Archive for January, 2011

Can Music Promote Social Change?

When my son was in middle school he got involved in a program called Children’s International Summer Villages (http://www.cisv.org/about/history.html).  A woman who believed that if children could learn to relate to kids from other countries it would promote world peace started CISV shortly after WWII.

In my travels, I have found music to be a common denominator—the universal language.  Whether it was singing along to a Beatles tribute band at a table in Roppongi with two Koreans and six Japanese, jamming in a karaoke bar in Tokyo with musicians who spoke no English, or jamming with an outdoor market vendor in Bangkok for 45 minutes, playing a stringed instrument called a Thai Pin, that I picked up for the very first time that day, connections were made.  The Thai vendor and I couldn’t communicate with each other in any other way, but we became brothers that day.  When my business associates finally found me they were relieved to learn that I was NOT abducted–just distracted.

I am privileged to serve on the board of LiveConnections (http://liveconnections.org), an organization dedicated to providing innovative music education programs to build bridges and connect cultures.  It was started by a group of people who are passionate about music, but more passionate about making a difference in the world through music.  Now, that is something to sing about!

If this is something that resonates with you, please go to http://liveconnections.org to make a donation.

Creativity and Ideation

Throughout modern history influential members of developed countries have celebrated evaluative or convergent thinking, with success being pre-ordained

based on the mastery of standardized tests (PSAT, SAT, GMAT, LSAT, MCAT) that measure an individual’s aptitude for analytical, logical and linear thought. The ability to acquire and disseminate knowledge is valued.  After all, convergent thinking put a man on the moon and returned him safely in the 1960s, and launched us headlong into the high technology world of the knowledge era.   Knowledge is power.

In 1997 engineers and scientists from IBM developed a computer program powerful enough to beat world champion Garry Kasparov in the quintessential logic and strategy competition, chess.  In so doing, is it possible they marked the beginning of the end of the knowledge era?  If technology can beat a world champion chess master at his game, what’s to keep technology from rendering a world-class disease diagnostician—think Dr. Gregory House—obsolete?

Isn’t a diagnostician’s skill derived from a comprehensive knowledge of known diseases, and the possible combination of related symptoms:  knowledge that can be stored in databases, and retrieved and processed at speeds far greater than the capability of the human mind.

While computers have the ability to handle this type of activity with ease, they have difficulty with context.  Discerning joy, fear, anger or anxiety from the expression on someone’s face requires the ability to instantaneously see individual parts of the face in the context of the whole.  In order for innovators and entrepreneurs to develop solutions for today’s complex needs, they need to understand those needs within the context of people’s lives, and/or the whole of society.  This ability to understand context seems to come from the frontal lobe of the brain.

At this point, a caveat may be in order.   For years, the literature drew the distinction between the way humans’ process information in an either/or fashion, where logic and language activity took place in the left hemisphere and imagination, emotion and spatial awareness occupied the right side of the brain.   In other words a focus on convergent (ala left brain) and divergent (ala right brain) thinking, where focus had been on convergent thinking (evaluative).  Now, there is an enhanced recognition of the importance of divergent thinking (emphasis on generating ideas).   More importantly, we recognize that both sides of the brain work together.   Since this is not a forum on neuroscience, I will ask your forgiveness if I shorthand the discussion a bit by using the left-brain right-brain language.

In his book, A Whole New Mind, Daniel Pink suggests that we are moving from a knowledge economy to a creative economy, requiring a renaissance of divergent thinking.  Is it time to re-engage the often-maligned right-brain?  Are we in an era where competitive advantage will be determined as much or more by creativity, design and context than by knowledge, analytics and logic?

In an interview with Ted Koppel, Dave Kelley, founder and CEO of the Palo Alto, California product design firm, Ideo, said, “Look around.  The only thing that is not designed by someone is nature.”  While this has been true since the beginning of time, the importance of design for the products and services we consume has not always been paramount.

Prior to the 21st Century the demand for one product over another was largely driven by utility and price.  Terms like “price performance” were coined to indicate the importance of the price/utility relationship.  Typically, the product with the most functionality at an affordable price carried the highest competitive advantage.  Recognizable slogans like, “the quicker picker-upper”, “the ultimate driving machine”, “we bring good things to life”, “like a rock”, and “don’t leave home without it”, speak to the importance consumers and advertising firms assigned to function and utility.

As developed countries become more affluent—particularly the U.S.—consumers are demanding more than just utility in the products they purchase.  They want beauty, elegance and significance.  In short, they want good design.

Daniel Pink goes on to say that, “While Harvard’s MBA program admits about 10 percent of its applicants, UCLA’s fine arts graduate school admits only 3 percent.  Why?  A master of fine arts, an MFA, is now one of the hottest credentials in the world, where even General Motors is in the art business.”  Pink argues that product design has become a vital ingredient for competitive advantage, creating the need for a whole new mind in business.  Business leaders, who have traditionally valued convergent thinking, need to embrace the importance of divergent thinking in building competitive advantage.

Think for a moment about the hottest new products of the last decade.  What were they, and what distinguished them from their competitors?  What role did design play in the product’s success, and what do we know about the companies that designed them?  They are usually viewed as innovative, but are they also viewed as entrepreneurial?  This begs the question.  As we move into the creative economy, will entrepreneurial firms have an advantage over established corporate giants and why?

©Mark P. Loschiavo

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