The harder I try not to think of myself as an artist, the stronger I’m pulled back to the idea that even if my art is a little different than traditional drawing, painting, photography, music, dance and other traditional arts, that it is still art.
Today’s article was inspired by a Lex Fridman podcast interview with the lead singer of Imagine Dragons – Dan Reynolds.
Dan is a Mormon, a musician, one of nine children, a father, and a surprisingly humble and astute person. All of these things are relevant because who we are as a person is the result of every facet of ourselves today, and in our upbringing. Our art comes from our experience and our empathetic connections to the experiences of others. While Dan is a musician, he is also an artist, and artists can and should learn from all different types of artists.
At the heart of every kind of art is truth, but more about that later.
“After silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music.” — Aldous Huxley
In this article I will highlight what I took away from the interview and some of the great music they Lex and Dan discussed, but feel free to jump in and watch the conversation at any point:
The most important takeaways from the interview are these:
- People have really good bullshit detectors
- You must authentically feel something, and your audience must feel it too
- Having a source of honest feedback is critical to progressing your art
Let’s now look at each of these and relate them from music to innovation:
1. People have really good bullshit detectors
In the interview Dan contrasts their success with two different records “Bet My Life” and “Believer” – which both did well – but “Believer” out-streamed “Bet My Life” by 10x.
Here is “Bet My Life” from YouTube with its 160 Million views on YouTube:
And “Believer” with its 2.2 Billion views on YouTube:
Okay, maybe that’s a bit more than 10x, but Dan when asked about what went wrong with “Bet My Life” he admitted that they produced the song themselves and that they took what was originally a stripped-down song and over-produced it – costing the song some of its authenticity in the process.
If we cross over to innovation on this topic, in the past I’ve written that Veracity is Required for Innovation Success.
Yes, innovation is an art.
Here are some key thoughts from this article on the importance of truth to innovation:
“Fail to identify a solution with real innovation veracity and you are likely to miss potential elements of optimal value creation, you will likely struggle to make its value accessible, and there is a greater likelihood that you will fail to properly translate the value of the solution for your customers.
So, taken another way, the search for innovation success is a search for truth. You must therefore unlock the inner truths of your intended customers (think unmet needs or jobs-to-be-done), you must search in areas that your intended customers will feel are true for your brand, and areas that feel true to employees given the company’s mission and values. When your pursuit of innovation centers around truth and when you commit to a focused effort to increase your innovation capability – and to pursue Innovation Excellence – then and only then do you have your best chance at innovation success.”
2. You must authentically feel something, and your audience must feel it too
In innovation we often talk about how it takes 100+ ideas to find 10 projects worth investing time and money in, and from those 10 projects – if you’re lucky – you might have one show promise as a potential innovation.
In the Lex Fridman interview Dan Reynolds revealed that he writes about 100 songs a year and from those perhaps 10 might get recorded. Dan started as a drummer, and while voice is often as seen as the melody of a song, his vocals are in part driven by a percussion mindset. For innovation we like to speak about bringing different mindsets and perspectives to increase the chances of finding something meaningful.
Speaking of feeling and authenticity, Dan tells a story in the interview about how they were working on an album with famous record producer Rick Rubin and listened to a song that Dan believed in, but after hearing it he told Dan “I don’t believe you.”
The path to adoption is through belief…
Some of the songs they listened to in regard to ‘feeling it’, included Harry Nilsson’s “Without You”:
Cat Stevens’ “Father and Son”:
And Harry Chapin’s “Cat’s in the Cradle”:
Identifying whether you are transmitting authentic feelings or not is very difficult. We’ve already spoken about the importance of veracity, and if we build on that using something I wrote about in my article That’s Innovation with Two V’s, leveraging information from the movie A Good American, about how the following three components can help you identify signals and drive the transformation of DATA into INTELLIGENCE (or innovation veracity in our context):
- Volume – in order to derive meaningful conclusions you need a lot of data inputs, in this case, lots of idea fragments (ideas come later)
- Variety – multiple perspectives are necessary to avoid blind spots and increase the potential for connecting idea fragments
- Velocity – volume by itself is not enough, momentum is important too. You have to keep Stoking Your Innovation Bonfire
3. Having a source of honest feedback is critical to progressing your art
Making art that resonates with others is incredibly different. It is easy to get lost in our own perspective.
“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” – African Proverb
It is incredibly important as an artist, as an innovator, that you find a group of trusted voices to allow you to accelerate the development of your art – or your innovation. Science experienced an incredible acceleration in the private clubs of London in the 1600’s, impressionist art experienced an amazing acceleration in the south of France in the 1800’s – because of the rapid exchange of ideas and feedback.
For Dan Reynolds, one of those trusted voices is his father, he also has one of his brothers as the band’s manager, another brother as their lawyer, and brings in external voices to help with the production of their records – people like Rick Rubin.
Listening to your trusted external voices can help you see where you’re falling short. There is a great quote in the interview above regarding Dan’s realization around the sometimes-uncomfortable role of a famous person in society.
“By not saying anything, I was saying everything.” – Dan Reynolds
(re: LGBTQ issues at the time)
It is only from being open to receiving feedback that we can learn anything. And when it comes to art, when it comes to Optimizing Innovation Resonance:
To achieve and maintain innovation resonance, you must nurture a commitment to learning fast, both during the innovation development process and after the launch of a potential innovation. You must maintain a laser focus on how you are creating value, helping people access that value, and translating that value for people so they can understand how your potential innovation may fit into their lives. So, do you have processes in place as part of your innovation methodology for measuring and evolving solutions in place to help you get to innovation resonance?
And to help reduce the tyranny of the innovation hero and to encourage innovation collaboration, I created the Nine Innovation Roles:
- Customer Champion
- Magic Maker
… to make a place for everyone in innovation.
There is a reason this blog is called Human-Centered Change & Innovation. The reason is that when it comes to change, innovation and transformation, the people side of all three is everything.
To be successful, you must consider “the other.”
You must engage with “the other.”
You must understand “the other.”
This requires empathy, this requires veracity, and when you bring empathy and veracity together, you have a chance at achieving resonance.
All types of art and innovation require empathy, veracity, and resonance for success.
I hope you’ve enjoyed the interview, the music, and the conversation.
I hope all of this will help you slay your dragons, imagine a future where you are connecting more fully with your audience, and creating something amazing.
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