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You don’t have to be a rock star with an album that makes millions to say, “Music changed my life.” You can be the leader of an organization, searching for a way to overcome an obstacle or challenge plaguing you—potentially for years.
The key to resolving an ongoing leadership challenge could lie in the music you’re listening to. Listening to the right music can actually shift the way you think, help you overcome obstacles and make you a better leader.
Suppose you’re feeling frustrated with your team, wondering why they’re not as motivated or engaged as you are, why they aren’t handling customers the way you would like, why you can’t fully delegate or something else. In that case, you’re probably asking, “How can I get them to change?”
But that may not be the right question. What if you asked instead, “What can I change in myself?” What if the thing you need to change is your internal environment, not your external one?
This is the tough question that The Leader’s Playlist, the book debut by Harvard lawyer turned CEO coach Susan Drumm, invites leaders to ask themselves.
I had the chance to interview Drumm for an episode of Amazing Business Radio. In the interview, she talked about game-changing ways leaders can become more effective. Specifically, she shared a powerful, practical tool for shifting unconscious perspectives and behaviors that may create a poor leadership outcome. That tool is music.
According to Drumm, music is a “brain hack for shifting ineffective leadership patterns.” From her decades of coaching top executives, including billionaire CEOs and high-profile political figures, Drumm knows that when someone is struggling as a leader, especially if they’re feeling strong emotions such as burnout, frustration, imposter syndrome, etc., it’s often because there’s an internal ‘playlist’ on repeat that is shaping how they view their circumstances—not outside pressures.
Drumm says, “This playlist of thoughts is keeping them stuck. It’s become that soft background music they may be unable to hear, but it’s there, hijacking their emotional state.”
The internal playlist is typically rooted in childhood “wounds.” Drumm highlights common “playlist titles” she encounters in the executives and leaders she coaches, including, but not limited to:
I am all alone
I am not good enough
I am trapped and confined
These subconscious messages are deeply embedded in the leader’s psyche, and it’s a challenge for most leaders to simply think or decide their way out of their playlist.
During my interview, I asked Drumm if playing music can dramatically change a mood. She quickly answered, “Yes,” so I shared a short story about a favorite song I listen to in the morning when I need a little boost to get me going. The song is Perfect Day by Hoku. It is the upbeat song that was played in the opening of ‘Legally Blonde’. The lyrics don’t match with my work ethic (Sun’s up/It’s a little after twelve/Make breakfast for myself/Leave the work for someone else), but the energy, lightheartedness and overall meaning make it a great song—at least for me.
Music can alter your mood, clear your head and change how you think over time. Drumm’s book outlines a strategy for using music to tap into your subconscious. Change the way you feel, and you shift your thought patterns. Her goal is to help leaders create a playlist that reflects the life they want to lead, understand how their current playlists came to be and learn how the power of music can unlock a leader’s true potential.
So, if you’re struggling to lead your team effectively, check for an internal playlist playing in the background, and then create a literal playlist to help rewire those beliefs. As Drumm says: your personal evolution sparks your leadership evolution!
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.
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
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)
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:
… 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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There, I’ve said it. This statement may confuse some people who know me, and come as a shock to others.
Braden, what do you mean you’re an artist? You’ve got an MBA from London Business School, you’ve led change programs for global organizations, helped companies build their innovation capabilities and cultures, are an expert in digital transformation, and you can’t even draw a straight line without a ruler. What makes you think you’re an artist?
Well, okay, that may all be true, but there are lots of different kinds of artists. I may not be a painter, a sculptor, a musician, an illustrator, or even a singer, but I am an artist, a business artist.
What is a business artist you ask?
A business artist sees through complexity to what matters most. A business artist loves working with PowerPoint and telling stories, often through keynote speeches and training facilitation, or through writing. A business artist loves to share, often doing so for the greater good, sometimes to their own financial detriment, in an effort to accelerate the knowledge, learning, and creating new capabilities in others. A business artist is a builder, often creating new businesses, new web sites, and new thinking. A business artist is comfortable stepping into a number of different business contexts and bringing a different energy and a different approach to creating solutions to complex requirements. Part of the reason a business artist can do this is because a business artist values their intuitive skills just as much as they value their intellectual skills, and may also consciously invest in getting in touch with higher levels of intuitive capabilities, enabling them to excel in roles that involve a great deal of what might be termed ‘organizational psychology’.
A business artist often appears to be a jack of all trades, sometimes bordering on what was portrayed in the television show The Pretender, and can be an incredibly powerful addition to any team tackling a big challenge, but a business artist’s incredible ability to contribute to the success of an organization is often discounted by the traditional recruiting processes of most human resource organizations because of its emphasis on skill matching and experience, skewing hiring in favor of someone with a lot of experience at being mediocre at a certain skillset over someone with limited experience but greater capability. A business artist often appears to be ahead of the curve, often to their own detriment, arriving too early to the party by grasping where organizations need to go before the rest of the organization is willing to accept the new reality. This is a real problem for business artists.
Now is the time for a change. Given human’s increasing access to knowledge, and the shorter time now required to acquire the necessary knowledge and skills required to perform a task, people who are comfortable with complexity, ambiguity, and capable of learning quickly are incredibly valuable to organizations as continual change becomes the new normal. Because experience is increasingly detrimental to success instead of a long-lived asset, given the accelerating pace of innovation and change, we need business artists now more than ever.
So how do we create more business artists?
Unfortunately our public schools are far too focused on indoctrination than education, on repetition over discovery. Our educational system specializes in creating trivia masters and kids that hate school, instead of building a new generation of creative problem solvers that love to learn and explore new approaches instead of defending status conferred based on mastery of current truths (which may be tomorrow’s fallacies). We are far too obsessed with STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Math) when we should be focused on STEAM (Science Technology Engineering Art and Music). Music is creative math after all. My daughter’s school has a limited music program and NO ART. How is this possible?
To create more business artists we need to shift our focus towards art, creative problem solving and demonstrated learning, and away from memorization, metrics, and repetition. Can we do this?
Can we create an environment where the status quo is seen not as a source of power through current mastery and instead towards a system where improvements to the status quo are seen as the new source of power?
Organizations that want to survive will do so. Countries that want to stay at the top of the economic pyramid will do so. So what kind of country do you want to live in? What kind of company do you want to be part of?
Do you have the courage to join me as a business artist or to help create a new generation of them?
What makes people willing to pay $50 for a t-shirt that’s just like the one that ten other people are wearing in the club?
What makes people pay a premium for Apple products with features introduced by other companies months or years before?
If you are truly trying to be innovative, instead of creative or inventive, you MUST understand how your prospective customers assign value for the new solution you are about to introduce. This may require lots of customer interviews, ethnography, forced choices, and other upfront research, but it’s worth it, because if you don’t build your potential innovation on a new, unique insight then it has no chance of succeeding in the marketplace. And as I’ve said before, to achieve innovation you have to focus not just on creating value in the product or service itself, but all three sources of value:
So, let’s get back to the $50 t-shirt…
Here in Seattle we are proud of Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, who became a chart topping rap music music act by choosing not to follow the traditional way of making it in the music business so they could not only maintain their creative freedom, but also to make more money. Their mega-hit “Thrift Shop” pokes fun at fashionistas and has helped to make thrift shopping cool instead of embarrassing. Thank you to their combination of skills, they’ve been able to do a lot of the hard work themselves to promote their music, including making this video:
By remaining independent, Macklemore and Ryan Lewis are free to collaborate with whomever they want, when they want, and with sponsors who add value in specific ways consistent with the current project they are working on, instead of a record company extracting a rent from all the artist’s activities (whether they are adding value or not). Here is one such project they undertook with another local artist, Fences, and sponsorship from a company headquartered here locally – T-Mobile USA. It’s a great song and a pretty cool video if you haven’t heard or seen it before:
I for one am grateful that Macklemore and Ryan Lewis didn’t sign a record deal, and record executives have candidly admitted that they would have totally ruined the act by forcing them to change to be more “marketable.” The success of Macklemore and Ryan Lewis (and others) serve to highlight the disruption in the music industry value chain that continues to occur, creating discontinuities that artists like Macklemore and Ryan Lewis can take advantage of. This is of course as long as they have the digital and social skills to get the word out and help their music spread.
Is there disruption happening in your industry’s value chain?
How can you take advantage of the discontinuities?
Please note the following licensing terms for Stikkee Situations cartoons:
Video may have killed the radio star, but the mp3 and even the CD have failed to kill the lovable vinyl LP record. In fact, they are making a resurgence and if anything have probably grown in popularity over the last decade.
So, you might be thinking what kind of innovation could someone possibly pull off on a vinyl album?
Well, here is a list of the new things they’ve done on the album:
Hidden track under the label of Side A
Hidden track under the label of Side B
One of the hidden tracks plays at 45rpm and the other plays at 78rpm, while the rest of the album plays at the normal 33rpm
Side A plays from the inside out
Side A plays into a locked track on the outside edge that loops continuously
Side B plays the normal way – outside in, but depending on where you place the needle, you’ll either get and electric or an acoustic intro to the first song on the side
Last, but not least, on a 1-inch band near the label of Side A, if you look at just the right angle while playing the record you’ll see holograms of two spinning angels (one right side up, one upside down)
Jack White walks you through the new things they’ve tried to include on this piece of vinyl in this video:
And if you’re not familiar with Jack White’s music (he started the White Stripes by the way), then check out the video below of one of the songs from the album
Who says an old dog can’t learn new tricks?
So, pull your turntable or record player out from under your bed and check out this groundbreaking new album.
Ultimately whether this album is an innovation or not is up to you…
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It used to be that when you formed a rock band to seek fame and fortune, all you had to do was find a lead singer, a guitarist, a bass player, a drummer, and maybe another guitarist or a keyboard player if you wanted a richer sound. But the digital age presents a level of complexity and opportunity that John, Paul, and Ringo never had to deal with.
If video killed the radio star, or tried to, then YouTube will certainly finish the job.
In the old days (come on, rock music is less than 100 years old), bands played at their local high school, then maybe the local club circuit, recorded a demo and sent off demo tapes, and finally if they were lucky they were ‘discovered’ by a record exec and signed to a record deal.
In the digital age, aspiring rock stars need to consider the social media and marketing skills of potential band mates as much as they scrutinize their skill with a particular musical instrument. In the digital age your skills with YouTube are almost more likely to make you a rock star then your skills with a guitar.
Just look at Pomplamoose – nearly 80 million video views and 340,000 subscribers. They have more YouTube subscribers than mega-stars Coldplay.
If we look at a new song as an invention and at my Innovation is All About Value framework through a music lens, you will quickly see why social media and creativity are so important in the music business and why new singers and bands can seemingly come from nowhere on the Internet.
1. Value Creation
A new song (Is the song any good?)
2. Value Access
How easy do you make it for people to find this new song, listen to it and buy it?
3. Value Translation
Do you do a good job of making people want to add the song to their playlists and to share the song with others? Do you engage them and make the song a part of them?
The power of #3 is magnified on the Internet (both if you do it well or poorly). Just look at the fact that Gotye created an AWESOME song ‘Somebody That I Used to Know’ and the video for it has received 600,000 page views, but a little known Canadian band Walk Off The Earth released a YouTube video covering the song and their cover has generated 83 million page views and an appearance on The Ellen DeGeneres Show.
More passion, and a better, more engaging story (ultimately better value translation that was worth sharing).
So all you teenyboppers out there putting together the next great rock band, beware. In this new digital reality we all live in, you can’t think just about guitar, vocals, bass, drums, and keyboards. You must also think about who in the band you are considering putting together (unless you actually have money to pay someone) will make you look awesome on:
2. MySpace Music
5. Band Web Site
6. Other places (Spotify, iTunes, etc.)
Yes, I said MySpace. The site remains incredibly relevant despite being eclipsed by Facebook thanks to its understanding of how to help bands create valuable pages for fans. Facebook still sucks at this. If I were Google and didn’t want Google+ to die a slow death, I would buy MySpace and incorporate the Music capabilities into Google+. It would make a great pairing with YouTube. They might want to buy Spotify while they are at it to bolster their unfortunately pathetic Google Play offering.
One other interesting contrast to draw between the successful bands spawned by YouTube versus the successful bands spawned by the old guard. YouTube successes tend to be very human and engaging in their approach, while old guard bands tend to be very aloof, distant, and well-packaged.
What kind of musical band and social media band will you be?
Here are the two different ‘Somebody That I Used To Know’ videos, starting with the original by Gotye:
Followed by the Walk Off the Earth cover:
Image Credit: Foxhound Studio
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