Dan Keldsen is a graduate from the Berklee College of Music in Boston and holds a dual degree in Music Synthesis Production (digital recording and sound production) and Songwriting, with a focus on Lyricwriting. He is now president and principal consultant for Information Architected, which helps its customers develop methods for the intelligent use of corporate content, knowledge and business processes to foster innovation.
He says he is inspired by Rush for their teamwork, Steve Vai for innovation, and, for the best combination of both, Frank Zappa. “He knew exactly what he was doing, and freely bent, broke and reassembled the rules to suit his needs, and was a true musical genius.”
How did you go from Berklee to being an innovation consultant?
Interestingly enough, if I knew what I now know from having done business-focused innovation work, when I was at Berklee, I would've been far more productive and effective as a musician. That said, Berklee and my life as a musician prior to Berklee were a great proving ground for the collaborative innovation I've done professionally.
My interests were always in high-tech and writing, so my path from a musician into the world of technology-enhanced collaboration and innovation was really just a winding path from what I had done in small teams (bands, choirs, etc.), translated into the corporate world.
When I was studying music, I believed it was creepy and robotic to be given "tools" to be more innovative, and now having trained hundreds if not thousands of people in innovation, I now know that having the right tools, and enough of a "box" (focus) around what you're innovating on, is incredibly liberating and empowering.
Attention to detail in performance, and the rehearsing/practicing prior to a performance, has certainly translated well into many professional scenarios. Whether it’s the writing, re-writing and editing that goes into a strategy document or information management assessment, or a direct "performance" such as a webinar, keynote, workshop or sales pitch, it's about persistence and at times, the "grind" that you have to go through to deliver a professional-grade outcome.
Some of the best IT colleagues I had when I was still directly in IT had musical backgrounds, so the background skills and discipline of musicians seems to translate quite well into corporate collaboration settings.
What did you learn about innovation from music and what can IT managers learn from it?
The most difficult aspects of music, to me, were in finding bandmates I could work with successfully. Too much ego, too much "me me me," too much focus on "the look" rather than the music itself, and the band would collapse in on itself. When it was a collaboration, and we were able to leverage our strengths — for example, those who understood the marketing and business side of negotiating with club owners, vs. having blazing guitar skills or a distinctive voice (all important) — then creating great music was easy. Any friction among the players, and it was a train wreck.
In hindsight, and in what I focus on in innovation work with others now, you really need to know what and how the people on your innovation team can best contribute to the results you're looking for. The "best" innovators or musicians may be able to do everything themselves, but it's far more likely that a team, large or small, is going to be the best way to truly accomplish anything of importance.
Forcing people to get completely out of their comfort zones to innovate in a corporate setting — while there is a certain element of truth and usefulness to that — you are far better off enabling people to innovate where they are strong and comfortable, and surround them with others that do the tasks they dread or simply don't know how to do.
What recommendations can you make for IT managers regarding innovation?
The single biggest recommendation I can make for IT managers today is to stop thinking of yourselves as IT managers. Technology is a given for everyone today. If you're just managing the technology, sooner or later you aren't going to be needed any more. If, instead, you are more of a Chief Innovation Officer than a Chief Information Officer, then you are more a part of the future than the typical "keep the lights on" IT staff.
I'm not saying that keeping the lights on and making the business and its supporting technology running smoothly isn't worth doing, but if you're not part of the innovation foundation for your organization, it's only a matter of time before your competitors, and their more forward-thinking, top- and bottom-line technology groups blow so far past what you're capable of, that there may be no recovery.
I used to be a typical operational IT guy when I first entered the workforce, and thankfully, I discovered that if I weren’t part of the future, my days were numbered as well.
I find the vast majority of IT groups to be stuck in an operational mode, and I often end up being the bridge that connects an IT group that wants to be the innovation arm with the business folks who are dying to have technology innovation from the inside.
Often, all it takes is a bit of communication and teamwork, and the latent innovation that's been sitting around — perhaps for decades — can be unleashed much more rapidly than they expect. That's incredibly rewarding, regardless of what the "innovation" itself is.
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