Speaking engagement to MA students in Hull

I recently was asked to do a talk to a group of MA media students in Hull.  Here is some of what we talked about


The pros and cons of definition and lack of definition

Walt Disney talked about his creative process when making films and the importance of ensuring that the creative process didn’t have premature editing. Too much editing or definition too soon in the process often stopped the creative flow really taking place. Many other artists have noticed that often many of the best creative ideas come from just trying stuff out whether this is musically or lyrically. 

The Brian Eno influence

My good friend Tim Booth who is the longstanding singer with the band James, often talked about how the band would jam for hours and see what emerged. Both he and Brian Eno often used this approach in creating music when there was a deliberate absence of definition/editing in the first part of the creative process. They used this extensively on creating the Laid album which their first collaboration with Eno. The improvised sessions that created the laid tracks also produced a second album Wah Wah.

Brian also liked to throw curveballs when producing and created a set of cards called Oblique Strategies. Each card would randomly give a suggestion of what to do in the session. Each card contains a phrase or cryptic remark which can be used to break a deadlock or dilemma situation. Some are specific to music composition; others are more general.

Examples include:

  • Use an old idea.
  • State the problem in words as clearly as possible.
  • Only one element of each kind.
  • What would your closest friend do?
  • What to increase? What to reduce?
  • Are there sections? Consider transitions.
  • Try faking it!
  • Honour thy error as a hidden intention.
  • Work at a different speed.

The Provocative Change Works cards – provoke creative change

Interestingly in my own work when working with clients I developed a set of cards in my own provocative changes work. Each card will provoke a new response which takes the session from becoming too “digital, logical, sequential” and cerebral. In my other life I teach this way of working to medics, therapists, coaches and members of the pubic in USA, Europe and Asia.

This has by far consistantly been proven to be a great way to provoke creative thinking and is especially useful in addressing all manner of problem issues. Many of my private clinets over the years have also been established and sucessful musicians. 

In my own musical projects there’s a fascinating overlap in my coaching and musical work. I’m fully convinced that adding this random element “provokes” and/or stimulates all manner of new possibilities that make for a far more creative and accelerated outcome.

When definition is essential

In producing creative work and in general life, there’s an absolute need for definition unless you are lucky enough to have a very wealthy benefactor! There’s an old joke in the music industry

Q   ‘How do you make a million pounds in the music industry?”

A   ‘Start off with two million!”

In strategic thinking its important to be able to prioritize and plan time to best effect. One of the ways of doing this is to consider the following

  • What do I need to do?
  • What do I want to do?
  • What would I like to do?

Each of these questions produces the hierarchy of importance in the situation. “Needs’ usually non-negotiable, wants and likes usually are negotiable. For a guitarist in order to play, they need a guitar. They may want or like the idea of a 1959 Les Paul, but they don’t need one of those in order to play music

In situations where there seem to be too many options, the following question is usually very helpful


What is the SINGLE SMALLEST STEP that is most useful to take in the situation?