Innovation Tips from the Music World

June 3, 2021

When it comes to making something new, innovators tasked with pushing boundaries at their company can learn best practices from music legends. Panos Panay and R. Michael Hendrix explore the overlap in their book, Two Beats Ahead. Two tips from the conversation follow. 

‘Dare to Suck’

Panos Panay: Justin [Timberlake] came to Berklee as part of him getting an honorary degree from us. … He has had such a sustainable career in the industry and reinvented himself several times. So, I was curious about his process of creating. 

He says the key to writing any great hit is just to keep writing. There is no formula really. Often the saying is that to come up with a good idea, you just have to come up with a lot of bad ideas first. And songwriting is very similar. So he says, “When I’m in the studio, I like to take risks. And I just basically qualify that by saying to everybody, ‘Hey, guys, I’m just gonna dare to suck now. But I’m gonna try this and see where it goes.'” 

Often, it’s the unexpected — in the mistake, in the unintentional — that you find true innovation. But because we limit ourselves — we edit ourselves — we just never stumble upon that… Sometimes if you try too hard, you just don’t discover. You don’t experience [the things] you don’t imagine. 

Best Practices for Collaboration

R. Michael Hendrix: Great collaboration happens because the musicians involved have equal respect for one another, and that equal respect for one another comes from the sharpness of the skills that each of them brings to the table. In a musical setting, that can be the instruments that each musician plays. 

In the workplace, the way that happens is that you put titles aside, and you ask, “What is this person excellent in accomplishing?” Maybe they’re great at running meetings. Maybe they’re great at building community connections. Maybe they’re great at developing insights, regardless of title. And I would work at it from that angle.