Find speakers by:
Request more info

In Internet Age, Creativity Is A Necessity in Business Says David Usher

In Internet Age, Creativity Is A Necessity in Business Says David Usher

The Financial Post’s Rick Spence recently attended a presentation by famed musician and creativity expert David Usher:

On YouTube he’s been called “the Leonard Cohen of our generation.” Montreal singer-songwriter David Usher has sold 1.4 million albums, he’s had 10 No. 1 songs on Canadian radio, and he’s won five Juno awards. In his spare time, he creates Web applications and explores new media technologies. Usher says it’s his job to be creative.

And he thinks it’s your job, too. “Whether you’re an artist, or in business, or both, the Internet has fundamentally changed everything for all of us,” Usher says. “In today’s environment, creativity isn’t a luxury, or a risk. It really is a necessity.”

The 46-year-old artist, who should not be confused with the U.S. hip-hop musician who calls himself simply “Usher,” shared his creativity formula last week at his first-ever business seminar, at the Mesh Marketing 2012 conference in Toronto. If you’re struggling with innovation in your business, David Usher’s notes should be music to your ears.

“Before the Internet, we had the protection of location,” he explains. “You could be the best in your town, your province or your country, and that was enough. But in the Internet age, when anyone can see, compare and buy anything at any time, you have to strive to be better just to compete.”

But creativity isn’t just about building better products or services, Usher says. “It’s really about adopting an attitude or a culture that embraces change: the ability to adapt, to be nimble, and to innovate quickly, because the environment we’re all living and working in is moving so much faster.” Case in point: Usher spent 10 years under contract to EMI Music, the U.K giant that has a roster that included the Beach Boys, the Hollies, Frank Sinatra and the Beatles. During that decade, he saw EMI shrink from 400 employees to 30. “It was a brutal time,” he recalls. “EMI was a big, established, slow-moving company, and they didn’t like change.”

By analyzing his own work, Usher has broken the creative process into four easily understood components. Step 1 is to keep an eye out for new trends and peripheral ideas. “Creativity is really just the ideas business,” he says. “To make great things, you need to be able to collect lots and lots of ideas from everywhere, not just from your specific field.”

In Step 2, you bang these ideas together to see what shakes out. “You do experiments,” Usher says. “Like a scientist, you mix and match. And then suddenly out of nowhere, usually at some weird time, like getting out of the shower, you get a moment of creative collision.” That’s Step 3, he says. “This is the light bulb moment when the ideas you’ve been collecting and building and experimenting with come together, and you suddenly know what you’re building and where you’re going.”

As an example, Usher played a fragment of a Dido/Eminem song (“I liked the groove and the baseline,” he rationalizes), then hummed a melody that came to him on a tour bus, and then played the other-worldly Flower Duet from the 19th-century French opera Lakmé. In 2001, he and former bandmate Jeff Pearce meshed those diverse influences to produce the song Black Black Heart, which hit No. 1 in Canada and made the top 10 in 14 other countries.

But coming up with a winning idea doesn’t end there. Step 4 in Usher’s process is to use all your business knowledge and experience to turn ideas into saleable products. “What started as a moment of creative collision then has to be built into something you can ship,” he says. “This is a grind. It’s 95% of the work,” which should encourage would-be innovators who doubt their own creativity. Those elusive ideas are just a start. You create the most value in fine-tuning those concepts for your market.

“Collect, experiment, moment of creative collision, build and ship,” Usher sums up. “It’s a totally learnable process, but it’s also repeatable. Once you understand the process, you just do it over and over, continually refining and improving.” He notes it’s also transferable. From music to Web design, Usher works in several creative disciplines, “but I move through them easily, because I use the same process for all of them.”

After showing off a few of his innovative Web applications, for e-commerce hockey websites and Amnesty International, Usher offered a preview of his newest interest: physical-interface technology. At concerts, he says, bands always set the “heartbeat” for their fans. “What if we reverse-engineered that idea?” he asked. “How could we get the audience to power the band?”

Usher went into the audience and recruited a very nervous attendee, Agatha, to come to the stage. There he asked her to grasp a sensor-filled rod with both hands. The rod, wired into Usher’s sound system, suddenly filled the room with the increasing pound-pound-pound of Agatha’s heartbeat. Inspired by that pulse, Usher and his guitar player, Jonathan Gallivan, improvised new songs and rhythms. “I really don’t know where this is leading,” he said later. “But I have great faith in my curiosity, that it’s going to take me somewhere interesting. Ideas stack upon ideas, and they take you to places you didn’t even know you were going.”

Rick Spence is a writer, consultant and speaker specializing in entrepreneurship. His column appears weekly in the Financial Post.

From: The Financial Post
November 12, 2012