Innovation: How to Make Smart Choices in the Small Things

Small steps can lead to significant innovation, to success that far outweighs the size of the changes. Businesses that encourage a culture of innovation across their teams are the ones that run ahead and set the pace for those around them. But how do you make smart choices in the small things so they add up to a big impact when it matters most?

Pay Attention to the Little Things

Beethoven’s 5th Symphony is an inventive and innovative piece of music. After years of crafting, Beethoven creates what was a radical work in its time, paving the way for a new era in music.

Born in Germany in 1770 and introduced to music at an early age by his father, Beethoven moved to Vienna, Austria when he was 22. Vienna was the centre of all musical activity in Europe, and he hoped to study with Mozart. However they were never to meet. Despite this – and the hearing loss which began when he was just 26 – he spent the rest of his life there performing and composing music.

In his 5th Symphony one of the many innovations Beethoven made was adding a piccolo. He also added a contrabassoon and three trombones, the first time these instruments had been used in the symphonic repertoire. Waiting silently through the whole symphony up until the Fourth movement – Beethoven wrote one of the most important piccolo parts in all of orchestral literature.

It’s one of the smallest instruments there is, originally known as a fife and used for conveying military messages, it had been re-designed and subsequently used by Handel and Vivaldi. Its name in Italian means ‘small’, but its sound is distinct – one octave higher than the flute – and Beethoven used it to its full potential.

Make Room for the Unexpected

Imagine Beethoven’s 5th played entirely by the string section. Of course it would be difficult to even convey the four movements, with their tension and triumph, with only one type of instrument. However he used every instrument that was at his disposal, and still spotted what was missing and managed to include it, to make the overall sound richer, more startling, and triumphant.

Many industries and individuals can fall into the trap of settling for the success they’ve achieved to date, growing complacent with the status quo. However making space for something new or different, although challenging, can increase the opportunity for innovation. Considering individuals or ideas from unlikely places can contribute just as much as the sound Beethoven’s piccolo produced.

Apple’s Tim Cook once said,  “I know it’s a cliche, but people are our most important asset in the world by far. It’s people who deliver innovation. We are the most focused company that I know of or have read of or have any knowledge of. We say no to good ideas every day. We say no to great ideas in order to keep the amount of things we focus on very small in number so that we can put enormous energy behind the ones we do choose.

Apple make a point of hiring innovators – “it’s people who deliver innovation”. Different kinds of people, just like different kinds of instruments, deliver different sounds, contributing to the corporate tune, which in Apple’s case is fine-tuned to distinction.

Be prepared for the Long Haul

It took Beethoven four years to write his 5th Symphony.

These days rarely do Apple release something perfect the first time. They are often innovating ‘outside the box’, creating a need for something we didn’t know we needed, but with the urgent pressures of the marketplace, only as perfect as is possible at the time of release. And then they follow it up refining all the time. They are on the move. Creating, releasing and refining. Unafraid to innovate.

Although it’s often that one thing that makes all the difference, it’s the culmination of all the hard work that’s gone before that allows that small idea to cross the threshold accomplishing what Malcolm Gladwell describes in his book as The Tipping Point.

We tend to enjoy the launch parties and new releases but behind the scenes of course the work has been no more than incremental at times, and yet someone somewhere has had to keep the project on track and the team focussed and motivated in order to get to that new product or service. It might not be perfect but it’s ready to go. And it’s patience which provides an environment to joins the dots together that can really create the big splash.

Three Things About Innovation

Did Beethoven have all this in mind when he considered adding the piccolo to his repertoire? Probably not but he understood a few things about innovation –

  • Pay attention to the little things because they can make a big difference. The piccolo is small in size – half the size of a flute – and Beethoven wasn’t the first in using this instrument but he was original in how it used it, where and when. He introduced a small change and it made a big difference.
  • Make room for the unexpected because original ideas don’t usually come from the same place every time. What succeeded last time, won’t necessarily work this time. In most industries today, just keeping up with the competition is hard enough. Most of us tend to rely on who or what we’re comfortable with, especially when there are big budgets on the line. Our tendency is go with what’s tried and tested but what about considering someone or something you haven’t before? Getting outside your comfort zone could challenge your preconceived ideas and may result in a connection or solution you wouldn’t have seen otherwise. After all, most innovations arise out of great teamwork and generous amounts of collaboration.
  • Be prepared for the long haul because innovation doesn’t happen overnight. Beethoven worked on his 5th Symphony for years, writing and re-writing, re-visiting his first draft and his introduction of the piccolo doesn’t arrive until the Fourth Movement. Ideas come and go but it takes patience and perseverance to implement them and it’s that knowledge that leads to great innovation.

None of this is possible without keeping ourselves fresh, engaged, and open to the little things, seeing them first or in unexpected places, and having the courage to explore, create space, and persist with something that perhaps hasn’t been seen or done before.

Two hundred years later Beethoven’s 5th Symphony is one of the most well known pieces of music, with probably the most famous opening first minute of music in history. He paid attention to the little things and the result was beyond his imagination.

On Wednesday 25th November 2015 Moving Performance present Know the Score® – a day in London with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, exploring how their expertise and world-class levels of performance can help you to fine-tune your business – featuring Beethoven’s 5th Symphony. If you are interested in being a part of this engaging and insightful experience, please get in touch.

Watch Beethoven’s 5th Symphony