Art, The Doors and the Joyous Theft of Creativity

To mark the recent death of Ray Manzarek, keyboardist of The Doors, the radio program "Fresh Air" re-broadcast an interview of Manzarek by Terry Gross from 15 years ago. The discussion, accompanied by Manzarek on the keyboard, explores the origins of the band and traces the creative process that led to the composition of "Light My Fire," perhaps its most popular song. In the interview, Manzarek describes how the band's guitarist, Robbie Krieger, had crafted a single verse of the song and had the beginnings of a melody. Then the band went to town, borrowing from centuries of different musical styles, and augmenting them with Jim Morrison's lyrics. The first version, according to Manzarek, was a "Sonny and Cher kind of song," with calliope rhythms and light-hearted lyrics. Given the musicians' jazz backgrounds, elements of John Coltrane's "My Favorite Things" were layered over both a jazz structure and a hard rock beat. Krieger's flamenco guitar training informed his solo. And then Manzarek, in his words, put his "Bach hat on" for the Baroque bridge that would ultimately become the intro to the song. Combine all of that with Morrison's goth lyrics and the song was a hit. Listening to the song once again after decades of enjoyment, but now informed by these background insights, opens up a whole new window on creativity and the value of theft in the process of making art.

From Bach to Coltrane, The Doors team used a range of influences and insights to craft a stylistically eclectic, elegant, and captivating work of art. It is this kind of approach to the creative process that helps serve innovation, whether in the arts, science or business. Innovative companies tap into this dynamic when they rotate their employees through different departments -- even ones where they may have no experience or knowledge -- in order that they may borrow from their insights in their own field of expertise to solve problems in another. The best, most creative initiatives are the products of team-based work where team members have varied, "T-shaped" knowledge: a little information about many areas, but a deep understanding of one. Putting team members together who have different knowledge and skills helps them to problem solve from their respective depth of experience and training, bringing a range of insights to address different challenges. Such environments are not just well springs of creativity, they are also workplaces where employees thrive and have high job satisfaction. Listen to the Manzarek interview; collaborating on "Light My Fire" was clearly a blast.

Take rapper Ana Tijouix's masterful "1977" as an example of this approach. The artist, herself the product of different cultures as she was born in France to Chilean exiles fleeing Pinochet's reign, opens the song with a cinematic swell of violins and then launches into a driving, chugging hip hop beat. Tejano brass is layered over haunting Spaghetti Western percussion. Harpsichord trills serve as the connective tissue between passages. Staccato stiletto jabs of lyrics transform into the pulsating, mesmerizing chant of the snake charmer. The song's many different styles mean one could easily hear it in a club in Washington Heights, the souk in Marrakech, or even in the soundtrack to an American television show about a high school chemistry teacher turned meth cook.

The creative process is often less about novel ideas as opposed to making new connections. Proust said the "real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes." What does it mean to "have new eyes" when trying to innovate? What we are learning about the creative process is that problem solving and innovation may be more the product of applying existing approaches and ideas to new areas than coming up with new ideas from whole cloth.