Human-Centred Design Podcast

Human-centred design

Gerry Scullion, the founder of This is HCD, the global human-centred design podcast and international design community of change-makers, and Founder and CEO of This is Doing.com is talking with Christof Zürn

They chat about the interrelationship between Design and Music and what Design can learn from thinking like a musician. Gerry, as an ‘ex’ musician and songwriter himself, sees the world of Design very much within the same family as music.

They drill a little deeper into the Music Thinking Framework and learn more about the value it can bring to teams and organisations.

About Gerry

Gerry Scullion is CEO of This is Doing and Founder of This is HCD, a global podcast and design community.

This is HCD includes a large newsletter, 10+ podcasts on topics to enable change, an international Slack community, 12+ global community chapters around the world, a Premium Podcast, Design Conference and Online Events.

He has over 18-years professional design experience across a range of industries such as finance, healthcare, media, public services, social media and various startups.

He contributed to the book ‘This is Service Design Doing’ (O’Reilly 2018) focusing on chapters about effective prototyping, and embedding Service Design teams within organisations alongside 200 service designers from around the globe.

Up until mid-2020 he was Councillor for Ireland for Royal Society of Arts.

In a former life, Gerry released two-albums under the moniker of Minus Circus (Spotify), and worked with 13-time Grammy winning producer, Rafa Sardina and 1-time Grammy winner, Cheche Alara. He also sang on adverts for Regatta Clothes in the UK.

He has shared the stage with Fun Lovin’ Criminals, Roisín Murphy, The Coronas, Declan O’Rourke and Mundy. None of which would remember him, it was a fleeting moment, but it sounds cool to have here, right?

More from This is HCD – human-centred design

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 inexperienced 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 5,472 (as of june 2021) – 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?

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.

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.

How to use music thinking for organisational change

How to use music thinking for organisational change

Learn how to use music thinking for organisational change and to bridge agile, branding, service design and branding.

The training will follow the basic line of our workshop: Meaningful collaboration with music thinking and therefore will explain in little theory and also with some exercises on how to use music thinking in an organisation.

You will learn new workshop tools and also get a copy of the Music Thinking Jam Cards

As a special, we will also talk about how the Dutch Cooperative Faebric used Music Thinking, the framework and the jam cards for a change project at the Dutch Railways.

This one day course is also suitable for in-house projects, teams and organisations. How to use music thinking for organisational change, in your team or organisation.
Please contact us for more details and possibilities to tune it to your organisational needs.

More training, workshops and programmes:
Experience music thinking in a workshop



‘The Sounds of Empathy’ at the Design Thinking Conference

the sounds of empathy

For the third time, we will facilitate a Music Thinking breakout session during the Design Thinking Conference in Amsterdam. This time we call our session The Sounds of Empathy.

Like previous years, the conference has the subtitle ‘through different eyes‘ and the focus on empathy. Instead of definitions, tools and showcases, the conference focuses on inspirations to question oneself, debates getting further, perspectives outside the comfort zones, all in togetherness and positivism, and with a bit of lightness.

Picture from the 2018 breakout session

The Sounds of Empathy

During the breakout session, we will touch all six cues of the Music Thinking Framework, starting with the Empathy cue. Empathy is the cue to change. It starts with listening.
In the workshop, we go on a quest to find sounds of empathy. We share the sounds, make a short interactive composition and perform it at – and together with – the conference.

Empathy

Last years sessions
If you are interested in the Music Thinking breakout sessions of previous years, you can read about the breakout session of 2017 on the CREATIVE COMPANION blog and read about the breakout session of last year here on musicthinking.com