Improvisation and Innovation Lessons from Prince
The name Prince is synonymous with innovation in music. From classy pop classics such as ‘Purple Rain’, ‘Diamonds and Pearls’ and ‘U Got The Look’ through to high class jazz, soul and funk, working with artists such as Miles Davis, Chaka Khan, and George Clinton. I’ve seen Prince quite a few times over the years, sometimes at close range.
If you have not, check this performance of Superstition with Stevie Wonder out to see what you have missed.
Unlike many performers in rock’s monarchy, a Prince live performance is often different every night. This is because Prince operates from a menu of 300 songs, which the band may be called upon to play at any time, whereas many other artists prefer to perfect and then repeat their set night after night. Admittedly, this is difficult for some of his audience to take but speaks of artistic integrity and a desire to constantly develop. I was discussing how Prince achieves such amazing levels of nimbleness and ingenuity with my colleague John Howitt, a professional musician who has performed for Celine Dion, Anastasia and Shirley Bassey to name but a few. John had some interesting things to say on the subject of preparation in relation to doing new things:
“To reach mastery in improvisation paradoxically requires intensive detailed preparation. What looks like a seamless performance is the result of many hours of preparation and Prince is meticulous in this respect. In business this has been referred to ‘the 10,000 hours effect’ by Tom Peters and, more recently, Malcolm Gladwell. The idea of prepared spontaneity contradicts what some so-called creativity and innovation gurus say on the subject, yet we constantly see parallels across many industries. Sloppy creativity produces sloppy results in many businesses”.
Furthermore John went on to talk about the use of synthesis as a spur to innovation:
“Prince is also a master of fusing musical genres and influences outside his core style to innovate. This enables him to still exert a major influence on artists of the 21st Century, such as Lady Gaga, Beyonce and many others. In business, the ability to cross mental boundaries is the parallel skill set, as exemplified by companies such as 3M and Google”.
I explored more of Prince’s personal qualities and the relationship with becoming an agile, ingenious and innovative company in the book “Sex, Leadership and Rock‘n’Roll”. I’m delighted to say that I managed to get a copy of the book to Prince at his last series of London concerts and was told that he found it very insightful. John Howitt draws a distinction between Prince’s level of risk taking on stage versus his experience of working with artists such as Celine Dion, who aims for a perfect, polished performance which can be reproduced night after night. Both approaches are valid and rest on thorough preparation if you want to reach out for excellence. An object lesson for all – if you want to be a high performer, know that perspiration is much more important than inspiration.
image credit: lyricspond.com
Peter Cook is Rock’n’Roll Innovation Editor at Innovation Excellence. He leads Human Dynamics and The Academy or Rock, and provides Keynote speaking, Organisation Development and Business Coaching. www.humdyn.co.uk and www.academy-of-rock.co.uk. You can follow him on twitter @Academyofrock
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