As part of a big (secret) project I’m working on, I recently had a very interesting conversation with one of my colleagues, Peter Cook (previously interviewed on this Idea to Value Podcast).

In it, we talked about the similarity between the different types of creativity which exist in the music industry, and how there are clear parallels to how many businesses operate and generate ideas.

If you look at the image above, you will see the spectrum of creativity in various types of musical styles, based on how new ideas are incorporated into performances. The scale itself is from Peter’s “The Music of Business”.

At one end of the scale, you have Orchestras, usually playing symphonies or other well-known and respected classical music.

What most people would expect is that these people playing the instruments are highly creative, as this is such a respected form of art.

But that is in fact not always the case at all.

If you think about it, each of these players is doing their best to perfectly reproduce the music and notes on the score in front of them. They are essentially trying to perform someone else’s idea in a perfect manner, without making any mistakes.

Now don’t get me wrong, there are some instances when different conductors will direct the music in their own way, changing either the speed, rhythm, intensity or volume of certain sections of instruments. But in this case the instrument players themselves are still following a central command of instructions.

There is also no way for the song to change based on the feedback from the audience, which in most cases will be silent during performances.

If you want to be a bit blunt, because these orchestras strive to deliver a “perfect performance”, based on very clear instructions (musical notes), this performance could eventually be produced by robots, or even synthesised digitally. This also brings up interesting other questions about how close computers are to being creative.

[Please note: I played in orchestral bands for many years, and so I know that many, if not most professional instrument players can be highly creative. But when they are simply performing someone else’s music, there is almost no creativity of their own on display. It is only when they are producing, writing or experimenting with their own creations that they are expressing their musical creativity]

The business equivalent of this would be “Business as Usual” or “Operations”, where everyone has specific jobs they need to do perfectly without any desire to change them or get feedback on them. if there would be a conductor in this case, they would be a micro-manager who tells everyone exactly how to do their job.

In short, no room for creativity or innovation.

On the other end of the spectrum, there is freeform jazz.

Here, there are no written down notes. Everything is made up on the fly.

Everything is made up on the fly, completely improvised.

Groups of people continuously build on each others ideas to create something out of nothing.

And if it isn’t recorded, each session will last only for the moment in which it was performed, never to be heard the same way.

There is also ample opportunity to gauge the feeling from the audience by how they are reacting, and change the performance depending on it. In some cases, audience members could even become part of the performance.

But the problem is that it is quite chaotic.

Yes, there could be beautiful music created, but this isn’t guaranteed. And in many cases, there will be no tangible thing that people can share with other people, or sell to make a profit.

The business analogy of this is an experimental laboratory, where geniuses are working on whatever they want with no worry about cost.

This can lead to the next breakthrough innovation, like the internal combustion engine or the graphical user interface.

But there is no guarantee of this happening, and until it does, there is nothing to sell to make money to keep the business afloat.

In the middle is an established rock group, holding a concert where they play some of their hits, but also try out some new music they are working on to see how the audience reacts.

Here, there is a mix between performing previous ideas (but still have the opportunity to change them slightly at each performance, like drum solos), but also trying out new ideas.

These new songs are the ones that will likely form the basis of the future revenue from new albums, so are vital to sustain the band in the future. After all, very few one-hit-wonders stay millionaires.

The business analogy here is a business which has efficient operations which are making money (the hits), and yet are still trying out new things to build future revenue.

It’s an interesting analogy, and one which I think a lot of people can relate to.

So let me know in the comments, what type of musical group is your company, and why?

Did you know that scientific evidence shows your creativity decreases over time

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Creativity & Innovation expert: I help individuals and companies build their creativity and innovation capabilities, so you can develop the next breakthrough idea which customers love. Chief Editor of and Founder / CEO of Improvides Innovation Consulting. Coach / Speaker / Author / TEDx Speaker / Voted as one of the most influential innovation bloggers.