Aesthetic Engineering

Aesthetic Engineering refers to the field where emotionally relevance and robustness meet in a balanced and integrated manner. Two classical examples of this are architecture and industrial design. Building have to last and also look good and European sports cars are beautiful and run reliably. The internet has been improving in this regard where content is emotionally engaging and relevant and the sites which house it also work robustly.

Artists are not always taught reliability and engineers are not always taught emotional relevancy but a small college in Silicon Valley had for a short time a degree granting program called Aesthetic Engineering. This program rapidly evolved into one called Innovation Management which ultimately led to the formation of the Silicon Valley Innovation Institute.  The Aesthetic Engineering program encouraged artists to learn how to write code and coders to learn how to draw or play music. The thinking at the time was balancing the heart and mind was not enough, money had to enter into it as well, because the primary difference between creativity and innovation was a business model. In order to be creative one does not have to be operating under a business model but if innovation, applied insight is to be adopted than it has to be sustainable for long enough to be adopted and that generally requires a business model.  The Innovation Management program included a new innovation project management process which balanced required resources and budgets against emotionally relevant value propositions.

Although innovation does not always have a vetted business plan as can be seen by the number of fits and starts that may have to be iterated through in order to work out populating the business model relating the appropriate variables by market supporting ratios to make sure the resource flow can be sustained.

And this was where aesthetic engineering sometime fell short. Examples like Italian sports cars that were a joy to behold and to drive as well but sometimes had a tendency to fall apart more quickly than less technically robust models. People who spend all of their effort and resources looking good sometimes neglect other necessary aspects of life and eventually pay the price.

Developing a life or a career integrating emotional relevancy and sustainability can also be a difficult balancing act which sometimes drives parents to advise their offspring to avoid the arts as a vocation but to become something more reliable in terms of earning such as becoming a licensed professional in medicine, law, and other high earning professions.

Some people go so far as to please their parents but sacrifice their own emotional needs. In other words they make money but are not satisfied. This is not the territory of the aesthetically engineered life. A different population may pursue their hearts desire and run out of steam when they can no longer pay the bills again the sustainability argument which pushed Aesthetic Engineering to rapidly evolve into Innovation Management at Cogswell Polytechnical.

One time honored solution has been for artists to have patrons or to spend a significant portion of their energies teaching. Most artists teach to bridge the financial gap which sometimes creates an artistic gap between academia and fine art. This happens in the performing arts as well as the fine arts.

Aesthetic Engineering can provide marketable skills permitting artists to commercialize their arts. In todays economy the most likely candidate is technical skills which also has the fringe benefit of leveraging artists to increase their creative footprint. More on that topic another day.

Meaningplace, the Future of Work

Marketplaces, Meetingplaces and Meaningplaces

In addition to being aware of the marketplace where things are sold, and meetingplaces where people connect, another critically important place which addresses identity and existential angst is the MeaningPlace.

Big box stores and internet sales are the fastest growing part of  B to C (business to consumer) retail. And connectivity advances have dramatically increased the number and variety of meeting places which impacts how we work together to  collaborate. Meaningplaces, places that create or support meaning are equally important to the Future of Work.

Small retailers have the emotionally valuable ability to recognize and acknowledge customers, something big box stores and online sales outlets have a hard time doing creating business opportunity.  Additionally the criticality of attracting and retaining a quality workforce is dependent upon providing a meaningplace, something great tech companies like Google do exceedingly well.

As we are accelerating toward IoT (the internet of things) and the commoditization of everything, emotionally engaging customers and staff becomes increasingly critical because without emotional relevancy there is no engagement. Although  we like to believe our world is rational, experience tells us otherwise.  People make most if not all decisions emotionally. Emotional engagement impacts all decisions. Companies that are meaningplaces sell more and hire better people.

A meaning place, is a place where a person can create meaning, either alone or with others. Public places which support meaning, often through community, include schools, libraries, museums, parks, beaches and other venues supporting nature and / or culture. Public places that can support meaning are often small local retail establishments, where proprietors recognize, acknowledge and serve customers. In many retail places customers create meaning for themselves simply by being there. Some examples are bookstores, food establishments, and nurseries which provide nurture through knowledge, meals, and plants.

One group needing to pay more attention to this is Main Street America as it is in crisis. Small privately owned stores experiencing increased overhead in many dimensions are particularly hurt by new forms of competition driving down their margins at the same their costs are going up. The net impact of globalization and large entity domestic retail competition is reducing the sustainability of small local businesses.

Local stores need to reinvent their business to stay in the game. People agree that local business plays a significant role in response to local needs and has a “hometown advantage” over big store chains. To use this advantage, local business owners build one-on-one relationships with their customers to get to know more than just their buying preferences. Humans derive much meaning through conversational exchanges with those they have good relationships with. In general meaning requires in-person relationship building accelerates rapport and rapport.

It does not have to take much time or money to create meaning and there is no substitute. Saving money to accumulate more items does not make our lives better or more meaningful. As people age relationships become more important than milestones. People become more important than projects. Those who have meaning in their lives  live longer and live better.  Actively creating meaningplaces for ourselves and for others is one of the most powerful activities we can engage in publicly, professionally and personally.

And in case you were wondering what this has to do with innovation – the act of innovating is one of the very best ways to create meaning for yourself and for others.

Gig Economy Relevancy

Monsemble: Maximizing Solo Artist / Innovator Relevancy

Creatives who earn even a portion of their living in the arts would benefit from taking a page from entrepreneurs.  All self employed people rapidly learn they have to be as leveraged as possible while preserving as many degrees of freedom as possible. Large companies, as well established players have infinitely more resources to apply to any situation. On the other hand the little guy or gal has infinitely more flexibility and mobility which give them an innovation advantage. Artists and entrepreneurs share the audacious attitude which either gives them, or is a byproduct of the innovation vitality required to survive, never mind thrive.

In business we leverage coffee shops and other shared spaces to do breakthrough work we used to think we required an office, lab or studio as a work platform. We leverage virtual spaces as well. This combination supports a beginners mind innovation mindset.

What seems to be less known to some portions of the business community, is that they can learn from the artistic community is how to be a monsemble (solo artist). In order to be relevant to an audience, solo artists have to emotionally engage the people listening to them. Hmmm …. this kind of sounds like the same thing a business person has to do with a customer, for customers are audiences, and like audiences they have infinite choices of who or what to listen to. Remember the next time you are making a presentation, that it is a performance and as such, if it is not emotionally relevant, your desired outcome is far less likely. You have to raise friends before you raise money and other resources.

We are familiar with many common business tools we can use to be leveraged, so let me describe some perhaps less familiar musicians tools to shake your imagination a bit.

Musicians who maximize their sonic footprint dramatically increase emotional relevancy by composing music which can leverage technology. Todays highly competitive diminished attention span market rewards increasing artistic self sufficiency. Performing as a monsemble solo artist increases earning power by focusing more on being independent and interactively engaging audiences. Multitimbral (more than one tonal quality) performances are more exciting than using a single tonal color or voice.

You rarely make it big as an imitator – cover bands have been earning the same under $100 per person per night performing, for the last fifty years with no cost of living increases. Touring musicians playing large venues performing original material generally written by them can do hundreds of times better. Technology plays a huge role here and technophobic musicians are at significant disadvantage for many reasons, including lacking the artistic self sufficiency to maximize the critical emotionally engaging “predicability to surprise ratio”. When your audience can predict everything or can predict nothing, you will not engage them. Total prediction and no prediction, both don’t work. And a strong ability to improvise, preserves maximum artistic degrees of freedom, making it more fun and engaging for everyone. In other words have a conversation – do not deliver a monolog if you want to have an audience. This is as true for technology and business statements as it is true for artistic statements.

To whet your appetites for new ways to operate, here is a partial list of music technologies I have employed to leverage myself over the years. I am not going to define them for that is beyond the scope here, but I am sure you have all noticed it is really easy to look things up these days. Musicians should recognize most of these terms; looping, harmonizing, guitar modeling, amp modeling, samplers, synths and sound file players and spatial distribution of sound. And here is a list of things musicians do to increase sonic footprint and engagement; improvisation, composing specifically for specific performances, being nonlinear tonally, dynamically, and in tempo, being multitimbral, utilizing multiple voices (parts, melodies and more) simultaneously, managing Predicability to Surprise ratio, enhancing bass frequencies for profound sonic impact, adding visual components, performing via virtual culture micro-nodes, new kinds of touring, maximizing interactivity, really sounding and being live vs. recorded, in case you have not noticed it is live shows that make the money these days, not recording royalties. And finally as we all live in a diminishing attention span world create New Short Works.

An increasing part of the work world is living in the same gig economy artists have been living in forever. And artists who do not spend as much time on their business and their tech, as their art are generally fiscally and artistically underachieving. Clearly there are many lessons to share.

Innovation Vitality

Innovation although a natural response to circumstance, which can almost always be improved, still requires the application of energy. Resistance has to be overcome by doing work.Issac Newton tells us, there is an equivalence between work and energy. Humans tend to make things a little bit more complicated psychologically, for we do not have equal energy available for all tasks. For some the act of innovating is natural and involuntary, becoming increasingly effortless, as do most actions with practice.

Musicians and athletes also must practice to get so good at their playing, that it seems to become effortless, which is why wha they do is called playing. When watching master musicians or professional athletes, they make the extraordinary look easy, because they have invested so much effort and time, as to have reached a state world class jazz pianist Kenny Werner wrote an excellent book on the topic called “Effortless Mastery”.

Experienced innovators are like musicians and athletes, in that they too when in their flow zone also appear to be playing, because for them innovation has become effortless. And just as there are natural athletes and natural musicians who appear to pick up their mastery faster than others, there are also natural innovators who have something which can be measured to distinguish them, SVII calls innovation vitality.

Innovation vitality is akin to talent. When observing a young child destined to be a terrific athlete or musician, observers generally say this person has “talent” or is “talented”. When we encounter extraordinarily creative innovative people, they too have an ineffable quality about them, which can be called Innovation Vitality and it too is a talent.

We have observed that talent alone does not suffice to become world class and enter into the state where performance is at such a high level as to appear to be “effortless mastery”. Talent is simply a measure of having an easier time developing a skill. For example a child prodigy musician seems to enter a different type of accelerated learning curve than the non prodigy. Prodigies too must invest considerable energy to progress from talent to skill. It does seem like it is easier for them, which is why they are called a prodigy. They are prodigious at what they are doing.

Skill however is not the same thing as accomplishment. A talented person may need to expend less energy and do less work to become skilled but then they need to apply another large measure of energy to do the work to become accomplished. Since energy is applied both in advancing from talent to skill and then again from skill to accomplishment it is clear that effort counts more than talent as it shows up twice. His means accomplishment is proportional to the square of talent a quadratic or higher order relationship.

Enormous talent may permit a person who invests considerable energy to become an athlete or musician with what appears to be greater ease than a less talented person, they still have to invest the effort, do the work and expend the energy to get to the level where they have a skill an then they have to do it again to become accomplished and then they have to do it some more to become world class.

Some have a talent for innovation which does not get the off the hook where they can avoid the significant time and effort to move from having native talent to skill and then to accomplishment. I call this innovation talent, innovation vitality and it appears to be more present in some people, departments, organizations and other entities the others. Not everyone has the same degree of innovation vitality just as not every one has the same innate musical or athletic ability.

All of us can learn sports and music and all of us can also innovate but not all of us become skilled and even less become accomplished and even fewer reach the pinnacle called world class. It is these world class types who appear to have manifested some sort of effortless mastery but this is partially an illusion for it is very significant effort that elevates any person to the level of mastery. One contemporary statement of this is the ten thousand hour rule popularized by Malcolm Gladwell in his book Outliers but first identified and written about by Anders Ericsson who studied violin students in a music academy.

Although the popularized message is sometimes disputed the bottom line is even people who have talent need to invest a lot of time and this is in keeping with the notion that accomplishment is proportional to the square of effort but only linearly proportional to talent.

Lets look a little more deeply into Innovation Vitality, what it is and its are and feeding.

There are some people who are irrepressible. They seem to have a vitality or life force greater than normal. Many traditions have words for this, prana in India, chi or qi in China, ruah in Jewish culture, pneuma in ancient Greece, mana in Hawaiian culture, lüng in Tibetan Buddhism, manitou in the culture of the indigenous peoples of the Americas and vital energy in Western philosophy.

The bottom line is if you are going to innovate you are going to encounter obstacles and if to you they look like speed bumps instead of chasms you are going to be more lily to get past whatever is in your way. Founders of companies and originators of projects do seem to have a bit extra energy and as new entities tend to take on the values and characteristics of their folders there are some companies or institutions that have innovation cultures. And they tend to have an innovation vitality of their own which can be characterized with a psychological instrument developed and administered by folks at SVII. When the founder is no longer present the innovation vitality of the culture can decline and steps may need to be taken to preserve it especially if inadequate succession planning has occurred.