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Innovation: It's not just thinking outside the box

Innovation: It’s not just thinking outside the box

Physical distancing requirements have changed how chapter members sing, plan together, and stay in touch. Adopting an innovators’ mindset will help your chapter adapt and stay ahead of the curve.

In the arts and nonprofit world, the phrase “think outside the box” is fairly common—and often accompanied by intense eye-rolling and annoyance of those who hear it during meetings. But thinking outside our current paradigms has never been more relevant for our organization. In the wake of the cancellation of spring contests, chapter shows, and our International Convention, chapters are looking for alternatives to their “norms.”

In a series of online Q&As with chapter and district leaders held in March, we discussed the opportunities that lay before us but also the innovations already being made, both outside and inside the box. Chapters have always been looking for new ways to recruit singers, promote shows, get sponsors, support local artists, and to preserve and prolong barbershop harmony. While many of the questions and ideas from these March meetings were spurred by challenges brought on by the COVID-19 health crisis, they can apply to our chapter operations throughout the year. It’s during the storm that we may discover how to be a better organization when seas are calm again.

Low-tech still matters

Sometimes, innovation can mean revisiting old ideas that have fallen by the wayside (cue Bluegrass Student Union’s rendition of “Everything Old Is New Again”). This is already becoming the case for many of our chapters during the health crisis. The simple act of a telephone call or hand-written note can be tremendously effective at bringing people together.

How many times in the past did you and chapter members wonder, “What ever happened to Jim?” during a chapter meeting only for the question to be asked, “Has anyone actually called him?” Genuine contact matters even more when it cannot be in person, especially when it comes to staying in touch with those who are less comfortable with technology.

Technology bridges many gaps

Now more than ever, arts organizations are taking their cues from technological innovations already employed by the business world. While there are some musical challenges, chapters are gathering and enriching each others’ lives using online tools like Zoom. The inherent electronic delay is too much to enjoy most forms of live group singing, but can be helpful for a directed sectional, music theory/private lesson, or even board meetings.

The true test is how we can utilize these tools going forward once we’re not worried about social distance. How effective and productive can we be then?

Innovation takes proactive effort - and requires swallowing our pride

In Steven Johnson’s book Where Good Ideas Come From, the author states: “Most hunches that turn into important innovations unfold over much longer time frames. They start with a vague, hard-to-describe sense that there’s an interesting solution to a problem that hasn’t yet been proposed, and they linger in the shadows of the mind ... assembling new connections and gaining strength.”

We only achieve innovation when hard work and proactive communication converge. It requires creativity and curiosity, and forward motion only happens when we set aside our individual pride, instead focusing on what will best benefit the chapter as a whole.

If we succeed, we can sometimes find answers to questions and challenges before we are forced to confront them.

How do we get there?

In the words of Tim Sharp, Executive Director of the American Choral Directors Association: “We ask ‘why,’ we read, we listen, we watch, we experience, we experiment, we fail, and sometimes, we succeed.”

What can your chapter use from its past without ignoring tools from its present and future? The sky’s the limit. And while we’re figuring it out together, know that the staff of Harmony Hall and the hundreds and thousands of volunteer leaders in our Society are here to help you. Let’s grow and innovate together!

About the Author

Nathan Ogg is the Chapter Success Manager at the Barbershop Harmony Society. An avid quartetter (lead of Harmonic Thunder) and chorus singer, he is also a Certified Singing Judge and a regular clinician for singing as well as organizational health.

This article originally appeared in the May/June 2020 issue of The Harmonizer.