Creative Sparks from the World of Jazz – Part 5 of 6

Earlier this week, I launched a six-part blog series on techniques from the jazz world that can be easily translated to driving business creativity. Jazz music is all about spontaneous creativity and improvisation – skills that are critically important in the business world. We’ve covered a number of powerful concepts already (to read the full series, visit ), and I’ve saved one of my favorites for last: Substitutions.

Substitutions. Great jazz musicians love to substitute one thing for another. Like a chef who decides to swap out one ingredient for another, jazz musicians find fresh ideas by “subbing it out”. The piano player, for example, may substitute one chord for another. A trumpet player may “sub-out” one scale in place of another during her solo. A drummer may swap one rhythmic pattern for another. By leaving other things alone and purposefully substituting one element of their music for something else, creative sparks often begin to ignite for the seasoned jazz musician.

You can also put this technique to use to generate sparks of inspiration. Maybe you are working on new type of packaging for your product. You could decide to keep most of your original idea, but swap out the way the opening of the package from the top to the side. Perhaps your Creative Challenge is to streamline a 12-step assembly line. What if you left 11 steps alone, but swapped out one step for something different? If you are working on a TV commercial, what if you swapped out a male actor for a female one? Or rock music in the background for classical.

Substitutions are easy to use, and can open up fresh perspectives and ideas. Think about your creative challenge (or even the status quo) as several unique and inter-connected parts. Then, simply take one part at a time and try swapping out something fresh. What if we swapped aluminum for plastic? What if we used contract labor instead of full-time employees? What if we sold our product direct instead of through distributors? Let your imagination run wild as you substitute ideas to unlock your creativity.

Jazz musicians will tell you that the worst thing that can happen is not all that bad. If you really hit a clunker in jazz, the wisdom is to play it three more times to make it appear that you did it on purpose the first time. “Wow, that piano player is really avant-garde! How creative!”

What’s the worst thing that will happen if your substitution doesn’t work? Keep trying new combinations and you will discover untapped resources of sparks and imagination.

Look for the final post of the series, Blog 6 of 6, coming next.