Impressions

by Cochran

Bach and The Art of Design Thinking

Bach.TheArtofDesignThinking

As a musician, I get this question often: “Who is your favorite composer?”

Without hesitation, my answer, for as long as I can remember, has been and forever will be, the great German Baroque composer, Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750). For me, there are many reasons why.

Bach’s music moves me like no other. Though challenging to play, his music is filled with pure joy. Understanding the music of Bach is a lifelong pursuit. Never static, each time I hear or play a work by Bach, I hear something new. Bach’s complex layers are constantly revealing themselves to the focused listener or student. My list could go on and on.

In addition to all of these attributes that I attach to Bach, I am convinced that Bach embraced principles of design thinking throughout his musical career. For instance:

Bach combined the analytical with the intuitive. He coupled research (listening and learning from others) with his amazing intuition, moving things forward by imagining new possibilities. Bach was a master at synthesizing past, present and future into nearly everything he wrote. Even his staunchly well-loved B Minor Mass is now believed by many to have been somewhat of an exercise that Bach used to convey his latest musical discoveries.

Bach employed iterative prototyping. Bach would often reuse his own earlier compositions, revising and improving them. He regularly created three or four versions of a single cantata movement. Referred to as parody in the classical music realm, Bach would re-work a movement from a harpsichord concerto into a cantata movement or parody a minuet from a Brandenburg Concerto in a chorale.

Bach took inspiration from a broad range of experiences and cultures. As a young man of only 20, Bach supposedly walked more than 200 miles from Arnstadt to Lübeck to hear the older, well-established organist and composer, Dietrich Buxtehude, play. Surely, ideas generated by this experience worked themselves into his music. Bach incorporated a variety of music styles from throughout Europe into his works. For example, Bach composed each of the four movements in his Partita for Unaccompanied Flute in a popular dance style of the day with German, Italian, French and English styles all represented.

Bach co-created with others. Bach knew he couldn’t go it alone. He regularly looked to others for inspiration and new ideas. One of his most frequent collaborators was the librettist, Picander. Together, they created a large volume of cantatas and other works including, most notably, the St. Matthew Passion.

Bach regularly embraced constraint as a source of creativity. Probably the most famous example of this is The Musical Offering, inarguably one of Bach’s most striking works. In 1747, upon a visit to the palace of King Frederick the Great of Prussia, the aging Bach was challenged to improvise on a difficult theme given to him by the king, himself a formidable composer. On the spot, Bach improvised a complex fugue at the keyboard. Within two months following his visit, Bach completed The Musical Offering, based entirely on Frederick’s theme. The piece was immediately printed and presented with a dedication to the king.

Bach wrote music for the people. He composed music for the enjoyment of the listener. In Bach’s words, music was “for the recreation of the mind…” Bach’s music can sound simple and elegant, yet beneath the surface exists a highly detailed system of counterpoint and fugue. In addition to his responsibilities as church organist and Kapellmeister (chapel master), Bach directed a Collegium Musicum off and on during his tenure in Leipzig. Actually founded by Telemann, this group of amateur and semi-professional musicians met for informal music making at the coffee-house of Gottfried Zimmermann. Through these performances, Bach was able to hone his skills in writing for a secular audience while giving the people of Leipzig exposure to music outside of the typical church setting. Read A Rollicking Bach Time Is Had By All in today’s New York Times for a modern-day reference to these coffee-house performances.

When we think of early examples of design thinkers, the first person often cited is inventor, Thomas Edison. Yet more than a century before Edison was born, Bach composed a set of 15 keyboard pieces in two contrapuntal parts and termed them inventions. I’m convinced that we can all learn more about design thinking by studying Bach and  listening to anything from his large output of work, be it his cantatas, oratorios, solo partitas, concertos and yes, his inventions.

Let me know what names you’d add to a list of early design thinkers.

December 4, 2012 Posted by | Bach, creativity, design, design thinking, empathy, Innovation, music, prototyping | , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

NC Screening of Design & Thinking Documentary

It was an honor to present the North Carolina screening premiere of Design & Thinking documentary in Greensboro on Monday, June 4. Sponsored by Quaintance-Weaver Restaurants & Hotels and Syngenta, the event took place in the Hawkins Brown Room at the elegant O. Henry Hotel.

The evening began with drinks and networking as guests began to gather. By 7:15 pm, the approximately 35 guests had arrived and seated themselves at tables facing the upcoming action. Attendees included designers of all ilks, university types, marketing professionals, artists, musicians, architects, scientists, corporate managers, small business owners and non-profit leaders from throughout the North Carolina Piedmont Triad area.

As co-host and designer/owner of Cochran Creative Group, I was pleased to make a few opening remarks. They included:

I first heard the term ‘Design Thinking’ perhaps 4 or 5 years ago. As a designer, I was immediately intrigued. I took it upon myself to read everything I could find on the subject. Then, in late 2010, I had the opportunity to attend a conference on Design Thinking in Toronto. Over the course of 2 days there, I heard many proponents of design thinking share their thoughts. The standout for me was a keynote by Roger Martin, Dean of the Rotman School of Management at University of Toronto. (You’ll hear from him in this film.) I felt as if Roger looked right at me in the audience that day and said (about himself, of course), “I’m a designer. I don’t design things. I design ideas.” I felt that statement described me, as well. That one statement gave me a new-found confidence around what I do for a living.

The documentary you’re about to see, Design & Thinking, is a production of One Time Studio, consisting of a group of 4 young Taiwanese designers who met at the Taipei Design Center U.S. in San Francisco. They were interested in the topic of design thinking and the challenges of blending their various expertise and cross-cultural perspectives.

One Time Studio raised all of the funds to produce the film via KickStarter, the online funding platform for creative projects. I was curious, so I got online and looked at the pledge history for this project. Pledges started at a mere $1, with the majority of backers pledging between $15 and $30. They surpassed their funding goal.

Design & Thinking had its world premiere at the Newport Beach Film Festival on April 28. Subsequent screenings have taken place in New York City, Dallas, Phoenix and Singapore. An internal screening took place at Google headquarters last week. I’m designing the T-shirt now: New York…Mountain View…Greensboro!

Next, I introduced Bill Knowles, head of Learning & Development at Syngenta, North America. Bill talked a bit about his experience with design thinking, having visited IDEO and worked with the Kelley brothers and Tim Brown. Bill described how he and colleague, Uri Hess, developed a course on design thinking that they deliver, globally, to Syngenta employees. The course is a component of Syngenta’s Breakthrough Innovation (BTI) course. Bill suggested that we take notes during the film, recording new ideas and concepts that we may be able to apply to our own work.

We then screened Design & Thinking. When the closing credits rolled by 75 minutes later, the entire room broke into spontaneous applause.

Bill encouraged each table to take about 10 minutes to discuss their impressions and share ideas. Later, he polled the tables and asked each group to share an idea or two that they could immediately take back to their work tomorrow. Lively discussions followed with many people making immediate connections on some of the design thinking concepts addressed in the film. Attendees left with new-found inspiration and an eagerness to learn more about design thinking. Each guest received a copy of the Design & Thinking Resource List we had compiled in advance. You can download it here.

Each day since the screening, I’ve been deluged with positive comments about the event and stories of how participants are already applying design thinking concepts to their work. We hope to host a follow-up event soon in affiliation with Idea Network, an informal group I founded in 2010.

Here are a few of the many excellent quotes from the all-star cast of thought leaders interviewed in the film:

“Your first idea won’t be your best idea.”

“Design is a participatory sport.”

“It’s not about the brief. It’s about what happens after the brief.”

“You have to do in order to know.”

“When design is reduced to a formula, we lose something.”

“In an ambiguous problem, you don’t know what you don’t know.”

“Design thinking is liberating.”

“Think crazy. Think wild.”

And, here’s an excerpt from today’s edition of Syngenta’s Connections newsletter, where the screening event is mentioned:

This week, a movie premiered in Greensboro, N.C., after receiving accolades at the recent Newport Beach Film Festival in California. How did Greensboro become the location for such an exciting event? Because of the influence of Bill Knowleshead, Learning and Development North America. The movie was titled Design and Thinking and was a documentary about a concept called ‘design thinking.’

“Design thinking is something I’ve been teaching at Syngenta and outside our organization for the last several years,” Bill shares. “It juxtaposes with innovation by bringing intuition together with analytical thought. It means going beyond what is and looking at what could be.”

When Bill heard about the film Design and Thinking, he saw it as the perfect opportunity to introduce the concept to other prominent businesses and universities in Greensboro.

Please feel free to add your comments here if you attended the June 4 event. If you have questions on how to bring a design thinking event to your organization, please feel free to contact me at rebecca@cochrancreativegroup.com.

June 8, 2012 Posted by | design, design thinking, Innovation | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

My Saturday Branding Lesson

A parking lot with landscaping and a diagonal ...

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So, I was exiting one of my favorite coffee shops after enjoying my Saturday morning cup. I tend to linger longer on Saturdays.

Just for the record, I drive a metallic blue Honda Accord.

As I was leaving the shop, I was reading an incoming text message on my smart phone. Since I was focused on my phone display, I wasn’t looking at my car. But, I knew the general direction in which I had parked.

As I approached my car and pressed the “unlock” button on my remote, I noticed that there was a half-used legal pad sitting on the back seat. My first thought was, “How did that get back there? I never use the back seat and, by the way, I don’t use legal pads (well, not in public, anyway).

Then came the a ha. This wasn’t my car. Mine was parked in the same overall position, just one row over.

My first instinct was to feel embarrassed. Who saw me? Did the owner of the “other” car think I was trying to steal something? Who was having a good laugh at my expense?

As I unlocked my car door, hopped in and sped away, I had a good laugh at my mistake.

Then, another a ha. This was my Saturday branding lesson. Thank you, Honda.

The “other” car I tried to enter was also a Honda. Not an Accord, but a Civic. Not metallic blue, but metallic gray, and probably the same model year as mine.

It dawned on me that this was branding at its best. Even though I wasn’t focused on the cars in the lot, out of a tiny little corner of my eye, subliminally even, I had shown my brand loyalty to Honda. I didn’t walk up to a Toyota or a Mazda or a Nissan and make this mistake. My eyes took me to a Honda, albeit not my Honda.

Was it the color similarity that fooled me? Was it that I sometimes park in that exact parking space (the one where the Civic was) many a Saturday morning? Was it the overall design of the car that I recognized? Did I unknowingly glance at the Honda logo and gravitate towards it?

It was probably a combination of all of these factors (and probably some I haven’t even thought of yet) that attracted me to the Civic. All in all, it was an interesting branding case study. This Accord is only the second Honda I’ve owned in my lifetime. Oh, but I did receive a telemarketing call from Honda this week. Scary, huh?

Pity I can’t time travel back to notice whether there were other Honda models in the same general area of the parking lot. Or notice if there were other cars the same color as mine. Or any of a myriad other factors which may have affected my choice of the gray metallic Civic.

I’d love to know what you make of my branding experience. Please comment and let me know what factors I’ve overlooked in my analysis.

P.S. Thank you, Honda, for the interesting study in branding and brand loyalty. And, by the way, I love my Accord. Keep up the good work.

February 11, 2012 Posted by | brand loyalty, design, design thinking, Marketing | , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Two Little Words Still Worth Using

Thank You!

In this age of online engagement, these two little words have never been more important. Rather than launching campaigns, business owners now work to spark conversations with their customers.

However quickly the tools and strategies may change, these two little words will always add value. Be sure to include them in your next conversation.

November 21, 2011 Posted by | business, creativity, design, design thinking, Marketing, Online Marketing, social media | , , , , | Leave a comment

4 Quick Steps To Effective Marketing

Today, effective marketing is more about brains than it is about budget. Whether you’re a start-up or an established company, you’ve no excuse not to jump into the fray. Here are 4 quick steps to finding your marketing sweet spot:

  1. Prototype like crazy. Faster experiments mean better results.
  2. Measure, but don’t over-measure. Use your gut, too.
  3. Re-tool and correct. Adaptability is key.
  4. Repeat.

The bottom line? Just get started. Today’s pace doesn’t allow for stragglers.

July 20, 2011 Posted by | business, design, design thinking, Marketing, prototyping | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Design Thinking: Methodology, Mindset or What?

Chamber musicians perform trio sonata

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During the past several years, I’ve spent a fair amount of time exploring design thinking. I’ve read inspiring and insightful books and blogs on the subject, heard in-person keynotes by design thinking experts including Claudia Kotchka and Roger Martin, attended a design thinking conference, engaged in numerous online discussions around the topic and have had many face-to-face conversations with others on this often elusive topic.

My still looming question: Is design thinking a methodology, a mindset or something else?

David Kelley, a founder of IDEO and co-founder of the d.school program at Stanford, in a video interview with Reena Jana of Business Week, stated that design thinking can be learned. Design thinking is not a new methodology, according to Kelley, “it used be to be called design.” Companies are finally recognizing the value of design and many are working to make design thinking part of their corporate DNA.

I tend to agree with Kelley in that design thinking can be learned. But, at the same time, I feel that design thinking is a mindset. According to the World English Dictionary, mindset is defined as “the ideas and attitudes with which a person approaches a situation, especially when these are seen as being difficult to alter.” If this is an accurate definition, then I’m convinced that design thinking also falls into mindset mode.

OK, so design thinking is both methodology and mindset. But, which comes first? How does one acquire the design thinking mindset?

In my case, design thinking has been a way of life for as long as I can remember. At the age of 10, I (luckily) embarked on a path towards becoming a serious classical musician. That meant years and years of developing both sides of my brain and, just naturally, blending analytical thinking with intuitive thinking.

Of all the arts, music is the one which best grooms the mind in that hybrid way. During tens of thousands of hours in the practice room, a musician taps into a blended skill set of analysis and intuition. In learning a new piece or re-learning a piece from our past repertoire, we prototype hundreds of times. That prototyping is done alone, with a teacher, in rehearsal and then again during each actual performance of the work. Whether in a chamber music ensemble or in an orchestra, the nimble musician combines what he has analyzed with what he has prototyped and then adds the layer of intuitive thinking so necessary when interacting with other musicians onstage.

So, for some, design thinking seems to come naturally. Design thinking is a blend of years of learning, prototyping and doing.

What are your thoughts? Are there other fields of study that naturally train us in design thinking? I’d like to hear from you.

March 6, 2011 Posted by | business, creativity, design, design thinking, Innovation, music, prototyping | , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments