League Conference: Plenary Session Speeches, Part 1

The opening Plenary Session on June 7 presented three speakers discussing “Creating an Environment for Innovation.”

Larry A. Wendling,  Ph.D., VP of the Corporate Research Laboratory at the 3M Center in Minneapolis opened the session with a historical video of the evolution of 3M from a failed mining company to a highly successful, large multi-national company.

He noted that the company isn’t about Scotch tape and Post-it notes, but rather that their business model involves science-driven innovation. He went on to compare scientific and musical creativity, suggesting that the way 3M creates business value from innovation may be directly applicable to the American orchestra.

His definition of innovation is, “The coupling of science and technology to a societal or market need, in a creative fashion, to produce something novel or unique having value.” Therefore, science is of no direct benefit to society until it becomes a product, much like music is of no benefit to society until it becomes a concert. Doing scientific research without a practical benefit is like musicians playing only for themselves. The key is to create value from either science or music, rather than regarding either as the end in itself.

He went on to say that, for the American orchestra, musicians must provide value (i.e., something customers will pay money for). So we must understand the needs of our customers, do this well and repeatedly, and build customer loyalty.

The film clip he showed had a brief portion about 3M’s William McKnight, one of the top 10 CEOs in the history of corporate America. In 1948 he articulated the “McKnight Principles:”  1) Hire good people and let them do their jobs in their own way,  and  2)  Tolerate mistakes.

The first principle rewards individual initiative, drives the company bottom-up, and captures the talents of the workforce. Are we using this principle in our orchestras? Are we capturing everyone’s intellectual capacity? Does everyone feel it’s their job to create total value, and work together to create value?

The second principle is to tolerate well-intentioned mistakes – in other words, do not be afraid to take risks. Don’t wait to develop the perfect product, isolated in your lab, without any real world input. For orchestras, how do you determine audience preference?  How do you determine the unarticulated needs of your audience?

Are you willing to experiment early on and get new concepts into the market early, to learn what audiences want? Are you willing to try new business models?

He then gave a little history of the development of the Post-it note. First they discovered tiny deformable microspheres of adhesives. But what to do with them? One prototype was to coat a big sheet of film with it and use it as a bulletin board. “We quickly learned that there was not a societal need to replace thumb tacks.” Eventually an enterprising sales person sent boxes of Post-it notes to executive assistants of CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, and the rest is history as the product filtered down through the companies.

Another interesting fact about 3M is that they invest 6% of their annual revenues in R&D – twice as much as their competitors. This helps them create value from their science

3M is fortunate to have a well-defined culture that embraces innovation and renewal; it’s difficult to change an organization’s culture. It will be difficult for American orchestras to become more bottom-up, and will require an up-front strategy.

In closing, “Innovation is creating value from science or music. The creative aspect must be an integral part of the total business. Is creating value from music what truly drives the American orchestra?

Innovation can only occur at the junction of creativity and the audience. How does the orchestra determine audience needs and wants?

Is the orchestra open to risk taking and the “make a little, sell a little” model to determine market value? Will you try a different business model?

How do you define the culture of the American orchestra – 19th or 21st century? Are you rewarding and reinforcing your desired culture or your status quo?

It is not just ‘all about the music.’ Rather, it is also about ‘creating value from the music.’”

The second speaker was Katie Wyatt, Executive Director of KidZNotes, an El Sistema-inspired program in Durham, NC. Katie, a violist, was in the first class of Abreu Fellows at New England Conservatory.

Katie raised the issue of who do orchestras belong to. Her answer was that they belong to the whole community. She believes that everyone has a right but also a personal responsibility to contribute their talents to their community.

In answering her question, “Who does your orchestra belong to?” she raised the issue of access, of entry points, of obligations and indebtedness. “We are over-stuffed – and without saving room for new ideas, new resources, and new passions, how can we ever adapt to our changing, indeed revolutionary environments?”

She spoke about innovation and risk, and suggested that orchestras can share the risk with others in the community, building bridges. We can partner with health care companies, car dealerships, and even social services and churches. “Do we have the guts to make an equal commitment to classical music and social good in ways that strengthen our investment in and contribution to our communities?”

She presented two key messages. The first is the opportunity orchestras have of equalizing their artistic and community-building mission. They can flatten the barriers to access. This has already begun in many orchestras, with community engagement initiatives. But orchestras can play a larger role in creating a cultural backbone to assist these community efforts.

Her second message is a challenge to build from the inspiration of the El Sistema movement, which is truly an example of innovation in access and empowerment. She went to Venezuela this past spring and was asking lots of questions about how to start her new program in North Carolina. No one in Venezuela would answer her specific questions about how many kids, which instruments, finances, etc., but rather told her that she must start immediately, on Skype from Venezuela, that she was already behind!

To quote Katie, “It took me a few months to realize that they were trying to instill in me the essence of the motto of El Sistema: ‘Tocar y Luchar,’ which means ‘To play and to strive.’ This motto can be a mantra for a 6-year-old picking up an instrument that she has never heard of and making it her own. It can be a motto for all orchestras here, that as we play our music, we must constantly struggle to make ourselves all that we can. I was so worried about having a plan, about beginning with the end in mind. Through diving headlong in to El Sistema, I learned that it is not always about seeing the end, and that innovation can be about simply beginning.”

Her closing comment was to urge orchestras to find relevance in their communities by starting to make changes – to simply begin. You don’t need all the answers first – finding the answers is part of the journey.

Deborah Borda, President and CEO of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, was the third speaker. I’ll summarize her comments in my next post.

About the author

Ann Drinan
Ann Drinan

Ann Drinan, Senior Editor, has been a member of the Hartford Symphony viola section for over 30 years. She is a former Chair of the Orchestra Committee, former member of the HSO Board, and has served on many HSO committees. She is also the Executive Director of CONCORA (CT Choral Artists), a professional chorus based in Hartford and New Britain, founded by Artistic Director Richard Coffey. Ann was a member of the Advisory Board of the Symphony Orchestra Institute (SOI), and was the HSO ROPA delegate for 14 years, serving as both Vice President and President of ROPA. In addition to playing the viola and running CONCORA, Ann is a professional writer and editor, and has worked as a consultant and technical writer for software companies in a wide variety of industries for over 3 decades. (She worked for the Yale Computer Science Department in the late 70s, and thus has been on the Internet, then called the DARPAnet, since 1977!) She is married to Algis Kaupas, a sound recordist, and lives a block from Long Island Sound in Branford CT. Together they create websites for musicians: shortbeachwebdesign.com.

Ann holds a BA in Music from the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and an MA in International Relations from Yale University.

Read Ann Drinan's blog here. web.esm.rochester.edu/poly/author/ann-drinan

Leave a Reply