing and able collaborators who possess the knowledge and skills required to adapt to her last minute changes.
  5. The generosity to share her thinking, knowledge, experience, skills and expertise with others (so encouraging people to collaborate with her).
  6. An initial outline plan of performance, which are the notes and other markings on the page plus her past approaches to performing them, that provides a reassuring benchmark against which last minute changes can be compared. 
  7. Clarity of intention about making her last minute changes; all changes must add to the quality of her performance (e.g., they must increase excitement, add a new insight, enhance technical implementation, or enhance musicality in some other way).  
  8. The confidence to express her personal views about the music and how she may best perform it.           
We can all use Tasmin's "last minute changes" approach to enhance the focus of our thinking, improve the way we apply our skills, and increase the energy and creativity with which we overcome our challenges. 

To do this effectively, we need to adapt the above eight points to our own contexts. Specifically, we need to do the following things: 
  • Gain in-depth and relevant knowledge of our challenges and how they have been previously addressed.
  • Develop the skills necessary to make last minute changes and manage the associated risks.
  • Be willing and able to take risks.
  • Find willing and able collaborators.
  • Have the generosity to share our knowledge and skills.
  • Create an initial plan based upon what we know and what we have done in the past (so we can compare last minute changes against a reliable benchmark).
  • Be clear about what we intend our last minute changes to achieve.
  • Have the confidence to express our personal preferences for addressing our challenges.

Saturday, 12 January 2019

Trick people!

Haydn's music is packed with jokes, tricks and surprises. Jokes that are obvious, earthy and rude; tricks that are teasing, subtle and sophisticated; surprises that are comic and dramatic: you name it and Haydn has probably dropped it into his music somewhere.

The sudden loud note within the otherwise quiet and genteel slow movement of the "Surprise Symphony" (probably included to wake those in the audience nodding-off after too much rich food and wine); the unexpected bassoon fart during the 93rd Symphony (perhaps again an observation aimed at a well fed and stomach bloated audience); the long pauses, strange tonal twists and turns and "guess where the beat is" teasing of the 80th Symphony; the sudden and dramatic stopping of the music during the finale of the 60th Symphony for the comically surprising and urgently required retuning of the violins: Haydn, quite literally, never missed a trick!

What is the effect of all this joking, teasing and surprising?

It delights people and makes them live in the moment; it wakes people up mentally as well as physically; it makes people feel energised and dynamic; it nudges people off track and shifts their perceptions; it encourages people to respond quickly and flexibly to the unexpected.

It makes people's minds smile and primes their minds for creativity.

When seeking creative solutions to problems follow Haydn's example: use jokes, tricks and surprises to encourage people to experience the moment and respond energetically and flexibly to the challenges before them.

Here are six things you can do:
  • Introduce a surprising task or activity. This can be something quick and fun that will divert people just enough to freshen their minds and raise their energy levels so they can return to the main task with added focus and enthusiasm, or it can be something substantial that approaches the main task from a different and interesting angle. For example, you can achieve the former by using short energiser exercises and the latter by asking people to approach an issue or problem from a different person's, community's or organisation's perspective.
  • Keep people focused on the task before them but change the way they are approaching it. For example, get people walking around and drawing diagrams of an issue rather than sitting at a table and talking about an issue.
  • Introduce an unexpected person to the group. This could be someone from a different organisation, sector or community who has had to deal with a similar problem within a different context. It could also be someone from a seemingly unconnected profession or occupation who could non-the-less offer new perspectives and additional ways of thinking about and doing things.
  • Go to a different and unexpected place. Take a walk in the park; work in the park; go to an art gallery; visit a museum; go to a colleague's place of work; work where the problem is rather than in a meeting room; visit and work within a seemingly unrelated business or organisation: changing the environment where you meet and work can alter perspectives and stimulate fresh thinking.
  • Change the expectations associated with the task so people have to "retune" their thinking. Altering the required results and outcomes can uncover innovative solutions by forcing people to think and do things in different ways.
  • Create uncertainty so people have to think flexibly and identify options. Provide differing and imaginative scenarios and contexts within which ideas and solutions may need to be implemented. This will make people think in terms of possibilities rather than certainties, encouraging the generation of options rather than the agreement of set courses of action.

Obviously, the above things need to be done thoughtfully and carefully. When introducing jokes, tricks and surprises ensure you do the following:  
  • Tailor your jokes, tricks and surprises to your audience. Will your audience appreciate what you are doing? Do they have the necessary knowledge and experience to "get the joke". Does what you intend to do fit the context within which it will be introduced? 
  • Gain the knowledge and expertise necessary to carry out the jokes, tricks and surprises effectively. Do you really know what you are doing and how you are going to do it? Have you done enough background research and developed an adequate level of skill to perform your jokes and tricks, etc., effectively? 
  • Practise and rehearse your jokes, tricks and surprises. If possible, try them out in front of a live audience. At the very least, describe to someone what you intend to do and ask him/her what they think about it.  
  • Vary your jokes, tricks and surprises. Do not repeat yourself and become predictable; if you do, your jokes and tricks will become irritating and counter-productive. Develop a wide repertoire of jokes and tricks so you can frequently and consistently surprise your audience.   
  • Give people time to warm-up, catch-on and get the joke. Do not introduce jokes, tricks and surprises too early. People need time to feel comfortable with their environment and familiar with the situation before them; they need to warm to their task. Also, once you have introduced your joke or trick, etc., give people time to enjoy it. If you do not, all its benefits will be lost.  
  • Give people permission to laugh. People often feel it would be inappropriate to have fun and express enjoyment. Cultural assumptions about what is and is not acceptable behaviour can contribute significantly to this feeling (e.g., many business and organisational cultures equate being serious with professionalism and having fun with non-professionalism). It is important, therefore, to make clear to people that they can laugh and express enjoyment. The best way to do this is to model having fun. Telling people they can have fun will most likely cause the opposite reaction.                
  • Take the problem seriously but have fun solving it. Separate the problem from the way it is tackled. Obviously, a serious problem needs to be taken seriously. This does not mean, however, that the methods used to solve a serious problem must be unenjoyable and unstimulating. Indeed, the energy and mental stimulation generated by enjoyable and surprising approaches are often essential to solving serious problems.    

Wednesday, 2 January 2019

Build upon quietly dissenting voices

I recently listened to Beethoven's 5th Piano Concerto. It starts grandly: with a muscular flourish the piano immediately introduces itself, and the orchestra sets to with music fit to accompany the entrance of an emperor (hence the concerto's nickname). These imperious sounds are played out and developed gloriously.

Then they are interrupted.

They are interrupted by a quiet, simple melody.

Then, almost as if the little melody did not exist, the music resumes its imperial progress.

Until it is interrupted again, by the same simple melody (which Beethoven has now gently elaborated, somehow giving it a shimmer of otherworldliness).

Then the imperiousness returns, only to be interrupted yet again by the simple melody (which Beethoven has continued to gently develop: sacrificing a little simplicity in return for added subtle delicacy).

Finally, Beethoven takes the shimmering otherworldliness and subtle delicacy he coaxed from the simple little melody and fashions music from them that becomes the emotional centre of the entire concerto: he transforms them into an exquisite slow central movement.  

Beethoven provides increasing space within which the dissenting voice of the initially quiet little melody can be clearly heard and beautifully developed. His ability to do this is one of the things that contributes to his greatness as a composer.

Noticing and providing space for the expression, exploration and development of dissenting voices is an ability that can be used to enhance non-musical creative thinking and problem solving. To develop this ability do the following:
  • Listen out for dissenting ideas and opinions, however simple or quietly expressed they are.
  • Make time and space to explore these ideas and opinions, especially when they are surrounded by grand and impressive ideas and opinions that demand attention and attract support.
  • Put thought and effort into not only exploring but also developing dissenting ideas and opinions. What are they implying and how could this be clearly expressed? What is their potential? For what could they form the foundations? To what uses could they be put? What do other people think of the ideas and opinions? How do other people see them being developed and used? What can you and others do to make all these developments and uses a reality? What is the first thing you and others can do to develop these ideas and opinions? What skills, knowledge and resources will you need?
Do not allow the potential of quietly expressed dissenting voices to be swept away by the prevailing moods and interests surrounding them.