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What do OK Go, creative processes, and software dev have in common?

Silvana Gaia


September 24th, 2018

I have been following the OK Go band for a couple of years now. If you’re not familiar with them, they’re an American rock band originally from Chicago, Illinois, now based in Los Angeles, California. The band is known for their quirky and elaborate one-take music videos. Check out my favorite video:

I’m amused, not only by their creativity, but also for a couple of other aspects related to their vision and their journey to becoming a highly successful band.

They started with big labels like EMI, but in 2010 they formed an independent label called Paracadute. Damian Kulash, lead singer and guitarist said: “We’re trying to be a DIY [do-it-yourself] band in a post-major label world.” Since then they had been partnering with companies like Yahoo, Cisco, Range Rover, Samsung and Google Chrome.

Damian Kulash delivered a talk featured on TED.com about the band’s creative process. He explains how they don’t just “think” an idea but they “find an idea”. He defines an idea as “a set of relationships that you unlock”. After finding their ideas, they use holistics and maths to validate the idea before implementing it.

I found this approach very interesting as I have always thought about the ownership of ideas. With the access to information that we currently have, it is very unlikely that you “own” an idea. Although we may not like it, it is certainly possible that someone else had come up with your same idea or otherwise somehow another person found your idea and implemented it. So, the question is: who owns the idea? The one who thought about it or the one who actually took action about it? I think the one who took action, but that’s just my opinion. Of course, lawyers do know how to own an idea. And by the way, this is not my idea either, it is a variation of Brian D. Evans´ one, who was inspired by Elizabeth Gilbert, and it goes on and on recursively.

Going back to the OK Go band, I can’t help thinking of the similarities between their creative process and the software creative process. To build new products and services that solve customer problems we use Design Thinking techniques and Agile methodologies.

What do the band “OK Go”, creative processes, and software development have in common?

Tim Brown defines Design Thinking as ¨a human-centered approach to innovation that draws from the designer’s toolkit to integrate the needs of people, the possibilities of technology, and the requirements for business success.” It is really important to find the right spot between what the customer desires, what is technological feasible, and also within budget. OK Go uses an idea sandbox to find the right ideas that will satisfy all three of those variables.

Lean software development, part of Agile software development, emphasizes optimizing efficiency and minimizing waste when building software. This methodology enables you to rapidly validate new products/features/ideas with users and revise your plans to adjust them to what really works for them. This goal is achieved by shortening product development cycles with the intention to reduce risks. When you listen to Ok Go’s TED talk, you can immediately see the similarities with their approach to creating music.

The music industry may be more glamorous than creating software, but OK Go demonstrates how you can use similar rigorous methods to maximize resources, while experimenting in a controlled sandbox, to achieve innovation with high-quality outcomes.

Earlier this week, my colleague Alejandra Rodriguez, wrote about the relationship between software and art, and I see this connection vividly in OK Go’s music.

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