The Speed of Innovation: What We Can Learn from Great Musicians

How long does it take to create something new? Is it fair to put a time limit on creativity? In a recent interview, Clear Channel CEO Bob Pittman discussed his 24-hour rule: Everything should be able to be accomplished in 24 hours.

This is why big companies are all f—ed up, and small aren’t…The consensus style of business is great for a factory line, but not for innovation.

It is understandable that Bob is frustrated with the bureaucracy stemming from a huge conglomerate like Clear Channel, but can we really expect all great ideas to be completed within a set period of time, especially one as stringent as 24 hours? To contradict this concept, it would be unfair and, quite frankly, too obvious to cite scientific discoveries as a sector of innovation requiring unforeseeable hours of theorizing and experimentation. Let’s try music.

Some of the greatest songs have been written in less than an hour – Neil Diamond’s Sweet Caroline, The Beatle’s Hard Day’s Night, David Bowie’s Life on Mars?” Adam Duritz, the lead singer of the Counting Crows recently stated:

Usually for me, a song is something that you finish in one sitting. If it’s good enough, you just finish it. It can be a 40-minute sitting or an eight-hour sitting…But I would sit there and finish. I would become obsessed and not be able to go do anything else.

When recording their latest album, Somewhere Under Wonderland, Adam changed up the process. He shared all his unfinished ideas with the other members of the band. The group writing session took longer than one sitting, but their feedback added new life to ideas that would have otherwise been written off.

I was seeing these songs as a lesser thing until the guys’ reaction to them. And then, I was like, maybe I’ll invest more in this. And it would turn into a song…I don’t think I would have gotten anywhere without them because even if it wasn’t their contribution, it was their response. But there was a lot of contribution.

Innovation needs a sense of urgency, but patience is part of the process. Sometimes a good idea needs a gestation period. Sure, Keith Richards wrote (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction in a drunken stupor with no preparation, but it took Bob Dylan “ten years to live and two years to write” Tangled Up in Blue.

The creative process takes contemplation and is often improved by involving others. With their input, you can experiment with different concepts, run a few pilots, or conduct further research. Regardless, quality (and your reputation) should not be compromised to meet a superfluous time limit.

We cannot get caught up in our ADD world where anything worth doing, should be completed immediately. Some ideas need to simmer. Maybe it’s to fully think it through, maybe it’s to gain support. So, before you discard your next potentially great idea, try not to get frustrated that its not instantaneously fully formed. Reflect on it. Bring your band together to brainstorm. That’s how you create a classic tune.