Elvis’s Dark Symphony: How Environment Shapes Creativity

by | Feb 7, 2024 | Blog | 0 comments

Last month I was “stranded” in Nashville because of some unexpected weather. If you have to be stranded anywhere, Nashville is the place to be.

It gave me a chance to see some of the city’s famous sites: music on Broadway, the Country Music Hall of Fame and RCA Studio B, a spot on music row where Elvis Presley and Dolly Parton recorded many of their songs.

Take a look at this picture of Studio B. Notice anything special?

If you noticed the multicolored lights, you were spot on. According to our tour guide, different colored lights were used to help get the musicians in different moods for songs. Upbeat tunes would be performed in a room bathed in yellow, songs with a nightclub feel would lean toward a red light, while melancholy songs may be accompanied by blue.

How a box inspired a four trillion-dollar industry

On April 3, 1960, in a marathon session, Elvis Presley recorded 10 songs. After each song the producer would come out from the control booth, hand Elvis the same sheet music and ask him to sing it.

Every time Elvis refused.

This refusal went on for 9 songs. It was about four-o’clock in the morning when Elvis finally consented, but with one condition: He was to record the song in the dark.

The producer agreed. The lights are turned off and Elvis recorded the song that he had been avoiding all night.

That recording went on to sell 1.8 million copies. The song? “Are You Lonesome Tonight?”

If you listen closely to that original recording, at the end you will hear a click. That noise was Elvis’ head hitting the microphone because he couldn’t see it.

Elvis understood the importance of the environment for creativity.

You don’t need a multicolored light fixture or a dark room to be more creative, but the environment you put yourself in matters. Here are two things that you can do to create the environment for creativity in your organization.

1. Model openness and acceptance of ideas. Pay attention to your verbal and nonverbal communication. Much of our response to others’ ideas is communicated nonverbally.

According to researcher Albert Mehrabian, over 90% of our meaning is conveyed by our tone of voice and our body expressions and gestures. That leaves only 10% of our meaning conveyed by words.

How do you react when someone shares a new idea with you? Do your words say “yes” but your body expressions say, “no?”

2. Evaluate ideas by considering their PPC- Pluses, Potentials, and Concerns. When someone proposes an idea to you, instead of immediately saying “no”, consider the strengths (Pluses) of the idea, list the opportunities or possible future gains, (Potentials), and then list your Concerns.

Pluses

What is good about the idea right now?

Potentials

What might be the future spin offs, speculations or possible future gains. When you list potentials about the idea, begin with the phrase, “It might…”

Concerns

What concerns or downsides do you see to the idea? Phrase concerns like a creative question beginning with the words, “How to…”

If your concern is that the idea will be too expensive, phrase your concern something like: “How to reduce the cost?” or “How to find the money to fund the project?”

Generate ideas to overcome your concerns. When you phrase your concerns like a creative question, your mind will immediately begin to look for ways to overcome the negatives instead of disregarding the entire idea.

As the author and educator George Leonard wrote: “Acknowledge the negative but accentuate the positive. Telling people what they are doing wrong while ignoring what they are doing right reduces their energy.”

There you have it. Two things that you can immediately do to create an environment in your organization that nurtures creativity instead of destroying it, and you don’t even have to turn the lights off.

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Competing in our world today is difficult, and it’s not getting easier. To compete and be profitable you need big creative solutions and you need them now.

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