Innovation and Feedback: An Essential Step for Entrepreneurial Projects

Why is feedback essential to innovation?

Let’s examine how students in my Innovation and Collaboration class at the Yale School of Music are learning this lesson through their semester projects.

When we last left the music entrepreneurs , the class had explored the needs of today’s audiences and zeroed in on the problem of how to make classical music more relevant and accessible to today’s audiences.  Our students then discussed different aspects of this problem and formed three project groups:

  • Informal concerts for Yale University’s non-music Graduate and Professional Students;
  • Music and Wellness Initiative for students at Yale who consume or produce music; and,
  • An interactive opera styled as a “Choose Your Own Adventure” for teens, millennials and their parents.

From these initial ideas, the projects evolved through the following steps, each of which provided a rich source of feedback to improve the project ideas.

Sources of Feedback

Innovation is not easy!  Coming up with a truly innovative and workable solution involves trial and error.  Innovators experiment to see what might work and they are willing to examine the strengths and weaknesses of a solution. Moreover, they learn from setbacks and constantly strive to improve on their solution.  And feedback is essential for development and learning.

That has been the experience in our class.  After elaborating three different tentative project solutions, the students were able to strengthen their ideas in a number of ways.

1. Brainstorming

Each project group brainstormed ideas to generate an ideal vision for their audiences.  They started with the question, “Wouldn’t it be great if…”   We continued the discussion after class through our on-line discussion board.  Through the discussion board, students developed more ideas and commented on each other’s work, creating a rich source of valuable feedback. The students then spent some time in class brainstorming project solutions through Ideation.  The result was a more detailed solution for each project.

2. Advisor Input

The next stage of the project evolution was our class project pitch session with a panel of four advisors. Three advisors were business entrepreneurs and one was a professor at the Yale School of Music with extensive community engagement experience.  Each project group pitched their ideas to the advisors and the advisors then gave their feedback. The advisors provided a wealth of insight, resources and practical information that caused the students to further refine their projects.  Two of the groups went a step farther and met with a mentor from the Center for Innovative Thinking at Yale or Tsai CITY.

Indeed, Yale students are very lucky to have access to Tsai CITY where business experts advise students on ventures. These mentors provided additional assistance to our project groups.

3. Development with the POINT Analysis

We were now at the stage where the students needed to strengthen their ideas and make it more likely of reaching an innovative solution. One helpful evaluation strategy from creativity studies is POINT.   POINT involves the following four steps:

P: Pluses, where you list the benefits and the positive aspects of your idea;

O: Opportunities, where you envision the future possibilities if you bring your idea into fruition;

I: Issues, where you list the problems, challenges and weaknesses of your idea; and

NT: New Thinking, where you brainstorm how to overcome the problems and the weaknesses highlighted in the Issues step and then prioritize to come up with the best ideas.

I reviewed the students’  POINT worksheets to provide them with feedback as they developed their projects.

4. Class Feedback

Yet another source of feedback occurs in our class meetings.  In each class, students summarize where they stand on their projects and the rest of the class has an opportunity to make comments.

Projects Evolution Through Feedback

1. Interactive Concert at the Yale School of Management

This group set out to create a concert series in informal spaces that was free, convenient and time efficient for graduate students at Yale’s non-music professional schools.   These students are stressed and busy and need more fun and joy in their lives.  They also need reflection time, emotional support and greater connection with community in the context of their busy lives. The project idea is to use music as a starting point for conversations between students about their experience.   The goal is to create a greater sense of community by helping students to be comfortable interacting with each other.

After a discussion in class, this group learned that the School of Management (SOM) hosts periodic parties on Thursdays nights known as “Closing Bell”.   They decided to create an interactive musical event at SOM.  Through the POINT analysis and the feedback from advisors and the Tsai CITY mentor, the group decided to measure their audience’s reactions to the concert by recording their moods before and after the event.  This would be facilitated by using the Mood Meter app, a tool developed by the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence.

2. Music and Wellness

This project group was interested in exploring the intersection between classical music and the wellness industry.  Their objective was to help producers and consumers of music to find community, relieve stress and find inner peace.  The project idea was to provide intimate and inclusive classical music performances for students at Yale School of Music to promote community, empathy, inner peace and wellness.

This group benefitted greatly from the feedback from one of the in-class advisors who mentioned that the event could be like a 12-step meeting where musicians could share honestly about the stress they experience as musicians and how music could be a source of healing and stress relief.  The event would also engage audience members and invite them to share their own experiences of stress. In addition to performances, audience members would be invited to draw and/or write to explore their feelings.  Their tag-line became “Sofar Sounds meets slam poetry meets an AA meeting.”  Another piece of feedback that they incorporated was to use the Mood Meter to measure the impact of the event on the audience’s emotions.

3.  Choose Your Own Adventure Opera

The third project group set out to create an audience-participatory opera for young people with little or no opera experience. The goal is to help the audience experience beauty and joy and thereby embrace opera throughout their lives. The group  proposed to produce a new type of participatory “choose your own adventure”. The audience would thereby be personally invested  in the storyline and experience would be more accessible.  The project would consist of creating a template with a mock-up story, including prompts where the audience could select the direction of the story. To make the experience accessible, the opera would be in English and there would be a narrator to guide the audience through the experience.

The advisors counseled the group to include music as part of the prototype so that audiences could experience opera music in addition to the story. They also suggested incorporating technology and even building in a polling tool to help gauge the audience’s reaction.

Next step:  

Now that the students solidified their ideas, the next step was to test out the project ideas with their target audience members. Stay tuned for the results!