To create something new, you have to break with the past.
Whether you are trying to come up with a new product or service, a new process or idea, you’ve got to let go of what is, forget about what was – and believe in what can be.
Innovation starts with reaching out and reaching in. It’s taking a leap. Feeling free to fly on nothing more than a wing and a prayer. And playing your heart out.
Musicians get this.
That’s where improvising comes from.
When I think about improvising, Miles Davis comes to mind.
At the tail end of the 1950’s, he had just created several Grammy winning, platinum albums in a row.
Miles, and the extraordinarily talented musicians he surrounded himself with, had taken bebop to heightened and accelerated speeds.
The question was, “How much faster could he possibly go?”
Could he break the sound barrier?
At the time, there was a pervasive awareness that something big was about to happen.
What would he do next?
The world leaned in.
And he just stopped.
And went inside.
Then went in a completely different direction.
And changed, inside-out.
Slowing everything way down, he played spare notes, allowing others to fill in the spaces – in an expansive cool style.
Creating his own gravitational pull, he escaped the pull of the past.
On “Kind of Blue,” which is still the best-selling jazz album of all time, Miles created a song called “So What?” out of just two notes.
And the rest became history.
Where does such improvising come from?
It is somewhere between the head and the heart.
As my friend Russ Ferrara, a professional guitarist, told me, “Improvisation is the unique ability to create something new within an agreed-upon set of structural limitations. And then, using that same set of ideas, to make something new with each performance.”
That is how you improvise on a micro-scale.
“But Miles was in a whole other league,” Russ added. “He was improvising on a macro-scale. And, as a result, he changed the entire landscape around him.”
For me, Russ brings alive the direct connection between innovation, which is one of the most important things needed in business today, and improvisation, which can occur among the most talented musicians.
That ability – to see and express what is going on around us in a whole new way – is particularly vital in these rapidly changing times where five-year business plans have lost all meaning.
It starts with changing our pace.
Not just doing the same thing over and over again, faster and faster.
Sometimes we have to hit the pause button.
Slow way down.
To look at things with a new perspective.
Then, we can start to improvise.
To play off of what is.
To discover what can be.
Sure, we have to start with a plan. That’s the “agreed-upon set of structural limitations” that Russ was talking about.
But to seize an idea whose time has come, we also need to be completely open and flexible – and willing to let go or modify our plan – because of what we sense around us.
Then, to trust.
And in those we chose to surround our self with.
As we take that huge leap.