As the American Choral Directors Association anticipates our biennial National Leadership Conference in early June, our thinking is focused on innovation.
As I try to describe our mission and work in a single line, this is what I come up with: “We evoke sounds through a community of singers for the satisfaction of unique human emotional needs.” In other words, as choral directors, we perform a role that matters in society because of the fundamental inner life needs of fellow humans.
In 2011, the GE Corporation conducted a survey in which they interviewed a thousand senior business executives in twelve countries on the topic of innovation. The most remarkable findings of this survey were the kinds of innovation these leaders think will be most important in the future. 77 percent agreed that “the greatest innovations of the 21st century will be those that have helped to address human needs more than those that had created the most profit…” The common denominator between my work and the results of this survey comes in the action of satisfying human needs.
It is the opinion of business leaders and that of leaders in many areas that innovation is critically needed in our present and future thinking. Joel Podolny, vice president of human resources at Apple and dean of Apple University, explains, “Succeeding through creation often requires innovation—figuring out how to put together and add value to things that just weren’t there before.” For me, this is the challenge to our work and the mission of ACDA in the 21st century related to the choral profession.
Innovation is a mindset. However, it is more than simply declaring the desire to be innovative. In order to be innovative, we have to think innovatively.
• Thinking innovatively requires that we have empathy for those we serve, imagining the world through multiple perspectives.
• Thinking innovatively requires integrating parts of a problem toward a breakthrough innovative solution.
• Thinking innovatively requires optimistic thinking, knowing that there is at least one breakthrough idea that will be a solution.
• Thinking innovatively requires experimentation, or a process of trial and error as we think through various solutions.
• Thinking innovatively requires collaborative thinking, drawing from the skills and knowledge of others and not relying solely on oneself.
A dashboard of innovation would look like this: Empathy, Integration, Optimism, Experimentation, Collaboration. As our ACDA leadership meets soon in Minneapolis, we hope to view our responsibilities through these filters as we move toward innovation in carrying out our work.