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

Limitation as the starting point for creativity

To see limitations as the starting point for creativity is a great skill to develop.

Every day we face limitations. And limitations are everywhere. We find mental or physical boundaries of circumstances we might have chosen or not. We depend on beliefs, on schedules, on language, on nature, on the weather, on others, on our helpers, colleagues or family.

But we also might experience limitations where others see possibilities. If we want it or not, boundaries help us to focus. To focus on the limited options that are left. So we take them as a starting point to make the best out of it to diverge from our boundaries, develop new ideas and live the mantra ‘less is more’.

The Limitations Card

The essence of the limitations card is how can we de-focus from our experienced horizons and be curious about what else there is. This means take limitations as a start for new choices and divergent thinking to develop new innovations.

The picture

The picture is a snapshot with my iPhone. One morning I came down to the living room and saw my Ukulele with a broken string. Besides the fact that I had to fix this, I was charmed by the nice picture.
Because the way the a-string was standing in the air with this lovely curve gave me a sense of not just fixing this problem but trying to use it as it is.
I played half an hour with only three strings and it struck me how easy and convenient it was. My playing was totally different than normal. More simple, like an exercise in focusing.

The quote

To Achieve Great Things, Two Things Are Needed;
A Plan, And Not Quite Enough Time.

I love this quote by Amercain composer and conductor Leonard Bernstein. This is not just about improvising but about focus. To start with a plan that gives you the focus on vision and guidance is essential. The limitation in time to speed up decision making and on the spot creation of choices is the starting point for creativity.

The sonic trigger

The limitations card does not have a musical sample. The Spotify link leads to the spoken words of Leonard Bernstein, a disclaimer before the performance of Brahms c-minor concerto.
This is a great example of leadership and followership together. In leading, in this case, the New York Philharmonic and in following, in this case, the ideas of Glenn Gould. So the ‘limitation’ of working together and taking a step back in leading and giving the partner the space to introduce his ideas and bringing this all together is great leader-followership.

Please take your time to listen to the introduction and also to the concerto, it is worth it.

The cues

On this card SCORE, AGILITY and PERSONALITY are interconnected. The SCORE is the plan, in this case, the original composition of Brahms. It is connected with the PERSONALITY of Bernstein and Gould, so interesting it is not one PERSONALITY but in this case two. In AGILITY you have to make decisions, sometimes on the spot. This means before you would REMIX, this would be the performance, AGILITY is making sense of PERSONALITY and SCORE.

Some inspirational links:

5 Hours of Glenn Gould Outtakes. Why? Listen and Find Out.
Leonard Bernstein Artful Learning

Music Thinking Jam Cards

 An inspirational card set for change makers, pattern recognisers, innovators, transformers and natural collaborators. The Jam Cards consist of 38 inspiration cards and six cue cards. All inspiration cards have a keyword, a visual and a sonic trigger, a trigger question, an inspirational quote, and six cues that connect with the Music Thinking Framework. You can use the cards from a strategic point of view, knowing what you want or need and a serendipity approach open to everything that will happen. ‘Music Thinking’ lets people work and play together in a new way with inspirations from the rich world of music.

Order the Music Thinking Jam 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, or just buy them directly at BIS Publishers.

Yes, you can also find them at Amazon.com, Amazon.de, and Bol.com

Creativity, or how can we waltz with complexity?

There are many books written about creativity and creativity is not just a skill or a magic wand that helps us when we are desperately looking for solutions for big problems. There are many ways of being creative, and this can be in small and simple but also in complicated or even complex situations.

There is a big difference between complicated and complex. For the former, it might help to reduce the complicated elements in smaller simpler units (like it is done in agile development), for the latter that is not possible. It needs a different way of creativity.

The Jam Card

The ‘Creativity’ Jam Card – Music Thinking Jam Cards

There is no simple solution to a complex problem. Instead of looking for the next simple quick fix for something that is nearby, we should think about how to understand the complexity, what level of complexity do we experience and how is the complexity changing. This means complexity is not a problem to be solved but a system you can only understand when you are a part of the system and try to change it. This needs creativity in many dimensions and many senses. It’s like dancing the waltz with a complex system, having fun in mutual changing development instead of analyzing and trying to fix it. So have fun with complexity, embrace the paradox.

The picture

  This is a snapshot I did with my iPhone on a Vintage Guitar Show in the Netherlands. Besides many guitars from decent to crazy, there are also many accessories to tune, maintain or enhance your guitar, amp or yourself. One of these is the Gizmotron. The Gizmotron, is an effects device for the electric guitar. It was invented in 1969 and patented by the English rock musicians Kevin Godley and Lol Creme in 1975, whilst they were members of the British rock group 10cc. Taped or permanently attached to the body of an instrument, the Gizmotron uses small, motor-driven plastic/rubber wheels to make the strings vibrate, yielding resonant, synthesizer-like sounds from each string. Plagued with design and manufacturing problems, the Gizmotron did not live up to expectations and was a commercial failure. In this regard, it became a collector’s item.


The quote

Creativity is more than just being different. Anybody can play weird – that’s easy. What’s hard is to be as simple as Bach. Making the simple complicated is commonplace – making the complicated simple, awesomely simple – that’s creativity.

This is a great quote from Charlie Mingus, a great musician and bass player. He understands that creativity is not just a single trick (being weird or different) but part of a bigger system and Johann Sebastian Bach is a great example. It also shows that Mingus is looking far more than his Jazz experience to the area of classical or baroque music. That Mingus was an inventive innovator with a broad view not only in music can be seen in the inspirational links below, he was also a cat lover.

The music

The Brandenburg Concertos by Johann Sebastian Bach (BWV 1046–1051, original title: Six Concerts à plusieurs instruments) are a collection of six instrumental works presented by Bach to Christian Ludwig, Margrave of Brandenburg-Schwedt in 1721. They are widely regarded as some of the best orchestral compositions of the Baroque era. Bach used the “widest spectrum of orchestral instruments … in daring combinations,” as Christoph Wolff has commented.

“Every one of the six concertos set a precedent in scoring, and every one was to remain without parallel.” Heinrich Besseler has noted that the overall forces required (leaving aside the first concerto, which was rewritten for a special occasion) tally exactly with the 17 players Bach had at his disposal in Köthen. source: wikipedia

Here is a side story: when my daughters were young, I made for them mixtapes with the most different musical pieces. From classical to Punk, Jazz, Rock or Pop to instrumental, German, Italian and English songs. Among others, there was also the excerpt of the Brandenburgische Konzerte you hear above. My eldest daughter walked daily with a cassette recorder through our apartment. One day when we had guests and were sitting on the table, she entered the room with her recorder, put it on the table and was explaining: ‘and this is Bach’, then she left the room and an astonishing group of people thinking about the well educated and musically talented little girl.


The cues

SCORE, JAMMIN’ and REMIX are three cues that connect with complexity. They live in the solution space and have the potential to quickly prototype and iterate new possibilities. JAMMIN” with the power to invent, listen and create, SCORE with the power of visualising the outcome or documenting the hypothesis and REMIX as the master of shipping, of creating something of value to use or perform. See here: how the cues connect with the Music Thinking Framework.

Some inspirational links:

John Maeda the laws of simplicity
Gizmotron 2.0
Charles Mingus Cat Toilet Training Program

Music Thinking Jam Cards

 An inspirational card set for change makers, pattern recognisers, innovators, transformers and natural collaborators. The Jam Cards consist of 38 inspiration cards and six cue cards. All inspiration cards have a keyword, a visual and a sonic trigger, a trigger question, an inspirational quote, and six cues that connect with the Music Thinking Framework. You can use the cards from a strategic point of view, knowing what you want or need and a serendipity approach open to everything that will happen. ‘Music Thinking’ lets people work and play together in a new way with inspirations from the rich world of music.

Order the Music Thinking Jam 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, or just buy them directly at BIS Publishers. Yes, you can also find them at Amazon.com, Amazon.de, and Bol.com