Innovation, by definition, requires you to create something new often in an attempt to replace a current product, service or process which might be working just fine as it is. It takes a certain amount of courage to overcome this “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” inertia especially since there will always be resistance to opposing the status quo. However, developing your ability to take risks and step away from the well-worn path that your business has always taken can pay enormous dividends.
Writing—and then singing—songs is a way to build your risk-taking tolerance by exploring your own vulnerability in the psychologically safe setting of a songwriting exercise. These days, vulnerability in the workplace is in extremely short supply and it doesn’t take a psychologist to understand how resistant we can be to appearing foolish in front of our peers. That being said, a little vulnerability goes a long way when you want to connect with those around you on a basic human level.
Songwriting provides implicit permission to tap into your emotional core. By making yourself more vulnerable and real—especially in the singing of your finished song—you’ll connect with those around you in a much more meaningful way. But before you can sing your song, you’ll need to put the lyric you’ve been working on to music.
It’s only fair I should confess that in my teens, even after taking piano lessons for almost ten years and even though I was totally comfortable playing piano in front of big groups of people, I was truly terrified of singing. I mean, self-conscious, sweat through my clothes, barely able to function, terrified of singing. There are few things that make us feel more exposed and vulnerable than singing. Good. That’s part of what makes it the final, secret ingredient in the songwriting process.
1. Singing takes you out of your comfort zone
Over the years, I’ve had the opportunity to work with successful and highly confident executives (e.g., the CMO of a Fortune 500 company). These are people who, over time, have grown accustomed to being on top of their game and in complete control . . .and deservedly so. However, even though success and confidence are wonderful things, these qualities tend not to lend themselves to developing new skills. And why should someone at this level even bother? Things are working pretty darn well just as they are, right?
Well, as I’m sure you’re aware, standing still these days is the business equivalent of moving backwards. In other words, if you’re not learning and growing and challenging yourself (i.e., innovating) all the time, you will almost certainly lose interest in what you’re doing and, worse yet, risk falling behind your competition. So my asking you—no matter how successful and confident in your world you might be—to write a song and then sing it in front of your peers is a quick and effective way of taking you out of your comfort zone and reminding you that you might still have new skills to develop.
2. Singing scares you and makes you pay attention
A funny thing happens to people when they are made uncomfortable or slightly stressed. They pay attention. When I guide a group of executives through the songwriting process and then get them up on stage to sing it, I’m well aware I’ve taken them significantly outside of their comfort zones. In so doing, it’s safe to say I have commandeered their full attention and all prior distractions tend to drop away. At that point, my executive teams achieve what can best be described as a state of flow where they are totally immersed in the task at hand. Fear does that. Now, granted, this isn’t the kind of “afraid for your life or safety” fear that I hope no one ever has to experience but it’s definitely enough fear to create focused intellectual and emotional energy in a group of successful, smart and, all of a sudden, pretty uncomfortable people.
3. Singing—especially for non-singers—is a memorable experience
I’ve noticed across all of the songwriting workshops I’ve given that asking non-singers to sing makes that event stand out in their minds and memories. More importantly, it will help you remember your song—and subsequently your message—in a far more effective way than if you’d just written words on a page and left it at that. Singing is the “two” in the “one, two” punch of putting your words first to music and secondly performing what you’ve written. Everything about good songwriting is designed to make your message compelling and memorable. By singing your song, not only have you created a memorable experience for your listeners but also in this instance—and even more importantly— you’ve created a memorable experience for yourself as the songwriter and performer.
In support of this, Lisa Kay Solomon and Chris Ertel in their best-selling business book, “Moments of Impact,” make it clear that a powerful, shared experience takes you out of your customary auto-pilot behavior and is the key to making that moment memorable. By the way, I’ve asked attendees of my songwriting workshops years after the fact what the song they wrote was about and, without exception, they ALL remember. That’s the kind of attention to—and retention of—a message you can rely on when you write and then sing your song.
4. Singing is motivational
Finally, I’ve observed again and again that the combination of challenging yourself to step out of your comfort zone by singing and the very human, creative act of making music results in a burst of energy that can only be described as unadulterated motivation. I’ve watched seemingly stern, businesslike executives smile, laugh and interact in a way they would never have imagined prior to writing and then singing their songs. The joy that songwriting can bring is inspiring for everyone involved.
Find out more about Cliff’s book “The Reason For The Rhymes: Mastering The Seven Essential Skills of Innovation by Learning to Write Songs.”