Innovation, Werte und Wandel – podcast 2

THINK TWICE! The German podcast about innovation, values and change by and with Niels Benson & Friends. A podcast with a high nutrient density that does not string together the familiar buzzword phrases, but rather relates different perspectives, experiences, intentions and observations in an honest, holistic and interconnected way.

Deutsch

THINK TWICE! Der Podcast über Innovation, Werte und Wandel von und mit Niels Benson & Friends.

Free Jazz, Punk oder Klassik? Solo oder Orchester? Musik als Analogie für das Miteinander in Teams oder auch für abgestimmte Prozesse in Unternehmen? Dazu hat Christof Zürn ein Denk- und Arbeitsmodell namens „Music Thinking“ entwickelt.

Music Thinking ist eine kreative Einladung, anders zu denken und sich inspirieren zu lassen, in sinnvollen Kooperationen über Silos hinweg zu arbeiten. Music Thinking verbindet agile Methoden mit Service Design Thinking und Branding mit organisatorischem Wandel, welches sich am Design Thinking oder auch an Service Design anlehnt.

Christof und Niels haben ihren Takt und Rhythmus schnell gefunden und vertiefen sich einer sehr guten Stunde in einen launigen Dialog über Listen, Tune, Play & Perform.

Music Thinking verbindet agile Methoden mit Service Design Thinking und Branding mit organisatorischem Wandel, welches sich am Design Thinking oder auch an Service Design anlehnt.

Mehr info: Christof hat mehr als 25 Jahre Erfahrung in verschiedenen Rollen wie Management Consultant, Creative Director, Design Thinking Coach, Service Designer oder Musiker. Er entwickelte Tools, Trainings und Workshops, um Menschen zu inspirieren, aus verschiedenen Perspektiven zu denken, mit dem Ziel, zu verstehen, zu innovieren und zusammenzuarbeiten.

Christof ist Schreiner von Beruf und hat einen MA in Musikwissenschaft, Philosophie und Kunstgeschichte am Karlsruher Institut für Technologie.

Was ist Music Thinking
https://musicthinking.com/what-is-music-thinking/

Alles über die Jam Cards
https://musicthinking.com/jam-cards/

Beispiel von Serendipity Lab und Gebrauch Jam Cards in Workshop
https://musicthinking.com/from-serendipity-lab-to-idea-rap/

Beispiele ‚Behind the Cards‘ Story
https://musicthinking.com/trust-your-intuition/
https://musicthinking.com/thinking-about-our-tools-instead-of-our-goals/

Unlocking Your World of Creativity – podcast 1

Design with Music Thinking Christof Zürn on Unlocking your world of creativity podcast
Design with Music Thinking Christof Zürn on Unlocking your world of creativity podcast

On UNLOCKING YOUR WORLD OF CREATIVITY, best-selling author and global brand innovator, Mark Stinson introduces you to some of the world’s leading creative talent from publishing, film, animation, music, restaurants, medical research, and more.

In every episode, you’ll discover: How to tap into your most original thinking, Inspiration from the experts’ own experience, Specific tools, exercises, and formulas to organize your ideas. And most of all, you’ll learn how to make connections and create opportunities to publish, post, record, display, sell, market, and promote your creative work.

Design with Music Thinking, Episode 57

in the latest episode, Mark Stinson is talking with Christof Zürn about how music can boost creativity, some inside stories, and music thinking and the jam cards in action.

Check-in with the podcast and unlock your world of creativity. Listen for the latest insights for creative people who want to stop questioning themselves and overcome obstacles to launch their creative endeavours out into the world.

Transcript of the Podcast (excerpt)

Hello again, friends, and welcome back to our podcast. Unlocking your world of creativity, the podcast, where we get inspiration from creative experts, literally all over the world. And more specifically, we want to look at tools and methods and exercises to help stimulate our thinking to organise our ideas. And most of all, make connections to get our work out into the world. Today we’re travelling to the Netherlands, to the oldest city in the Netherlands, Nijmegen, 2000 years old.

We’re talking with Christof Zürn; Christof has a unique perspective from musicology. It is not only to use music to think about our ideas, stimulate new thinking, but also to use some music craftsmanship to organise the thinking. He’s got a lot of useful creative techniques that use music as a projective technique.

Mark: [00:00:59] So Christof, let’s jump right into it. This idea of music thinking as a creative tool. I mean, I like music. As much as anybody else, we’ve had lots of musicians and artists on our podcast. But what is it to think about music as a creative tool?

Pattern recognition

Christof: [00:01:16] I think the most exciting thing for me is the patterns and pattern recognition. And that’s also interesting if you are looking for analogies between business music, creativity, and music is such a big field. And sometimes you experienced something, and then you think Hey, wow, that’s interesting. How would it look in a different area? And so that’s my connection with music.

So it’s not necessarily that I like all the music to listen to – although most of them I do somehow -, there are so many interesting things. And that keeps you thinking. Let me give you one example. If you are in the Western world, we have 12 tones in an octave. Many people don’t know what an octave is, and that’s also not very important, but people can listen to music. In India, you have 22 srutis in an octave and that’s a difference, so the analogy would be, Hey, interesting, did we miss something? If you’re in another field, like in business, you would say wow, why are we limited to 12 tones? And the other thing would be, yeah. Is there something else that we missed? That’s a little bit of my broad idea about music and also the scalability factor.

Most of the time, in business, people talk about conductors and symphony, and it’s a little meant a bit more like a metaphor. And I’m not fond of metaphor too much because it’s often a shortcut or cliche. What I like is an analogy – an analogy from one field to the other. And when it’s about creativity, people always talk about jazz.
But I think there’s a lot of creativity in every kind of music. It’s not only limited to jazz. And there is a lot of leadership and co-leadership of all the other musicians as well.

And when I talk about music, it’s really from, let’s say, didgeridoo playing from Australia, from indigenous people to a high class, sophisticated modern symphony orchestra. So for me, it’s the whole world of music.
Mark: [00:03:19] Well, and Christof, you’ve been able to parlay and leverage your studies. Your degrees are in musicology, philosophy and history of art but you’ve made this into a design thinking process and capability. Your company, Creative Companion, uses music as a tool for creative thinking; tell us how you began to apply that and how you’ve grown that practice over time.

Christof: [00:03:45] I’m doing 25 years of digital productions and user-centred design, human-centred design, service, design, design thinking. Everything that evolved from that part and because twenty-five years ago, I got my master’s degree in musicology and forgot about it.

When working with people, I recognised that they’re using musical terms like, Hey, we have to jam about this, or that’s a great idea, let’s orchestrate it for the whole company. Then I felt like, wow, that’s interesting. And I am working in design thinking where you have clear steps and something called the double diamond. But, I was missing something.

Listen, tune, play and perform

So that’s why I came up with the music thinking phases like, listen, tune, play and perform. And the exciting part is, is that listening goes through all the other phases as well.

So it’s not just listening initially, then we tune, and then we play, and then we perform. No, we listen all the time. For example, in classical music, you may start as a composer; you feel inspired, write it down, tune it, but then play it and offer it to a conductor and an orchestra play it in a venue. And then, during the performance, you need the conductor to synchronise everyone.

In Jazz everything is happening at the same time

But in jazz, you are on the bandstand, and you’re listening, tuning, playing, and performing all at the same time. So that’s for me the interesting part. I also experienced that people have problems to understand what design thinking calls the double diamond. Because in real life, it is totally different because everything overlaps and is happening at the same time.

And that’s where the jazz dynamic with these four phases, listen, tune, play, and perform, comes into play. That feels more natural, and the analogy with how we work in business is easier to see.

Mark: [00:05:45] You know, one of the things that I read in one of your articles was how the notes on the page serve as a framework. But how do those notes performed, and how do they combine with different instruments. So you draw that analogy out to some creative thinking as well.

Problem solving

Christof: [00:06:11] Absolutely. But maybe good to share with you that people don’t come to me and say, hey, let’s do music thinking. People come to me when they have a problem or challenge. They say we need an innovative product, or can you help us with a workshop now these days with an online digital workshop; or can you help us in three or four days to come from here to there. Then the question is, how would you do this? And then music thinking comes in.

How do you listen to your business?

In a workshop, most of the time, I first ask the people, how are you listening? And also, how are you listening to your business? Because often this is the same. I don’t know what music you are listening to Mark?
Mark: [00:06:52] I like an acoustic singer-songwriter. I’m always on the lookout for somebody sitting on a stool in a Café, and I like the basics of the song.

Christof: [00:07:03] Great. And this would be most of the time, one person like a singer-songwriter singing and maybe one or two persons to accompany it. But most of the time, only one person. Okay, now is there something where you would switch off the radio? Is there music where you would say, Oh, that’s not for me?

Mark: [00:07:22] Well, you know, not too often. Because, I mean, I enjoy a good country music song, but grew up in the disco era. So it’ll always take me back to the good times with my final bottoms and, you know, silky shirt. But then, you know, an opera might not be my thing, at that particular time. So I might turn it off.

Christof: [00:07:48] What’s interesting for me is if I ask people in the workshop these question, then already, you just have to bring them together for a pleasant conversation. For example, you love one single person playing, and maybe when a lot of people playing together, you might not be so comfortable.

Sense and realise how you listen

And this is not black and white. The idea is that you realise that the way you listen to music might be the way you listen to other people when working with them together. And that’s sometimes an epiphany when people realise this. And the good thing with music is that every music is great because someone is listening to it.

So if one person is going to the stage and unwrapping the guitar, Sitting in a particular pose and playing a song and everybody is feeling it. That’s an entirely different experience than an opera, where it’s a whole operation. It’s like a multinational compared to a store owner. And you know, people are opening up when they can sense these analogies. That’s a good start when working together to make analogies instead of throwing with metaphors because it is easier to see your listening and doing patterns.

This transcript was done with descript and fine-tuned with grammarly

Listen to the whole episode of the podcast.

Show notes

Christof Zürn, Creative Companion, Music Thinking

As ‘Creative Companion’ Christof is accompanying individuals, teams, and organizations to make the step from iteration to innovation to transformation. He does this with decades of experience in branding, digitalization, service design, design thinking and developed a fresh methodology he calls “Music Thinking.”

He is a seasoned professional in multiple roles like Creative Director, Chief Design Officer, Service Designer, Management Consultant, (digital) Facilitator, or Musician. Christof has developed tools, training, and workshops to inspire people to think from different perspectives at the same time with the goal to understand, innovate, and collaborate.

Get his Jam Cards: more info

If you can’t adapt, adopt!

if you can't adapt, adopt!

‘If you can’t adapt, adopt!’

I am fascinated by signs, language and what can come out of it. Take a musical score and compare it with the music played with the help of that score. Did you realise that before the invention of the phonograph, gramophone, tape recorder, record player, cd player, mp3-player and streaming services, music was shared via signs on a paper – a score? 

The most complicated musical score can sound very easy. Or a score that is looking innocent on paper can be a tremendously complex and loud experience. So signs and the meaning of symbols can give us different experiences when dealing with a collection of characters that make up something more significant. Like a tone, a melody in a symphony of signs and sounds. A letter in a word in an essay.

Suppose you like to play with letters and words and change the characters’ order to make something new. In that case, there is a lot of fun and sometimes an Epiphany that the very same letters, shuffled in different ways, can bring up totally different meanings. Everyone who likes to play Scrabble or Wordfeud knows what I mean. 

Here are some examples where the very same letters reshuffled have very different meanings. However, from a material point of view they are the same: DOG is GOD, HOW is WHO, DYSLEXIA is SEX DAILY, SIGN is SING and SILENT is LISTEN. There is also music in this approach. Because musicians are doing the same when playing with tones to come up with ever-changing new variations.  

HOW WHO LISTEN SILENT DYSLEXIA SEX DAILY SIGN SING - MUSIC THINKING

So if you understand the difference between one single letter, let’s say the difference between an A and an O, visually it is just a little change, but the meaning can be enormous. This comes into play with an adaptation of Scrabble: the boardgame Upwords. In Upwords it is possible to stack a letter on top of other letters already on the gameboard; to change the meaning and get extra points. 

Let’s take the word ‘adapt‘. The Cambridge Dictionary says:  to adjust to different conditions or uses; to change to meet different situations; to change your ideas or behaviour to make them suitable for a new situation. 
Think about an adapter. It does not change your iPhone but makes your headphone still workable because Apple ditched the headphone jack. So we are used to adapting every day, making slight changes in the same system to keep it working, without making progress into something new.

Now let’s trade the letter A for the letter O and look at the word ‘adopt‘. Cambridge Dictionary says:  to accept or start to use something new; to start behaving in a particular way, especially by choice. 
So this is something different it is not shaping the given, but adding something new. Seeing something in a different light and switching the meaning from one direction to another. It is like the history of sound recording. We jumped from the acoustic to the electric, magnetic, and (finally?) digital era.

If you can't adapt, adopt!
Christof Zürn

There is a more profound lesson in this, and I would like to offer this as a possible direction for the new year. If you can’t adapt, adopt!

Be aware of the small signs, the little changes in the system, the little gestures, the details that could shift us from just adapting to adopting. Something new or unheard, something that already was there but overseen. Something that makes real sense.  

I wish you have many epiphanies in 2021 with a positive impact on the planet, our society and for yourself.

Note: This post is part of the Epiphany-Greetings 2021, Creative Companion is sending out every 6th of January. More info on What is Epiphany?

have a great year

Christof Zürn

Asking the right questions with the unanswered question

Free Download of the unanswered question template to craft your challenge

Are we asking the right question? How might we change the world? The unanswered question template might help.

When I worked in the Design Thinking Center in Amsterdam as Chief Design Officer, I started my introduction often with: 
There is good news. Everybody is talking about design thinking. We have the momentum to change the world with a mind- and toolset that comes from a different craft and uses it for another – from design to business. 
And there is bad news. Everybody is talking about design thinking, which means that there are knowledge, opinions, assumptions, experiences and many ways to explain and think about what design thinking might be. 

Doing Design Thinking right

For the new and unexperienced it is a workshop, a brainstorm, sticky note ideation, a sprint, a quick fix, a solution to come up with the next disruptive cool thing.
For practitioners, it is a mindset, that incorporates thinking and doing and – like any craft – a minimum time to learn, use and repeat it. In its essence, there must be at least proper research, experimentation, iterative prototyping and iterative piloting which rolls into implementation – and then improvement.

So it is not a surprise that we can read about why design thinking fails, and in the same thread why design thinking is the way to go, it just has to be done right. The same goes for other business approaches like Agile, Scrum, Kanban and Lean and Lean UX. All of them are out there in businesses all over the globe with variable experiences – and sometimes frustrations.

Can an analogy help?

The discussion of using different methodologies and applying them in parts (for the good or bad) is comparable with the world of music. Is it Rock, is it Pop, is it Jazz, is it Dance or just something we don’t know yet? Every Noise at Once lists 4,897 – what they call – genre-shaped distinctions.

Every Noise at Once - the analogy of music genres and organisations

Besides, there are millions of bands that try to find their style with the combination of all the above. And they will take whatever it is to use it for their purpose or taste.

And precisely this is what organisations are trying to do when they shop around in methodology land without knowing how these methods work and where they link with each other.
Letting all the different influences appreciate their values and join them in meaningful collaboration for a common goal is the utmost responsibility of the leadership. Then the audience might recognise the style and can appreciate the performance.

But how to start?

Start with asking the right questions

I believe that we don’t change the world by asking questions that we can solve in a single sprint. Our questions should be shaped in the way that they guide us towards more insights and to connect short term and long term thinking.
There is a lot of worth in asking the right question. For example, if you start a project with ‘How can we’ it is clear that we assume that we can solve the problem. This means in just using the word ‘can’ we focus on the solution and not on the challenge. This leads to short term fixing and assumptions based on what we think we know. Assumption based projects can be costly and always have pressure at the end of the project. They come with a lot of ad hoc changes and quick fixes to bring it to a shippable version. 

It is much better to use the formula How might we. There are many versions of the How Might We question, some call it ‘problem statement’ (Nielsen Norman Group) or ‘design challenge’ (IDEO design kit), ‘user point of view’ or just ‘beautiful question’. 

The unanswered question as a guide

We all know that most client assignments start with a problem or a solution in mind. To tackle the problem or just fix the solution is the main focus. So the biggest challenge for meaningful collaborations is to check if the assumption on the situation or solution is right. And also see if the research and the insights of the research are evenly distributed in the organisation or just the ‘crazy idea of the most extrovert’. That’s why it is essential to mutually agree on what is what I suggest to call it: the unanswered question. 

A ‘problem statement’ or ‘design challenge’ to my ears sound too much solution- or product-service-oriented and often stimulate short-term quick fix sprint thinking.

That’s why I prefer to call it the unanswered question; it gives the company more space to explore what exactly is going on. It also helps to connect short term and long term thinking in understanding if an iteration, innovation or transformation is needed.

The unanswered question by Charles Ives

Let’s get some musical inspiration. The unanswered question is a short orchestral piece composed by Charles E. Ives. I invite you to listen to the song and try to think about an unanswered question of your own.

A short description of the piece: the orchestration of the work is in three musical sections. It starts with the ‘silence of the druids’ – who know, see and hear nothing. The strings represent it without tempo or dynamic changes. Then the trumpet states ‘the perennial question of existence’ in the same tone of voice several times. The flutes or woodwinds try to answer the question and become gradually more active, faster and louder.

For all the music freaks out there is here is an analysis of the unanswered question and more info about the composer Charles Ives who worked most of his life selling insurances.

The unanswered Question template

I enclosed the how might we formula into an unanswered question template with short instructions and also a Spotify link to scan with your mobile to use the music as an inspiration and explanation in the workshop.

‘How’ stands for ‘we don’t know the answer yet’, ‘might’ for ‘we even don’t know if it is possible’ and ‘we’ stands for ‘this is a group effort and needs meaningful collaboration’.

Download the original unanswered question template
Download the original unanswered question template

On the right side of the template, you find the six cues of music thinking. The different parts of the template correspond with one or more of the six cues.

The first part – given the fact – connects the cues JAMMIN’, EMPATHY and PERSONALITY. This means that there must be facts that give input to the SCORE that guides AGILITY and Jammin’.

And finally, everything should lead to a REMIX. And while the ensemble is performing the audience is listening and we start the first iteration.

Unanswered question storming

Try an ‘Unanswered Question Storming’ of about 50 variations of the formula above. You can print the template in A4 and ask the participants to write as many unanswered questions as possible. Start with listening to the unanswered question by Charles Ives. Get a feel what the words mean and how they send us in specific directions.

I am sure there will be one that is worth exploring.

If you have the right questions it is easy to connect all the tools and methodologies that help to realise at least the first iteration of a possible solution.

Any questions? Please contact.

Collaborative transformation with music thinking

collaborative transformation with music thinking

The Dutch cooperative Faebric is specialised in collaborative transformation and the music thinking approach.

When the dutch railway’s asked them to design and lead the integration of the commercial organisation with the IT department they choose to do this with the music thinking approach and instruments in mind. The whole collaborative transformation incorporated 500 employees and involved e.g. the workers’ council and six collaborators from Faebric with capabilities like organisational design, leadership coaching, HR tech, service design thinking, design management, agile kanban, lego serious play, commercial and data strategy. 

How to start with music thinking?

At the beginning of the project, a work team was established, and duo’s were built to establish a team feel down to the smallest entity. Half of the group members were elected by the organisation and the other half appointed by the leadership. Collaborators from outside the organisation were added along the way to scale up with additional expertise. The decision to start in duos was a crucial one and led to focus on flexibility, sharability and accountability. The group members were also encouraged to work in different constellations from duo to bigger ensembles in stand-ups, demos, and retrospectives.

How to use the Jam Cards

In one of the first meetings, the Jam Cards were used in a serendipity lab workshop to explore and ‘sense the field of change’ and to finally come to design challenges that would connect ‘the unanswered question’ of the new organisation. This was also done in the style of a design challenge.

Serendipity Lab with the jam cards for collaborative transformation
Serendipity Lab to find the unanswered questions
 the chosen jam cards for collaborative transformation and formulating a design challenge
Selection of the jam cards that play a role in the next steps

The Jam Cards were used in many ways. For example, in onboarding and offboarding of new team members, with the question of What card summarises the experience while working on the project?

offboarding from the project with the jam cards
off-boarding ritual of a team member


Or when the prototyping teams of new organisational entities were established every member – with the use of one of the jam cards – could make a wish for the new organisation.
These rituals helped to make the wishes more explicit, bring complicated things down to a single card and create a shared meaningful moment with the group.

Dynamics in the collaborative transformation

The phases of the music thinking framework are Listen, Tune, Play and Perform. There are many ways how these phases interact and overlap each other. Here the analogy of music comes into play. The different typicalities of a musical style, e.g. the classical music style with its step-by-step approach is very different from the jazz style where all phases overlap. Or in the Rock genre, the PLAY phase (in green) represents among other things the prototyping activities.

Dynamics of the collaborative transformation project at dutch railways
Visualisation of the dynamics regarding the sprints and overall project


From a management consulting perspective, the dynamics of the music thinking framework show the visualisation of the two weekly organisation sprints. They reveal the different dynamics of the design phase.

This helped to establish that not every sprint is equal, that every two-week-sprint can have a particular dynamic and that the dynamic of its own is whether good or bad, but just different.

Other Music Thinking Instruments

The six cues were the starting point to connect instruments with interactions. The SCORE cue and the REMIX cue were the basis to iterate from the organisational design via prototyping to first operation.

Deep Listening exercises in the style of Pauline Oliveros (the difference between listening and hearing) were part of the first leadership sessions.

Later the four perspectives of listening by Otto Scharmer (Theory U) were trained and exercised with an online self-assessment tool, to keep track of the changes in the listening style.

Otto Scharmer explaining the 4 levels of listening

Every leadership session started with – then in corona time and everybody locked at home – a meditation ritual, e.g. a sonic meditation including singing bowl sounds.

In addition to the mentioned instruments above the music thinking framework poster was always at hand to explain the connections and get inspiration from different tools.

A variety of playlists complemented the music thinking approach. They were used as a discussion starter and to capture the collective knowledge of how the team is listening.

About Faebric cooperative

We are Fæbric; we facilitate change by collaboration and design. ​ We help leaders, teams and organisations to interpret and to act upon the signs of the time. We do this through collaborative transformation. We offer our expertise in leadership, strategy, design and technology, to deliver value by approaching challenges and solutions in new ways. With a strong understanding of collaboration, learning and engagement, we facilitate you to perform your potential.

Read more about the NS (Nationale Spoorwegen) case on the Faebric website.

Trust your intuition

The Trust Card - Music Thinking Jam Cards
Stories behind the Jam Cards - this is number 9, all about Trust
One of the 44 Music Thinking Jam Cards

Choose the right partner, clear the dancefloor and trust our intuition is a quote by Tim Brown ( IDEO).

What does it need to trust the intuition of your partner? And who might be your partner? Is it a brand, an organisation, a service, a colleague or a leader you want to share the imaginary dancefloor?

The Trust Card

The essence of the Trust Card is that there will be a time where you want or have to perform. In other words, the time of thinking or asking questions is over. It is showtime, it is just doing, and the partners involved have to trust each other to create a seamless experience for themself and others. I think this counts as well for organisations and people as for services and products.

About trust - Who is the right partner for you?
This card (left front, right backside) is one of 44 jam cards

Trust is based on earlier signals, experiences, occasions and performances together. As a result, your intuition will be a relevant part of this ‘playing together’. So consequently, the performance you have at the moment will affect the trust of future performances. In conclusion, when people watch and listen to your play, it will affect the likeability if they will do this also in the future. The experience together will be a guarantee for trust.

The picture

This picture shows a Braun Hifi compact system from the end of the 1960s that stood for many years in our living room. It is designed by Dieter Rams who still is the biggest influence for Jony Ive the designer of the iMac, iPod, iPhone and many other apple products.

Braun audio 250 systems with signs of the time
Living room in mid of the 1970s with the trusted system aside

I love the faded characters around the volume (Lautstärke) knob. It shows the signs of the time and the high usage of just this essential design element. The Braun system was for many years in our living room the central place to listen to music from the radio and the first singles and albums I bought.

The design is a masterpiece by Dieter Rams, and it is worthwhile to have a look at his design philosophy of what good design should be. The Ten Principles of Good Design are until today a great inspiration for designers (see link below).

At the end of the 90s, I had the opportunity to visit Dieter Rams in his house in Hamburg. I was impressed by the sober and nice designed interior, including most of his works and the humble, friendly and sympathetic person.
As a present, he gave me the last edition (Hifi – Die Letzte Edition, 1990) which are loose high-resolution pictures in an LP Box – I loved this Music Thinking.

The quote

WHEN THE MUSIC SUDDENLY STARTS IT CAN BE DIFFICULT TO RECOGNIZE WHERE WE ARE IN THE PROCESS AND WHICH IS THE RIGHT FOOT TO PUT FORWARD. THE BEST GUIDE, IN LAUNCHING A NEW DESIGN PROJECT, IS SOMETIMES JUST TO CHOOSE THE RIGHT PARTNER, CLEAR THE DANCEFLOOR, AND TRUST OUR INTUITION.

The quote by Tim Brown is taken from his book Change by Design and describes the difficulty for a client to trust the facilitators of change. I like the intended idea of dancing together with your client through the different phases of a project and the mental states we can encounter. So at a certain point, you have to trust the experts and move along with them. This means you have to trust your own intuition and the intuition of your partner.

The sonic trigger

The Sugarhill Gang is an American hip hop trio. Their 1979 hit “Rapper’s Delight” was the first rap single to become a Top 40 hit on the Billboard Hot 100.

Rapper’s Delight was the first rap song to use a sample. Because there existed no precedent for clearing the rights of a single sample, they used it without permission.

The original samples are from “Good Times” by Chic. That was a popular record that DJ’s used who played at the block parties where rap got its start. The “Good Times” groove was easy to loop, creating a breakbeat that was perfect for MCs. But “Rapper’s Delight” didn’t just sample the beat; they clipped pieces of the original Chic song, transposed them and used snippets of it through the entire track.

However, the Sugarhill Gang wasn’t the first to borrow this riff – Supergroup Queen also used this bassline in their song “Another One Bites The Dust.”

The cues

The music thinking cues on this card are EMPATHY, AGILITY and REMIX.

The main cues in the performing phase (read more about Listen, Tune, Play and Perform) are AGILITY and REMIX. They are the driving force of delivery and change. But if there is no trusted connection with EMPATHY the performance might fail.

Some inspirational links

Radiomuseum Braun audio 250
Ten principles for good design by Dieter Rams
What is the Jam Cards?

Like what you have read above?

This is only one of the 44 cards. Get your own card set and use them in workshops or creative interactions. With the multiple triggers and many ways to combine the cards, there are inspirations for all kinds of usage.

You can order the jam cards via your local bookstore (worldwide) and have a nice chat with the people there and try the cards right away.  Yes, you can also buy them at Amazon.comAmazon.de, BIS Publishers, Bol.com and all the other online stores.

Boxed set 
44 cards
18.5 x 18.5 cm
ISBN 978 90 6369 514 9
29,00 Euro

Buchhandlung König in Köln, Boekhandel Scheltema in Amsterdam, Boekhandel Donner in Rotterdam
As seen in bookstores in Amsterdam, Rotterdam and Köln.

more about the jam cards

Improvisation Business

improvisation business in vuca times
improvisation in business - music thinking

Many people say that our times are volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous – some people call it the VUCA times. When making plans they try to execute them until reality comes into play. As a result, they try to quick fix everything as long as possible. Some people call this improvisation.

But improvisation is much more than just a repair mode. Improvisation can also be the start of the creative or change process to design for the VUCA times.

Improvisation in Music

All over the world musicians use improvisation from Indian classical music to Jazz. In music, there are many examples of how improvisation was the start of exceptional work. Johan Sebastian Bach, for example, was a formidable organ improviser. He used improvisation to shape his agility and often put this experience and results in a composition. It was part of his creative process. Ludwig van Beethoven’s 3rd Symphony the ‘Eroica’ – a contest between reason and emotion – finds its start at an improvisation battle. Another example is Giacinto Scelsi. He improvised on the piano and gave the recordings to a transcriber that set it into music. Later he changed the transcriptions to the final score.

Let’s not talk solely about improvisation in music but improvisation in business. The principles of improvisation can be applied to the business world to cope with volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity.

Improvisation in Business

The Danube University Krems (Austria) Professor for Innovation and Business Lukas Zenk initiated, led and organised a one week course on business improvisation:

We live in a world that is currently undergoing major changes. Many of our previous plans can no longer continue in this form and we are faced with the challenge of acting in the here and now. Improvisation means dealing with the unforeseen (“improvisus” – the unforeseen). In this course, international experts from the arts, science, and business will conduct highly interactive online sessions to teach you the mindset and methods for professional improvisation. The basis of improvisation is found in the arts (theatre, music), however, in Business Improvisation it is applied for entrepreneurial purposes to be prepared for the unexpected.

Professor Wolfgang Stark (University Essen, Strascheg Center for Entrepreneurship) invited Lutz Hempel (Groovin’ Organization) and Christof Zürn to a 3-hour interactive lecture concert. An experiment in Zoom for 16 participants from various companies. Here is the introductory video with a very short glimpse of the first musical interaction.

Interesting links:
Website of the Business Improvisation Course. Prepared for the unexpected
May 25-29, 2020.

Keeping Score – Ludwig van Beethoven: Eroica
Three ways to improvise and play with the Jam Cards

Improvisation in the Music Thinking Framework

In the Music Thinking Framework, improvisation relates to JAMMIN” (one of the six cues).

JAMMIN’ is a very special cue because it is the only cue that appears on two different places in the framework: firstly, before SCORE in the challenge space and secondly, after SCORE in the solution space.

music thinking framework including six cues and many dynamics

Before SCORE

This means that ‘before SCORE’, JAMMIN’ connects with EMPATHY and PERSONALITY with the function to ‘to open up’ and ‘to sense’ new possibilities. This is comparable with improvisation as mentioned above in the examples of Beethoven and Scelsi.

Translated to a business context it means to use improvisation to sense and trying to understand the future possibilities that can emerge in relation to your audience and the environment (EMPATHY) and you as a brand and the how and why you are (PERSONALITY).

After SCORE

When JAMMIN’ appears ‘after SCORE’ it triggers the functions to ‘explore’ and ‘to create’. Meaning the SCORE gives direction to JAMMIN’.
This is comparable with improvisation like in traditional jazz were improvisation is following given material. This means, for example, a lead sheet with chord symbols and a simple melodic line with a lot of freedom for the soloist.
But if the SCORE is more determined like in a classical music score with many details, then we can talk more about the interpretation of the score than to improvise on the score. So in the classical context that would need the coaching, inspiration and vision of a conductor to bring the intention of the composer of the SCORE to a great performance.

Translated to a business context this all means that we need a common understanding of what a score is or better what kind of score is needed to bring the challenge to a solution. The cue SCORE has two sides as well. Firstly, at the end of the challenge space, the score has the function of ‘to show’, meaning to communicate what everybody should see. Secondly, in the solution space, we need the other function, namely ‘to do’ to help everybody in the organisation to be clear about what everybody should and can do.

Practical workshop

If you are interested in how you can apply music thinking and improvisation business you might be interested in a practical workshop to experience how you can use this for your personal challenges.

What participants have said about the workshop:

A great experience – great speakers.
Compliments to the lecturers who cast a spell over the group.
Also for “non-musicians” totally easy to participate and great links to everyday life.

A lot of knowledge through very little theory.


If this is interesting for you, your team or organisation please contact us for a personal intake.

You might also find inspiration in our detailed offering on workshops, training and programmes.

Knowledge speaks, wisdom listens.

Knowledge speaks, wisdom listens is a quote by Jimi Hendrix.
Maybe there are so many things said about listening that we might not want to hear any more about it. But is it really listening we mean or just hearing? What’s the difference?

Let’s do an experiment: close your eyes now for 20 seconds and focus on everything that you can hear in this very moment. Listen to the loud sounds – maybe there are people in the room or sounds outside – but also to the very soft sounds, tones that you might not have noticed before. Concentrate on all possible sonic expressions and listen deeply to the sounds that are there.
Done? Now compare these experiences with what you heard the last time you have entered a room with people. You might have been in a conversation or heard some random voices or sounds.

This is actually the difference between hearing and listening. Our ears are always open; every moment we get new information via our ears into our brain. Our ears function as a sense organ. Listening needs focus and attention.

In the Music Thinking Framework the Listen phase is the first of the four phases and is consequently also active during the others. This means that we should switch from just hearing what is there to listen to what needs attention. As a result, Listen is not just about the data but about the meaning of it.

The Listen Card

The essence of the Listen card is to establish active listening. Listening can be a leadership practice to move from knowledge to wisdom. Or in other words to find the signal in the noise.

The picture

This iPhone snapshot was taken in the French Pavillion on the Venice Art Biennale 2017. The Pavillion is an architectural installation or living sculpture with different space that are intended as a recording studio. The idea of Studio Venezia by the artist Xavier Veilhan was to share moments of fragility, love, relationships and attention with musicians and art lovers. The inside – inspired by the Merzbau of Kurt Schwitters – was all wood in a monochrome colour, where different musical instruments were built in the environment to bring emotion into visual art. Furthermore, during the exhibition, there were concerts from baroque, classical music, experimental jazz, pop to electronic music to share a sense of curiosity in sound and musical texture.

The quote

Knowledge speaks, wisdom listens.

To me, this quote tells two things: on the one hand to share knowledge we need to speak and on the other to get knowledge and transform it into wisdom and also in actions it requires listening.
Jimi Hendrix was one of the greatest and influential electrical guitarists of all times.

The sonic trigger

5-minute version at the end of the LP Electric Ladyland

Voodoo Child (slight return) is one of Hendrix’s best-known songs; it was a feature of his concert performances throughout his career, and several live renditions were recorded and released on later albums. I really love the beginning, the sonic quality and rhythm played with a wah-wah pedal and the great panning later in the song (listen with headphones). Thats why the song is not only an improvisation with guitar, voice, bass and drums but also great studio work that was evolving at the end of the 60s.

Here is another version together with Stevie Winwood:

15-minute version, the bluesy version with a lot of improvisation

The cues

On this card, we have the two cues that are playing the main role in the listening step at the beginning of a process: JAMMIN” and EMPATHY. First of all JAMMIN’ has two functions: to open up and to sense (what might come). While the EMPATHY cue stands for listening – deep and active listening – and also for understanding.

Some inspirational links

Video of the French Pavilion at Biennale di Venezia 2017
Deep Listening Institute Pauline Oliveros

Like what you have read above?

The ‘Listen Card’ is only one of the 44 cards. You can order the jam cards via your local bookstore (worldwide) and have a nice chat with the people there and try the cards right away. 

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is JamCards-transparent-1024x683.png

Boxed set 
44 cards
18.5 x 18.5 cm
ISBN 978 90 6369 514 9
29,00 Euro

Buy the Jam Cards at Amazon.comAmazon.de, BIS Publishers, Bol.com and all the other online stores.

Get into contact

What is your meta-language?

Did you ever ask yourself, how could I pass my knowledge and my experience to someone else? In the current speed of innovations and agility, it is quite a challenge to transfer knowledge. Making an online course is not for everyone, and telling what you are doing is not sufficient for real knowledge transfer. Here is another approach that I can recommend.

When the German composer Karlheinz Stockhausen (1928-2007) had a break on a beach in Italy, in 1963, he composed a new piece called “Plus-Minus”. It was a piece of music of a totally uncommon kind. Instead of just notes for musicians to play, “Plus-Minus” contains a completely new graphical notation. The notation was never used afterwards, not by him, not by anyone else: a unique one-time composition. At a closer look, it turns out to be even more unique.

copyright Universal Edition

“Plus-Minus” is the result of a retrospective. Stockhausen must have asked himself, at that time in 1963 at the beach of Palermo, looking back to the 42 compositions he had made since 1950: how do I compose, what are the structures I use, and how could I have others make new compositions based on the same structures? In other words, what are the structures of my own musical thinking?

A set of instructions meant to make a score

Plus-Minus is not only a different notation, it is not even a regular music composition. Plus-Minus is a set of instructions meant to make a score. It is a meta-composition: it is a score for a composer to make up his own composition based on the instructions by Stockhausen. A unique piece of art in the post-war period that inspired many.

I have always found this an inspiring idea. It is a designer’s idea, not only valuable for composers and musicians but for every kind of designer, be it art, engineering or organisation design. It is a way of reflecting on one’s own way of working and make it reproducible for others. Everyone could ask herself: what are the structures of my own thinking, and how can I express them in such a way that everyone else could make her own version out of it?

Expressing these structures in a meta-language can be challenging.

Meta-languages must conform to two principles

Meta-languages must address a non-meta-language that can be understood by the target group. Stockhausen e.g. refers to music notes, his target group being musicians. A meta-language for IT programmers should refer to computer language concepts, a meta-language for information architects should be information concepts, a meta-language for furniture designers should be furniture constructions.

Meta-languages must define ranges of freedom for deliberately chosen aspects. Stockhausen refers to a “musical sound” in Plus-Minus and leaves the decision of what sound (musical instrument) this should be completely free. The structure, however, of how these sounds are repeated during the piece are dictated more strictly.

Meta-languages are quite common in IT, where programmers and architects define “domain languages”. Meta-languages could be applied in a much broader context, however. Also, UX designers, service designers and information architects could define their own meta-language.

A beautiful advantage

Defining your meta-language is a form of reflection with a beautiful advantage: it enables others to use your thinking structures in their design. You need some practice, but it is a very effective way of transferring your deeper knowledge and experience to others.

So, what is your meta-language?

Alcedo Coenen
Enterprise Architect with an M.A. in Musicology

Some inspirational links:

Ming Tsao about Plus Minus
Plus Minus No. 14 (video)
Original score available at Universal Edition
Music Thinking Framework with SCORE as one of the cues

Performing the Sounds of Empathy

This is about performing the sounds of empathy at the Design Thinking Conference in Amsterdam 2019.

On the 10th to 11th of October, the Design Thinking Conference powered by the DesignThinkers Academy Amsterdam was held in the Tobacco Theatre in Amsterdam.

The Conference

Is it possible to see things with different eyes‘ is the central question of the conference with a focus on empathy. And that’s why all actors (there are no ‘speakers’) are bringing very personal perspectives to share with the participants from all over the world. The MC of the two days was Author, educator, speaker, community builder, consultant, comedian and friend Adam Stjohn Lawrence.

Music Thinking on the Design Thinkers Conference with the sound of empathy.

Among others, we learned from Esther Thole about slime mould and how these organisms recognize each other’s signals, process them and respond. Stefan Van Der Stigchel talked about the importance of taking breaks and our unwillingness to take time for ourselves without a ‘square device’. That’s why he gave us the opportunity of 20 minutes of mind-wandering. Kalwant Bhopal led us through a provoking journey about empathy, identity, intersectionality and ‘white privilege’. With these perspectives plus a lot of interactions during the lunchtime and the buddy moments, the participants of the conference were off to the breakout sessions.

The quest for the sounds of empathy. How does the future sound?

The Breakout Session

Xenia and I were invited to do a music thinking breakout session. The objective was to engage half of the conference (about 70 people) in a breakout workshop, let them learn and reflect about the things they heard and make a performance all together after the last actor to end the day with a big bang.

Xenia Zürn on stage at the Design Thinkers Conference

We stretched the conference theme with the music thinking interpretation of ‘with different eyes’ to ‘with different ears‘. After two minutes of silence, we let the participants think about what the sounds of empathy could be and engaged them in duos to discuss what empathy really sounds like. Then we asked them to transform this finding in something that they could reproduce with their voice, body percussion or something else.

The duos then shared their sounds in a sextet formation and made a musical score of this pattern. Parallel the prompters were instructed how we would do some kind of conducting theses scores and how we could bring this all together at the end of the day one. Look at the beautiful scores the teams made.

The Scores

Here is an excerpt of the performance, made with a steady ‘backstage camera’.

The Performance

Excerpt of the Performance during the Design Thinking Conference in Amsterdam

After the performance together with the whole conference, there was a lot of energy in the room.

Besides talking about what exactly the sound of empathy might be, there were also discussions about ‘what is a musical score or composition’, ‘what is interpretation’ and ‘what is improvisation’, ‘how can you scale small groups into bigger groups’ and ‘what is the difference between initiating, conducting and prompting’.

The one-hour breakout was organised with the four steps listen, tune, play and perform of the Music Thinking Framework and we touched four of the six cues: EMPATHY, SCORE, AGILITY, and REMIX.

Christof Zürn

Next steps

There are many ways to use Music Thinking for meaningful collaboration in your team or organisation, please contact if you have any questions or a challenge.