In Part One of “Design Thinking for Musicians,” I discussed how musicians are primed to become great design thinkers, if we can learn to see the connections between the two disciplines. Drawing on my work with professors at Stanford, such as Tina Seelig and Tom Byers, who teach creativity and entrepreneurship to students through a variety of classes and fellowship programs, I’ve developed a series of exercises targeted at developing key attributes of a successful design thinker.
In the previous installment, these exercises focused on nurturing curiosity and creativity. Now, I’m delighted to share two additional exercises aimed at developing our grit and our ability to collaborate.
As musicians, collaboration is at the heart of what we do. And because it’s so important to us, we’re always looking for ways to improve how we work creatively with others. We can look to the example of one highly successful collaborative team: Pixar’s Braintrust, the trusted group of colleagues who periodically review and assess Pixar films in development. Pixar founder Ed Catmull highlights this process as the core of Pixar’s creative process because, in his words, “early on, all of our movies suck.” Creativity, he continues, has to start somewhere, and it takes time, candid feedback and many cycles of “reworking, and reworking, and reworking again” to get it right. But the process only functions when team members trust and respect each other enough to exchange that feedback, which is the key to this successful collaboration.
As for grit, many musicians have plenty of it already. We’ve spent countless hours diligently practicing and honing our craft, and we continue to practice every day to get just a little bit better. One well-known example of grit in the music world comes in the form of the aspiring orchestral musician. In order to win an orchestral job, hopeful musicians practice orchestral excerpts for four to six hours each day, and may take upwards of 30 auditions before they land a role. Some put themselves through different kinds of extreme circumstances — submerging their hands in cold water, running up and down stairs, setting an alarm for the middle of the night — before playing a mock audition so that they can simulate challenges that may arise on audition day. Their laser focus and dedication to their goal is what ultimately leads to their success.
So whether you’re hoping to win an audition, stage a new opera, raise money for a project or tackle any number of creative goals you’ve set your mind on, honing your design thinking skills will tilt the odds in your favor.