What does Musical Paralysis have to do with Innovation?

Taylor Mallory at Sofar Chicago, photo by Jim Vondruska.

Taylor Mallory at Sofar Chicago, photo by Jim Vondruska.

What is innovation? And what does it mean to me? I see innovation as a response to something that bugs me. It is a tool we can use to address the limitations of the status quo, or a way of jumping out of our comfort zones to enable us to see the world in a different way.

For sixty percent of people, their taste in music freezes for the rest of their lives once they turn thirty. Isn’t that a scary thought? Music Business Worldwide reported that ‘folks stop discovering new music and find themselves listening to the same tracks and genres over and over again.’ Deezer called this ‘musical paralysis’.

In some ways, this statistic is unsurprising. As we get older, we have a better understanding of what we do and don’t like. We instinctively  tend to stick to the things that bring us joy, and avoid those things that bring us pain. This relates to the idea of being ‘set in your ways’. From the food we eat, to the places we go on vacation, even to our friendship circles - we narrow down what it is that we like, in the same way that we do with music. We start to create our comfort zone: a place where we feel safe, follow a routine, live by a certain set of rules - and know that if we break those rules, we might not be so comfortable anymore.

This is where comfort zones are problematic: when the fear of discomfort stops us from discovering what we really love, or fighting for something we believe in. If you never tried to stand up as a child, would you be walking right now? If you never tried to play guitar, would you have a jam with your pals every now and then? If you never moved halfway across the world, would you have found your passion in life? It’s a proven fact that by trying something new, we learn and grow from the experience. Whether that be that we don’t like broccoli, or that we are great at managing a team. Learning, although the process can be tough at times, can be so fulfilling.

What does this have to do with innovation?

Everything. Here’s a few scenarios:

  1. You have been working at the same company for a long time, and you find that the processes have been kept the same for even longer. You’re feeling stuck and uninspired. How do you change those processes? How do you innovate?

  2. You are angered by the way the tax system puts a tax on tampons, but not on private helicopters. How do you speak up?

  3. You are fed up that the world is ignoring climate change. How do you make people listen?

Start by creating a ‘bug list’. Tom Kelley, IDEO partner, came up with this idea in his book The Art of Innovation. A bug list is a list of all the things that bug you. It’s as simple as that. Just by writing the list, you’ll start being more mindful of the things that are on it, and eventually you’ll start to come up with ideas on how you can solve the problem. The bug list acts as the seedlings of innovation.

The next step is crucial: ideas must be followed up by actions. Innovation is a response to a problem, so action is required before change can occur. Without this step we would continue in our dreamworld of ideas that never came to fruition. It is action that creates change.

This is how Sofar Sounds was born. Me and two of my pals were fed up of going to gigs and leaning over people to see the performers, watching them through a sea of arms and phone screens as the performer battled with the sound of beer glasses chinking and chatter. This was our ‘bug list’ -  we didn’t like the environment surrounding live music. So, we challenged the traditional ‘gig’ set-up by creating an environment that put the community first - where it was just as much the artist’s right to be listened to as it was the audience’s right to listen without distractions.

But house gigs aren’t a new phenomenon. So how was this any different? We took it one step further and developed the idea by asking ourselves:  how can we prevent people from getting bored and losing interest? Solution: by using the element of surprise. We invite people to come to an unknown place, with an unknown line up - immediately removing you from your comfort zone and taking you into the unknown. On top of this, we try to ensure that each show provides a range of musical genres - in fact, we go further than music - with comedians and spoken word artists sometimes joining the bill, adding to the element of surprise and exposing the audience to alternative art forms they might not have previously considered.

I’m not saying that creating a company is the only way to innovate. Sometimes people assume that innovation has to be big, but that’s not the case at all. It could be something as simple as modifying the way you do things at work to improve communication between departments, starting a petition online to end period poverty, or not showing up to school on Fridays to protest for environmental justice and your right to a future. Everything starts from a seed.

Next time you’re having your usual at your local restaurant, or listening to your favourite band on repeat, why not challenge yourself to listen to something different - you might like it, or you might not. Either way, you will have learned something new.

x Rafe