How to boost creativity with music (Part 1)

How to boost creativity with music (Part 1)

Innovation Method
Published On:
August 24, 2023

“Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and life to everything,” the Greek philosopher Plato once noted. Music is a magical creative device that touches our hearts and minds. And in our bustling age of change, where innovation is no longer a choice but a necessity, the ebbs and flows of music offer an untapped reservoir to invigorate our creativity and energize human action and thinking. Today and in two weeks, let’s dive into the transformative creative power of music. In this, I draw upon my eclectic background in banking, disc jockeying, and athleticism.

The metronome of creativity: How tempo Influences human actions

“Music is energy. A mood, atmosphere. Feeling,” said the US musician Kurt Cobain. Music is not just melody; it's an emotional stimulant. The tempo, measured in Beats Per Minute (BPM), can shift the rhythm of your heart and mind. Classical composers like Beethoven and Mozart employed tempo to evoke specific emotional responses, varying from the calm pace of Andante to the spirited tempo of Vivace. Now, imagine the contrast between the sleep-inducing effects of a lullaby like Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star and the adrenaline rush from a rock anthem such as AC/DC’s Highway to Hell). Clearly, tempo manipulates our intellectual and emotional rhythms, thus rendering it an ideal catalyst for innovative thinking.

Parallel lives: A bank trainee turned DJ discovers the harmony of musical energies

While initiating my banking career at Deutsche Bank in my early 20s, I moonlighted as a DJ. My part-time gig  taught me to how to play with musical energy to control crowd dynamics. A mix of high-energy beats got the dance floor buzzing, while lower tempos provided a respite for the guests, giving them an opportunity to take a breath, have drinks and chat with friends. This strategy elevated my status as a high-revenue-generating DJ and fortified my career security.

Music meets athletics: Discovering BPM as a unifying metric

Interestingly, this interplay between musical tempo and human energy wasn't restricted to the DJ booth. My passion for middle-distance running revealed that the BPM of my favorite music tracks could enhance my athletic training performance. The tunes playing in my mental ear helped me push myself harder during anaerobic interval training sessions and doggedly keep going while doing long aerobic runs. And I became aware of the unifying metric between music and my runs: BMP: And I aligned the “beats per minute” of my heart while running with those of the songs playing out in my mind.

However, life served a reality check: My running coach warned me of burnout if I continued working full-time as a banker, part-time as a DJ on weekends, and doing intensive middle-distance running training. He asked me to choose between being a DJ or becoming a successful runner. I opted for athletics. Four months later, I had a breakthrough on the track, winning my first regional championship in the 3000-meter steeplechase with a new personal best time improved by 30 seconds. As Steve Jobs said later, “Focus is about saying no.”

Connecting the creative power of music to our creativity methods

“Everything is connected to everything else,” noted Leonardo da Vinci. As I strongly believe in this notion of the interconnectedness of everything, I integrated many life experiences into the design of our innovation methods and creativity events. So, my times as a DJ and middle-distance runner has allowed me to integrate the creative power of music into two of our innovation methods, X-IDEA and Genius Journey

How to use the creative power of music in the creative process

Music can help increase the effectiveness of a creative process or innovation method such as the Creative Problem-Solving Method, Design Thinking, or thinkergy’s award-winning innovation process method and related thinking toolbox. In the following, I explain how the different stages of our X-IDEA innovation method resonate with different musical genres and tempos. As the lyrics go in Indeep’s Last Night A DJ Saved My Life: “There's not a problem that I can't fix, 'Cause I can do it in the mix.”

Stage X-Xploration: 

The initial stage of X-IDEA, Xploration, serves to thoroughly explore an innovation project case to gain novel insights and uncover the real challenge (which usually differs from what one initially thinks it is). This stage requires much conceptual thinking, which is mentally tiresome. 

As such, thought-intensive assignments at this stage can benefit from a background of classical Andante compositions like Johann Sebastian Bach’s Chorale Prelude Sleepers Awake or Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s A Little Night Music (2nd Movement II - Romance Andante)). Alternatively, opt for Easy Listening songs such as Louis Armstrong’s Wonderful World, Cat Stevens’ Father And Son, and Little River Band’s Cool Change — or simply tune in to your favorite Pop Radio station.

Stage I-Ideation: 

The ideal music to support Ideation is upbeat, fast, and bright. If you’re a classical music fan, opt for musical pieces written in Allegro, such as Mozart’s A little night music (1st movement), Antonio Vivaldi’s Four Seasons - Spring, or Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto NO. 5 in D Major

However, I prefer House Music to energize Ideation. House Music is recorded at 115-130 BPM, thus aligning the heart's BPM during a dynamic Ideation activity with the music's rhythm. Some of my favorite house classics I enjoy to listen to while ideating include Mobin Master Feat. Robin S’. Show Me Love (Hot Rats Reload), Solu Music Feat. KimBlee’s Fade (Original Mix), and Fuel’s Let Yourself Go, and I have more than two hundred other favorite House tunes to bring into play depending on my mood and the project flow.

Stage D-Development: 

In the second creative stage of X-IDEA, Development, one passes through three steps (Discover, Design, Develop) to develop meaningful idea concepts for a project challenge. Here, a variety of tempo-specific music can amplify the three Development steps::

  • For Idea Discovery, I play downtempo music that captures this step’s mysterious, ambiguous nature, such as A Reminiscent Drive’s Ambrosia or Soul II Soul’s A Dream's A Dream.  
  • In the main step, Design, I keep things slow yet shift to more inspirational Pop such as John Lennon's Imagine (74 BPM) or Peabo Bryson & Regina Belle’s A Whole New World (Aladdin's Theme). What also works great here is vocal Smooth Jazz tunes such as Patti Austin’s If We're Not In Love or Lighthouse Family’s Ocean Drive
  • In the final step, Develop, I pick up the pace again and infuse fresh energy with songs such as Touch And Go’s Would You Go To Bed With Me or Supersuckers’ Hey Ya!.

Stage E-Evaluation: 

The Evaluation stage requires an interplay of critical thinking and practical creativity to arrive at the vital few top idea concepts that stand a chance to succeed in the marketplace. Here, Instrumental Smooth Jazz tunes (such as Jonathan Cain’s Body Language or Dancing Fantasy’s Take Five) provide an unobtrusive yet effective backdrop to support one’s thinking about and tinkering with promising idea concepts.

Stage A-Action: 

The pivotal beginning of the Action-stage is the idea pitch phase, where one stands in front of a juror panel who must be convinced that the idea is worth the time, effort, and money it takes to implement. Here, upbeat pop/rock music, such as Bill Conti’s  Gonna Fly Now (Theme from “Rocky"), can help elevate one’s confidence before pitching an idea. and get into the fighting spirit ahead of a subsequent Q&A.

Conclusion: Match your music to the energy and thinking of each stage

As American guitarist Dimebag Darrell put it, "Music drives you. It wakes you up, it gets you pumping. And, at the end of the day, the correct tune will chill you down.” And just as the right blend of tracks can regulate the ebb and flow of a dance floor, a well-curated playlist for each stage of the creative process can modulate the energy of an innovator or innovation team. The intricate symbiotic relationship between music and creativity is undeniable. It's about time we amplify this symphony in our daily creative lives.

In part two, I will delve into how the transformative power of music can help would-be creative leaders who travel the Genius Journey to more effectively anchor creativity-empowering creative mindsets. Until then, keep the rhythm going and stay tuned for more insights on how to embrace the creative power of music.

  • Learn more about X-IDEA, Thinkergy's "know-how of wow," by visiting our website and downloading our X-IDEA booklet. 
  • If you want to experience an X-IDEA innovation workshop, contact us. Share your creative challenges, and together, let’s co-create the ideal workshop format for you. 

© Dr. Detlef Reis 2023.