Creativity for Music Entrepreneurs Part II: 3 Steps to Clarify Your Problem

My class on Innovation and Collaboration at the Yale School of Music is designed to teach music entrepreneurs how to innovate by solving a problem near and dear to their hearts in the world of classical music.

My students are creative individuals who are eager to do something meaningful with their music.   They also want to come up with solutions that have traction so that they can successfully create their music careers.

That’s where the creative problem solving process comes in.

The creative problem solving process is designed to generate innovative and useful solutions to problems that are not susceptible of an obvious solution.  In my last blog post, we explored the 5 stages that to help identify a problem that they want to solve.  That process helped my students to figure out which part of the music ecosystem they wanted to tackle. To help my students zero in on what matters to them and what they want to accomplish, I had them generate life purpose and mission statements. They then sorted themselves out into 3 project groups that are grappling with the following issues:

  1. How to help young people in underserved communities for whom the arts could be a vehicle for creating a better life.
  2. How to inspire young professional audiences who are looking for exciting and satisfying ways to experience music.
  3. How to help aspiring professional musicians who wish to enhance their music education by learning better ways of practicing.
What’s the next step?

Do you dive in and jump to a solution?

Not really.  If you go right to the solution, you may end up solving the wrong problem!

Indeed, when Albert Einstein was asked how he would solve the most important problem in the world in one hour, he would take 55 minutes to define the problem and the the last 5 minutes to come up with the solution.

That’s why we used the next step of the Creative Problem Solving process: making sure that we were solving the solving the right problem. This is a stage called CLARIFY, which breaks down in to 3 steps:

  1. Create the Ideal State

We started off by asking each project group to define the goal by imagining the ideal state that they want to create. We used the formulation:

Wouldn’t it be great if….

  1. Assess Your Situation

In order to understand the problem you want to solve, you need to collect data on the context of your problem and examine the situation that you want to solve, asking questions like:

  • Who is the audience?
  • What do they need?
  • What has happened in the past?
  • What has been tried? What was successful? What was not successful?
  • Why are these changes occurring?
  • Why is it important to address the situation?
  • Why do we care about this?
  • What else needs to be done?
  • What experience do you have with this?
  • What hunches do you have?
  • What don’t we know?
  • How have the other solutions worked out?
  1. The Most Significant Challenge

The third step is to formulate the most significant challenge to creating your Ideal World so that you zero in on the right problem.  It helps to phrase the challenge in such a way as to suggest a solution, using the terminology:

  • How to ____
  • How might we_____
  • In what ways might we_____

Like all phases of creative problems-solving, the 3-step clarify process involves the two mindsets of creativity:  divergent thinking and convergent thinking In each step, we generated a lot of ideas (the divergent phase) and then used a variety of filters to select the best ideas (convergent thinking).

Here’s what each group came up with:

Project One:

  • Ideal State:

Wouldn’t it be great if young people from underserved communities could escape poverty and find the confidence to pursue an artistic endeavor?

  • Problem to Solve:

How might we use music and the arts to empower young people from underserved communities to find and pursue an artistic talent in order to find the inspiration to achieve and excel?

  • Tentative Solution:

Provide mentoring, education and a community performance

Project Two:

  • Ideal State:

Wouldn’t it be great if today’s audiences were engaged and excited by classical music performances?

  • Problem to Solve:

How might we create exciting, interactive musical experiences for young and young-at-heart professionals who do not typically go to concerts?

  • Tentative Solution

Concert in a gritty, urban setting with food, drink and lots of interaction between the audience and the performers

  • Ideal State: 

Wouldn’t it be great if musicians had access to the best techniques of how to practice and could share their best practices in a collaborative community?

  • Problem to Solve:

How might we enhance music education in an accessible format so that all musicians could collaborate and learn from great performers about how to practice effectively?

  • Tentative Solution:

An on-line streaming platform featuring videos of master musicians practicing.

So the next time you have a looming issue that is not susceptible of an obvious answer and same old won’t do the job, try clarifying so that you can solve the right problem!

Next time: Brainstorming and other ways to come up with innovative ideas!