This article was originally published in TED Weekends and The Huffington Post.
I was particularly stirred by the tale of the Phoenix lawyer who had never set foot in an art museum, and rallied her colleagues to lie underneath Janet’s sculpture to share the glee and rediscovery of wonder. Wow, what a gift and life expanding experience! It prompted me to write this post.
Like the aforementioned lawyer, the number of people who live their lives thinking they don’t like art bewilders me. In fact the question consumes me so much that I’ve taken to asking it to everyone I meet. Occasionally I discover another art lover, but more often than not the reaction is befuddlement. People tell me they don’t like art, or are too busy for it. One tech CEO even told me he hated art. (I felt sorry for him).
Probing further though, I often discover that the same people enjoy music, dancing or photography. But anything that has to do with entering a so-called art establishment, they find unappealing.
If there is a glass ceiling in business, there is also a “glass wall” separating artists and art cognoscenti from non-art goers. To many, the barrier comes from incomprehension. Art appears opaque and intimidating. They find art museums and theaters especially daunting. Program notes and audio guides are insufficient to bridge the gap. And docents, too quick to show off their MFAs, makes them feel ignorant (or so I was told).
Breaking the Glass Wall
This is why Janet’s work is so important. It bridges the divide and broadens art’s reach. Through the years, Janet has engaged and attracted masses of people to experience and share art’s wonders — from engineers and lawyers, to fishermen and passers-by, across fields and continents.
Wow. I can’t help but feel wonderment at these enormous billowing sculptures, suspended in the air, gently moving in the wind, braving gravity like weightless dancers.
I expect her sculptures would appeal to some of the people who told me they disliked art. Engineers will recognize and appreciate the science in her artwork and feel a connection. Entrepreneurs and innovators will identify with the hardships, persistence, and hard work needed to achieve breakthrough innovations; they too will feel a connection.
Janet’s work is both approachable and spellbinding. Her tantalizing meshes, an invitation to let ourselves be absorbed into a wondrous world, where gargantuan sculptures hang in the sky like convoluted rainbows. She reconnects us with our universal need and capacity to wonder.
Her sculptures are living proof that castles in the sky are realizable. In some magical ways, they remind us that we too can break free of our limits.
Cultivating Artistic Passions
This is why art matters. It connects us with our humanity and capacity to marvel. It expands our vision, and fuels our imagination.
Each and every one of us has the ability to be touched by art, because we carry the seed inside us. As Pablo Picasso said: “All children are born artists. The challenge is to remain one as we grow up.” Let us not neglect our artistic gift, as we become adults. Great art inspires and kindles our artistic sensibility.
Janet’s video is bound to inspire many people the world over. She is also a wonderful example of an artist crossing over disciplines and barriers, and appealing to a wide audience. The challenge remains to breach the glass walls constraining the art world, and make art accessible at ever-larger scales.
Broadening art appeal has a parallel with the wine industry. Like art, wine used to be enjoyed by the cognoscenti alone. Napa Valley’s success lay in breaking wine’s own glass wall, and making wine accessible and enjoyable to everyone. In so doing, they significantly expanded wine appeal and consumption — while still producing high end wines. The art world needs a similar invigoration, to benefit both artists and consumers. For the wider public, to expand our artistic appreciation, and for art institutions, to create the income they badly need.
Image credits: Janet Echelman.
This article was previously published in the Huffington Post.
As the country awaits the presidential election, suspense and tension hover like thick fog blankets over San Francisco bay. Voters from both sides are seeking reassuring signs. Campaign teams feverishly look for ways to secure additional votes and lure undecided voters. Online polls proliferate, bringing comfort or alarm to those who read them repeatedly.
The question on everyone’s mind: who will win the swing states?
The political machine is well equipped with sophisticated forecasting and modeling tools to predict voters’ behavior. Complex algorithms huff and puff in data centers twenty-four by seven.
But the mystery remains…
Can We Turn to Music for Answers?
This article introduces an innovative lens to look at the elections: through the study of voters’ musical preferences and affinities.
A social music company called Smule ran an insightful experiment. They put the 900 million songs in their database through rigorous analysis, correlating the musical tastes of users with “red” and “blue” states. The results were illuminating.
“Our musical tastes are just as polarized as our country!” says Jeffrey C. Smith, Smule CEO and co-founder.
My interest was piqued, and I sought to learn more. For background, the company’s products allow anyone with a mobile device to play, sing, and create their own version of songs. “Smule is about expressive music-making and the creative output of individuals and populations,” adds Dr. Ge Wang, Smule co-founder and Assistant Professor at the Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics (CCRMA) at Stanford University.
The full analysis is complex, but for the sake of simplifications, I shall illustrate the findings with three songs.
Music and Political Affinities
Let’s first take Gimme Shelter, a Rolling Stones classic — and a personal favorite of President Obama. Crunching the numbers, Smule found that Gimme Shelter is played twice as many times in blue states, than in red states.
Oh, a storm is threat’ning
My very life today
If I don’t get some shelter
Oh yeah, I’m gonna fade away
War, children, it’s just a shot away
It’s just a shot away
War, children, it’s just a shot away
It’s just a shot away…
The second song, Daddy Sang Bass, is a country music hit by Johnny Cash. (Governor Romney is known to like country music). This time Smule analysis revealed that Daddy Sang Bass is played twice as many times in red states, than in blue states.
Daddy sang bass,
Mama sang tenor.
Me and little brother would join right in there.
Cause singing seems to help a troubled soul.
One of these days and it won’t be long,
I’ll rejoin them in a song.
I’m gonna join the family circle at the Throne.
Oh, no the circle won’t be broken.
By and by, Lord, by and by.
Fascinating to see such striking differences in musical preferences between the red and blue states! An untapped opportunity for campaign managers seeking to understand and influence voters; but I am getting ahead of myself.
Getting a Beat on the Swing States
Can music give us insights into voters’ preferences in the swing states?
For this Smule tested Free Bird, a broadly appreciated song by Lynyrd Skynyrd. The song proved to be neutral — and was equally played in red, blue, and swing states.
If I leave here tomorrow
Would you still remember me?
For I must be traveling on, now,
‘Cause there’s too many places I’ve got to see.
To yield deeper insights, Smule conducted a segmentation by musical style. They statistically compared the interpretation styles of thousands of recent Free Bird performances in the swing states, with the interpretation styles of users from red and blue states. The results were illuminating:
• Ohio, Florida, Colorado and Iowa showed a closer musical affinity with the red states.
• Nevada, Virginia, Wisconsin, North Carolina and New Hampshire were more closely aligned with the blue states.
Linking states to electoral votes, Smule concluded that Obama will win the election, with 285 Electoral College votes to Romney’s 253.
We shall find out on November 6th if Smule’s predictions are accurate. Nonetheless, their analysis offers a novel and insightful perspective on the election and voter sentiment.
The World Needs Art Insight
Will this create an opening for music to play a bigger role in future elections? Campaign managers seeking new levers to build a competitive advantage should take note, and further investigate.
Our reaction to music is deep and visceral. It comes from a deeper place than our answers to pollsters.
As the great Persian poet Hafiz said: “Art offers an opening for the heart. Art is, at last, the knowledge of where we are standing in this Wonderland, when we rip off all our clothes and this blind man’s patch veil, that got tied across our brow”.
If we care to listen, art can give us a pulse on the underlying beat of the world, which we cannot feel through technology and statistics alone.
It’s time to tap into and cultivate art insight, to deepen our understanding and expand our potential, as individuals, as politicians, as corporations, and as nations.
This article was previously published in the Huffington Post.
Last week, Silicon Valley Voice took to the stage of the legendary Fillmore concert venue in San Francisco. An extravaganza show reminiscent of American Idol, only for geeks, and they rocked! It was amazing to see respected venture capitalists sporting groovy scintillating disco outfits, and signing their lungs off in rhythm. The audience, comprised of technologists from startups and established companies, such as Badgeville, Klout, YouTube and Salesforce, was overjoyed! Exalted tweets soared throughout the night.
The tech community has enjoyed a longstanding relationship with music, as I wrote in a previous article on the parallelisms between jazz and tech innovation. Paul Allen, the legendary co-founder of Microsoft, played the guitar with the greatest musicians, and carried his weight. In fact, many Silicon Valley engineers play in bands. Coverflow, the co-producer of Silicon Valley Voice, includes players from Mayfield Fund, Facebook, Fandalism and Electronic Arts.
“When you innovate in one domain it carries over to others”, says Raj Kapoor, Coverflow lead singer and venture capitalist. “Silicon Valley is well-known for technology innovation and creating disruptive products. We wanted to show another side of the Valley: the creative talent.” Coverflow bass player and venture capitalist Tim Chang echoes: “We are not one-dimension people. People who are talented in science, are often talented in music, or other areas. Great entrepreneurs are multitalented.”
The event, modeled after American Idol, invited Silicon Valley best talent to compete for a chance to sing at The Fillmore. Seven finalists were selected from fifty applicants, and got to perform live at The Fillmore. The audience was electrified! Twenty thousand dollars were raised from attendees in just a few hours. They will benefit local children charities (Make a Wish, Bay Kids and Little Kids Rock). The audience winner, Sara Oliver of Electronic Arts, received an extra three thousand dollars to donate to a charity of her choice.
“Silicon Valley Voice showcased the high energy, creative spirit and continued generosity of the tech community, with the outpouring of support and funds raised for several great causes,” says John China, head of Relationship Management for Silicon Valley Bank, whose firm sponsored and co-produced the event.
It was invigorating to see and feel the creative energy in the air, and witness the talent on stage. It reminded me that creativity is what makes Silicon Valley so great!
The question is, why is art something we do as a hobby, compartmentalized from our work? Why is it not more integrated into the fabric of Silicon Valley innovation ecosystem? We would have much to gain! As a ballerina turned technologist, I’ve experienced many synergies.
“We must look back at Silicon Valley history to understand the present”, explains Duncan Davidson, veteran entrepreneur and venture capitalist. “HP started the next bench revolution (which lasted thirty years), where engineers built products for engineers on the next bench. One did not need an artistic sensibility to build next bench products.”
Times are changing, and changes create new opportunities. In today’s mobile computing era, consumers are no longer the engineers on the next bench. In this new paradigm, understanding and delighting customers takes more than technology prowess. As Steve Jobs famously said: “Technology alone is not enough. It is technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields us the results that make our hearts sing.”
Steve Jobs’ genius was to blend artistry with technology, and to get it right. He showed us that artistic sensibility creates better products, better user experiences, and better companies. In doing so, he created huge economic and societal value. At the time of his anniversary, let us pay a tribute to his extraordinary legacy.
Silicon Valley Voice was fabulous. Calling technologists to showcase their artistic talent on stage is a great thing. The next question is: how do we move artistry from the periphery to the core — from a hobby to a habit — into the DNA of Silicon Valley technology ecosystem? The time is ripe to cultivate art sense in Silicon Valley!
Photo credits: M.Kim/Fiorito Photography.
This workshop is for product managers and entrepreneurs bringing new products to market. Tech founders, marketers, and engineers; this workshop will teach you powerful skills and techniques to create messages that win customer hearts.
Why This Workshop
Companies bringing new products to market are hard-pressed to get buy-in from customers for their innovations. Good products are not enough. A strong message is a necessity to rise above the noise and connect with the customer, particularly in today’s socially-connected, 140-character world.
While entrepreneurs are good at writing messages that appeal to their customers’ logic, many fail to appeal to their customers’ emotions. It is the emotional call that finally motivates and drives people to take action, aka make a buying decision.
The Message Design Workshop follows a time-tested methodology to help entrepreneurs write messages that win customer hearts (emotions) as well as customer minds (logic).
What you Will Learn
Through a series of interactive and explorative exercises, we will help you get inside your customers’ hearts and also their minds. Not only will you discover actionable insights, but you will also learn an effective framework you can reuse later.
This workshop will help you:
- Practice empathy and walk a mile in your customer shoes,
- Question and stress-test your product and customer assumptions,
- Examine your product attractiveness with new eyes,
- Identify what is truly unique and relevant about your product,
- Create a differentiated value proposition.
You will leave the session with a heightened attunement to your customers, expanded insights about your products, and a valuable toolset to craft a superior value proposition.
What Makes it Unique
- A powerful framework that draws on multidisciplinary practices, combined with a decade of hands-on experience in messaging and new product marketing,
- Interactive brainstorm exercises to help attendees expand their views and explore creative ideas,
- Proprietary techniques to simulate customer immersion.
How to Register
By popular demand, we are now offering this workshop as a standalone service to interested companies and organizations. For more information, please contact Tech Atelier.
“The Messaging for Startups workshop was phenomenal and thought provoking. What I like about the training is that it not only helped me improve my messaging, but I also gained valuable insights to improve my company’s positioning and strategy. Bravo! Brilliant!” – Olivia Ho