Innovation for Music Entrepreneurs: Get Creative with Implementation

One of the hallmarks of my class at the Yale School of Music, Creating Value Through Innovative Projects, is that students learn by taking action.  My seminar’s focus is how to generate innovative solutions to the most pressing problems in classical music today. Over the course of the past semester, my students worked collaboratively on four different creative projects. Three groups explored how to engage today’s audiences with classical music. A fourth group focused on helping musicians to relieve the stress of professional performing.  Ultimately, the groups implemented their project ideas and finally evaluated how well they succeeded in solving the problems of their target audiences.

After summarizing our innovation process, let’s explore what the students learned in the implementation and action phase.

Our Innovation Process

We spent the first part of the semester learning the principles of innovation from creativity problem solving and design thinking. Using these principles, students designed, developed, tested and updated their projects.  Following The implementation stage enabled them to see how well their ideas played out. Finally, students evaluated their results following implementation.

Innovation thrives in a learning environment.  Throughout the process, students received feedback to improve their project ideas.  Students met weekly with their groups and solicited my feedback on each phase of the project. After the initial design, they pitched their projects to a panel of business and community advisors.  Using this feedback, they updated their project designs.  Next, they tested prototypes of their programs with their target audience members. This additional feedback was also incorporated into their program designs. Finally, students implemented their projects to explore how well their project ideas worked with their target audiences.

The Implementation Stage of Innovation

Implementation is the fourth stage of creativity problem solving.  Implementation involves creative thinking in several ways.  It helps to generate a viable action plan. Implementation requires creative leveraging of resources to find partners and sponsors. In addition, implementation often involves getting the buy-in and approval of gatekeepers to your project.

Here is how each of the four project groups implemented their project ideas:

Teaching Empathy through Art Song
This group presented an interactive, educational workshop for non-music graduate students at Yale. Their goals was to provoke creative thinking, introspection and awareness through empathy.  The group’s vehicle was art song, with a poem Sure on this Shining Night, by James Agee set to music by Samuel Barber.

To set the mood, the workshop began with an opera student performing the work.  Another student ( a projection designer from the Yale School of Drama) showed projections of images of the poem.  First, the workshop participants  analyzed the poem.  They then discussed how hearing the music deepened their interpretation of the text. Our students tracked the moods of the participants with the Mood Meter, a tool developed by the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence.   They discovered that the workshop participants felt more relaxed and happier after the workshop.  The students concluded that classical music can be a useful vehicle for teaching empathy and creativity.

Musicians and Stress
This group focused on meeting the needs of today’s professional musicians who experience stress and performance anxiety in the course of the work. Their project goal was to normalize the conversation around these topics and provide resources to help musicians lead healthy lives and spread the joy of music freely.

To implement their project, the group created a Facebook group to provide resources on stress management and encourage discussion of the issues.  They also hosted a very successful panel discussion on performance anxiety with four School of Music professors. Buoyed by the enthusiastic response from the School of Music community, the students plan to present additional speakers to address stress management in musicians.

Promoting Diversity in Classical Music
The next group focused on New Haven public school children from diverse communities and their families. Their goal was to expose their audience to live music from diverse role models to empower them to share their voices and feel included in society.

To implement this idea, the students produced a free, interactive concert championing diversity. The concert was held at the New Haven Free Public Library.  First, the group created an imaginative and varied program ranging from classics, spirituals, Christmas music and other popular tunes.  Moreover, several of the selections consisted of arrangements done by our students.  In addition, the concert featured student performers from a variety of diverse backgrounds, including one New Haven public high school student. The students thus successfully met their goal of producing a diverse concert performed by diverse performers.

Informal concert series to create community
The last project group produced an informal student-led concert with an interactive, community-building component. Their goal was to unite the disparate graduate school communities at Yale.  They named the series “Chamber and Chill”.

The event took place at the home of one of the group members. The program featured short works aimed at showcasing the virtuosity of the performers. To make the event more personal, the musicians spoke about the works. Moreover, the audience had several opportunities to meet and mingle with each other and with the musicians.  The group also served refreshments to enhance the “chill” ambience that helped to break barriers and encourage community building.

Project Implementation Strategies

Implementation turned out to be a powerful learning experience.  Each of the four project groups produced excellent content using the processes of creative problem solving and design thinking. However, in the implementation stage, our students learned the challenges of finding a venue and producing an event.

Overcoming Venue Challenges
One way to be creative with implementation is to find partners who can support your work.   This is particularly helpful when searching for venues.  The Empathy Workshop Group scouted around and ultimately presented their workshop at Yale’s center for Graduate and Professional Students.  This was a good choice for the group’s audience of non-music Yale graduate students.

By contrast, the Diversity Group had a challenge in finding an appropriate venue.  Their goal was to find a location that would attract New Haven public school children and their families.  They reached out to a few community partners and ultimately landed up at the New Haven Free Public Library at 6pm. Unfortunately, the time of their concert was too late for most children and the library itself was not the ideal spot for this population. Next time, the group concluded it would be better to partner with a music outreach program that was already working in the public schools.

Chamber and Chill also had trouble finding a suitable venue for an informal concert.  They were unsuccessful in finding a partner to sponsor their event. Instead, the group chose the home of one group members. Moreover, the group struggled to find a good time for the event and landed up presenting it during exam week.   This also was not the ideal time or place for bringing in students whom they did not know.  For future events, this group concluded that they needed to find sponsoring partners among different campus organizations.

Obtaining Buy-in and Approval
Implementation also involves identifying parties whose approval is necessary for successful completion of a project.  The Musician Stress Group wanted to hold an event at the School of Music as part of their goal to normalize the conversation around stress and performance anxiety. They applied for a grant from the Deputy Dean’s office to fund their project. They subsequently met with the Deputy Dean about their proposal.  At the meeting, students were told that they first needed to test out one phase of the project in order to gauge the student response. Accordingly, the group organized a panel discussion with four prominent Yale School of Music professors. They set a time when most students were free and provided lunch.

To attract a large audience, the students mobilized their Facebook group and personally reached out to their friends.  As a result, one quarter of the student body attended.  Moreover, the content of the discussion was highly relevant to the experience of professional musicians.  The four professors freely shared their own experiences of performance anxiety.  In addition, students posed questions and a rich conversation ensued.

The feedback from the students and the faculty was incredibly positive. All those in attendance agreed that this was an important topic for discussion.  As a result of the high turnout, the series will continue.  Next semester, students are sponsoring a series of guest lectures to keep the conversation going.

Bottom Line on Implementation

As our students learned, implementation is critical to innovation. Implementation showcases how well your project solves the problem experienced by the target audience. Implementation involves a lot of creativity to find partners and sponsors that can help to make the project a reality.  It also may require obtaining buy-in from gatekeepers to your project. The important point is to take action to bring your idea to life and then to evaluate the outcome in order to keep the learning and iteration cycle alive.

Next time:  the hard work of innovation.