Ed is a popular musician. He’s written songs that have touched millions of people all over the world. People love his music but, after so many years of fame, the inspiration isn’t there anymore and he has yet to write a new song this year.
Ed’s manager, Rick, comes to him one day and tells him that the label is thinking of dropping him because he hasn’t written anything good in a long time. Rick says, “They’re going to drop you at the end of this month unless you come up with a song geared toward the female audience. Their market research says that most woman like upbeat songs so try to do that.” “But that’s only 7 days away!” Rick says, “Well you’re going to have to come up with something. My hands are tied, bro.” Ed says to himself, “What do I do now? I don’t know what songs girls like! I need to find some way to get inspired!” After two days of working and coming up with nothing Ed has an idea! What he needs is to get away from the city and go somewhere he has never been in order to be inspired to write his new song. “I’ll go to Italy. That’ll make me come up with something good!”
The next day he arrives in Rome, but even though he is in this beautiful city it might be too late. Ed only has 5 days left to come up with revolutionary song that female audience will like.
Day 1 (Liz Sanders)
Ed wakes up early and ready to get to work. “I think I’ll bring my guitar down to the cafe downstairs and play the tune I came up with while drinking an espresso. That should get the juices flowing.”After sitting at the cafe for two hours Ed begins to think that he will never find any inspiration for this song. He starts to hum the tune he has for the song but he can’t think up any words. Just then he hears a girl behind him singing words to his melody.
“When your legs don’t work like they used to before…”
“That was amazing how’d you come up with that?” Ed says. “I just came up with it.. I don’t know.” “Aren’t you Ed, the famous musician?” She asks. Ed nods and they start to talk more in depth. He tells her that he’s working on an upbeat song for girls but he’s having trouble coming up with the perfect lyrics. He then has a thought. “What if we wrote the song together?” He asks. “Are you serious?” “Yeah I read in this article that rather than creating for people you should be creating things with them.”
Ed goes on to convince her that “Co-creation” as Liz Sanders puts it, “…puts tools for communication and creativity in the hands of the people who will benefit directly from the results.” Ed remembers that he had bookmarked the article on his phone and he pulls it up to show her. Ed says, “Liz Sanders would say that If we work together to create the song rather than me just creating a song for you we can potentially accomplish three things:
- Monetary value: My song will be way more successful because more girls with relate to it, so therefore I’ll make a lot of money.
- Use/Experience value: Creating the song with you will make it a great sounding song than if I had just written it for you.
- Social value: We could potentially create a song that really helps people coping with love and the feelings of heartache. We can create something together than helps people handle those emotions.”
The girl agrees to work with him but she owns the cafe they are at and she can’t go away. So comes up with the idea that he could help her out around the Cafe while he is visiting and in exchange she will help him create this song. She agrees and they shake hands on it. “I didn’t catch your name.” Ed says.
Day 2 (Jon Kolko)
Ed comes down to the store early the next morning. Sofia is busy helping customers so rather than asking what he needs to start doing he goes into the back and looks for an apron. In the back room there is a woman sitting down reading the paper and drinking coffee. He introduces himself and she tells him that she is Sofia’s sister, Greta. She asks him why he is helping them. Ed tells her about the arrangement that he and Sofia had set up the day before. He tells her about what they are doing. and how they are going to create a song for girls. They will be talking to the girls that come in and getting feedback for the song as it gets better during the week. Greta seems intrigued and wants to know more as to why he decided to have Sofia create the song with him instead of just interviewing her or something. Ed talks about co-creation and the value it has in his process. This is makes Greta think about a designer she met once named Jon Kolko and how his points on design research and the value of design synthesis very much pertains to this subject of creating music. Ed asks, “Tell me more about synthesis…maybe it’ll help us in the next few days.”
“Ed, you are a musician and just like many designers you have a boss or a group of higher ups that make strategic goals for the company you work for. Your boss is expecting you to create a song for girls based on the strategic goals of your label. They decide that it is best that you create a song for girls because that’s what will sell or that’s what will allow them to reach into different markets. You still need to write a song for girls, because you’ll get fired if you don’t, but what if, instead of just writing a few notes and scribbling a few words, you actually figure out what woman want to hear and how they want to hear it.
Maybe you’ll figure out that girls don’t want an upbeat song, maybe they want something different. I don’t know and you don’t know but you should find out. It’s not enough these days to be a great artists, you have to think like the label does by doing one on one research and synthesizing that research in order to create music that not only is revolutionary but also is done is such a way that people can be ready to hear it.”
She suggests that Ed focus on Sofia and really try to get to know her. Then together they can create something amazing.
Day 3 (Don Norman)
Ed is working with Sofia at the coffee shop and is getting frustrated because every time he starts to bring up the song she gives him tasks to do and pretty much ignores him. Near the end of the work day Ed finally confronts Sofia.
“I thought you promised to help me! I figured we would have the song done by now, but instead we have wasted an entire day!”
Sofia says, “Ed, I don’t know if it’s a good idea to strive to create this revolutionary song that you are so desperate for. because I don’t think it’s possible to do that in 5 days.”
“Back at University we had a guest lecturer come to speak during one of my classes. His name was Don Norman. Contrary to what my sister told you yesterday, Norman believes that revolutionary breakthroughs do not come from research at all they come from scientist and engineers in labs. They do it because they are just looking to create, they aren’t trying to fix some need of the public. Design research is more helpful in producing incremental innovations which are slow, small enhancements improving upon these revolutionary products or services.”
“He was talking about technological innovations, obviously, but I believe it applies to writing musical lyrics.” You are wanting to create the next top song and you think you’re going to be able to do it through getting to know me and creating it with my collaboration, but most often that’s not how great songs are written. They are written in the moment and not for a group of people but for the personal reasons of the artist.”
Ed says, “well what was the song you were humming when I first met you?” “That was pretty revolutionary to me!” Why don’t we just incrementally innovated to create a better, longer, and more pleasant sounding version of that song?”
Day 4 (Bill Gaver)
It’s day 4 and Ed and Sofia are making progress on the song but they’ve gotten writers block. Greta mentions to Sofia that it is the day usually go to the market to buy bread and spices for the cafe shop. Ed and Sofia decide to use this as an opportunity to use a technique that Ed saw at the University of London in a lecture by Bill Gaver a few years back.
Ed goes out and buys a disposable camera for Sofia’s sister Greta. He tells her to take pictures of things she likes and things she dislikes at the market. Sofia ask him why he is asking her to do this? Ed says, “It’s a technique I learned awhile back from this design professor. He calls it, “Cultural Probes.” It’s an approach that stresses empathy and engagement for participants. It’s meant to elicit inspirational responses from Greta.
When they both meet up back at the Cafe Sofia asks Ed. “Are we going talk about why she chose to take these photos?” Ed says, “No.” Bill Gaver says that when you try to interpret these cultural probes scientifically they lose their value. They are simply meant to make Greta think creatively and engage her in our process.
Sofia and Ed then spend the rest of the evening talking with Greta. They then stay up all night writing the rest of the song and in the morning they finish.
Day 5 (Paul Dourish)
Ed and Sofia realize it’s their last day together and they are really happy with the song they’ve created. Sofia asks, “Do you really think your label will fire you if it doesn’t get popular?” Ed says, “I hope not. Luckily I know the main guy that make those decisions.He used to be computer scientist. His name is Paul Dourish.
He told me about a band he just signed named Capital Cities that wrote a really beautiful song years ago called Safe and Sound. They were dropped from their last label because the song didn’t do well when it was first released. But now that Paul signed them it’s one of the biggest songs in America. Sofia asks him,“Why didn’t the song do well back when it was first released?”
“Paul told me once that he believes it’s all about context and there are different ways of viewing these scenarios. There are:
- Positivist who think in technical notions i.e. software developers (if, then)
- Phenomenological thinkers that believe the the world as we perceive it is essentially a consensus of interpretationHe said that Capital Cities style of music was not famous at the time it was released because there were not that many bands at that time that sounded like them and thus audiences were not ready to hear their sound. He said that each year the music industry is rapidly shifting and changing. Preferences are changing and bands that once were famous are dying out and bands that were unpopular are now beginning to emerge as stars. Those that continue to survive are those that adapt and change based on the changing context.”
Sofia says, “So Capital Cities’ song Safe and Sound was kind of like a revolutionary innovation and the audience wasn’t ready for it when it was first released??” “Exactly!” Says Ed.
Ed kisses Sofia goodbye and the next week “Thinking out Loud” was the #1 song in the world. The end.