Creative Friction — The Key To Creation In A Time Of Great Shifts
Magnus Lindkvist is an author, a futurologist, and a trendspotter. This text is an excerpt from Magnus’s book Minifesto:
“The 20th century has shifted our perception of artistic creation away from the lone genius to what music producer Brian Eno, calls a “scenius.” Whereas “genius” describes a person with divine talent who creates in isolation, “scenius” describes the creative intelligence of a group of people working alongside each other.
We-deas instead of I-deas.
For this kind of collective creativity to emerge, however, the group needs to have some kind of meaningful diversity. If members are too like-minded, you get a sect. If they are too diverse, you have constant conflict. What is needed is a kind of creative friction wherein the tensions and conflict within the diverse group contribute to something greater. Let me give you a famous musical example. I have written it in the present tense so you can imagine yourself as a fly on the wall.
Depeche Mode, an English music quartet, is recording an album in a remote part of northern Denmark. It is the late 1980s and the group has for this, their seventh album changed their writing process. In their earlier efforts, the main songwriter Martin Gore came in with nearly finished compositions. Now, he has instead brought mere sketches – primitive demo tapes of him singing with either an organ or a guitar in the background. One of these sketches is a downbeat ballad called Enjoy The Silence. The rest of the group consists of lead singer David Gahan; keyboard player Alan Wilder, and the group’s mascot, Andrew Fletcher. Their personalities could not be more different, with Gore as the tortured introvert, Gahan as the flamboyant frontman, Wilder as the pragmatic sound wizard, and Fletcher mainly being in the band because the others like having him around. When they listen to Gore’s demo tape, Wilder suggests, much to Gore’s dismay, that they turn Enjoy The Silence into a disco song.
This adds a level of tension in the group that can either work to the detriment of the recording process or if it is handled correctly, can add magic to it.
Wilder proceeds to find an old-school 1970s disco beat – think Staying Alive by The Bee Gees. Since they are in the remote Danish countryside with very few things to interfere with the recording process, they pass the time and ease the boredom by experimenting with new kinds of musical instruments. One of the machines is a brand new modular synthesizer called the Roland 700-series. Modular basically means that it consists of a keyboard and many boxes with plenty of knobs and buttons to fiddle around with – perfect for boredom alleviation in the Danish countryside. After playing around with the synthesizer for a while, they find a really interesting bass sound to go along with the disco beat. Martin Gore is continuously hostile to the way his precious, moody ballad is turned into a disco inferno; so when the group asks him to produce a melody to go along with the rhythm, he proceeds to hammer away with the most irritating sound he can find on a keyboard. It would have been easy for others to dismiss his behavior as immature and ignore the shenanigans. Instead, Alan Wilder hears something within the random noise – a melody. He asks Gore to play it on a guitar instead, something Gore vehemently refuses since Depeche Mode is a synth band. When he finally strums the melody on a retro-electric guitar, Depeche Mode has composed one of the most iconic songs of their career and their most successful hit single to date.
The tension between the individuals – primarily Wilder and Gore – translated into a song that is defined by its straddling of the melancholy and the upbeat, between major and minor chords.
Creative friction can generate magic, but it is a fragile process.
Alan Wilder would record one more album with Depeche Mode and then leave the band feeling betrayed, wounded, and disillusioned. The albums of Depeche Mode would never sound as exciting again, nor would they reach the career highs of the music they made with him in the band.
I want you to think about this example in light of all the turbulence and turmoil happening in the world in 2022. Frightening, yes. But it may also help us to come up with better, more interesting ideas for the future.”
Magnus Lindkvist is one of the speakers at the SHIFT Business Festival 2022. At SHIFT Magnus will talk about how to drive organizations through disruption and most importantly how to reconnect humans and technology creatively to drive future growth.