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Melody – the discreet charm of ideas


Melody is the beauty of music, that tune we whistle in the morning, the “summer hit” we just cannot forget. Melody fascinates, conquers, seduces like a beautiful lover, is able to sink into the limbic system of the human brain, the one that deals with emotions, and thrills us, excites us, moves us, gives us pleasure

Franco Marzo - smart management Coaching& business development (and amateur songwriter)


What is melody? Emotions!

Melody is the beauty of music, that tune we whistle in the morning, the “summer hit” we just cannot forget. Melody fascinates, conquers, seduces like a beautiful lover, is able to sink into the limbic system of the human brain, the one that deals with emotions, and thrills us, excites us, moves us, gives us pleasure. Melody dominates all the other parts of music (rhythm, harmony) and bewitches the listener, leading him to download the song, buy the CD or go to concerts. Musicians are well aware of this and repeat it several times, as the refrain.  Music wouldn’t exist without melody, whether performed by a soloist, a singer, a first violin or any other instrumentalist. In Operas, the most beautiful melodies are entrusted to the soprano, the voice with the highest pitch, rising above other parts of the music. Melody is music’s patent, the "copyright" worthy of legal protection: whoever copies another musician’s tune could incur in a complaint for plagiarism. Melody is therefore unique, a figment of artistic creativity, born from inspiration (the composer), which corresponds in biologic terms  to the time of ovulation in mammals. In music, melody represents what was not there before: originality, novelty, uniqueness. For a company,  "melody" is everything linked to ideas and creativity: a patent, USP (unique selling proposition), innovation, competitive advantage, whatever makes a product or service unique and recognizable. Its effects on customers are surprise, wonder, excitement, joy, pleasure and an urge to buy. The most “melodic” examples nowadays are Apple’s I-Pad and I-Phone. People lose their sleep for them, going as far as spending the night outside the shops to be sure to get their new “toy”. Melody is pure emotion, joy, happiness, often out of proportion compared to its actual usefulness, hence the high prices, which drives the customer to want more.

I still remember the pleasure with which people exhibited the first mobile phones when they first came out. Some even mounted an antenna on the car pretending to have one. But seduction is not an exclusive property of manufactured goods, it can also apply to services. The first credit cards for example.  Diners and American Express were the most "exciting" because viewed as a symbol of prestige. Something as simple and ordinary as paying suddenly became pure “melody”, an emotion which gratified the customer.

Melody alone, however, does not always guarantee success. Some melodies, neither exciting or original, are made for winning music festival, but in the end do not "sell" much. They are weak, emotionless ideas that stir no feelings at all, and are often liked only by those who created them. At times, extraordinary ideas are simply not understood, and at other times it’s a case of bad timing. Just think of the transistor, the rights of which were "sold" by Bell to Sony in 1954 for next to nothing, simply because "they did not know what to do with it", not to mention DuPont’s nylon which suffered a similar fate. Furthermore, the failure of the Segway was also emblematic, the two-wheeled vehicle designed to revolutionize urban mobility has now been confined within certain specific areas such as exhibition grounds or law enforcement officers.


The competitive edge of innovation

Melody is used to sell records, make new fans and fill up theaters. Volare, and Yesterday, contain famous melodies,  heard millions of times worldwide. Their authors or descendants, still receive huge amounts of money for them. Likewise, even companies that innovate not only sell their products or services to a huge number of customers, but retain an important competitive edge. The Wii, Nintendo’s  famous electronic game, sold 65 million units in the first three years, allowing the company to recover from a deep crisis. Touch screen technology has determined the success of Apple’s smartphone, beating the more traditional Blackberry, Motorola, Ericsson, or Siemens. Innovations help companies to grow and develop. This competitive edge guarantees time and resources for research and development in order to continue to innovate and prosper. But “business melodies” enjoy an increasingly short lifespan. To make the most of them a good team of engineers, designers, marketing  officers and sales agents must be created. Coming to think of it, it comes as no surprise then that within the music industry, since new melodies are quite rare (after all musical notes are only 7 ...), to enhance them or make them look new,  big stars are literally surrounded by some of the best agents, musicians, arrangers, graphic designers and sound engineers. Never before has it been so difficult to protect innovations and patents. We all have in mind the recent clash between Apple and  Samsung, but that is not so unusual nowadays. Many inventions that changed the world, have many “fathers” depending on the country you find yourself in. In Italy, for example, a famous case relates to a long existing dispute between Meucci and Bell, though not the only one. We attribute the invention of radio to Marconi, while in the US Nikola Tesla is considered to be the inventor, with credits also going to Hertz, Maxwell, Farraday. The TV boasts four or five inventors: the Scottish engineer John Logie Baird, German Paul Gottlieb Nipkow, American Philo Farnsworth and Ferdinand Braun who invented, back in 1897, the cathode-ray tube without which TVs would never have existed . Not to mention the recent cases of Facebook or Microsoft whose "inventors" are considered by some as the undue owners of other people's ideas.

"Melody" is a very important part of music as well as business, but since it is just an idea, it can be rather difficult to protect and its competitive advantage is both short-term and risky.


How to do it? Create pathos and make space for the soloist!

Melody is often the result of individual talent, the creativity of the composer, his inspiration. And this has much in common with what we call "idea". When a good idea comes to light, what was impossible suddenly becomes  possible, what was difficult becomes easy, what was incomprehensible becomes clear, the unknown becomes known and the world lights up. Maybe that is why the image that best represents the birth of an ideas is the light bulb. But ideas are often the result of the personal initiative, courage and the ability to get personally involved of a soloist. But how could a company stimulate ideas, initiative and innovation? Business management books provide tested recipes. The most famous is brainstorming, the meeting where everything is allowed to be said... but where often everyone keeps quiet. Fortunately it’s not the only one. I have experimented, with some success, even using the “box of ideas” strategy; a box in which everyone is encouraged  to insert written notes with their own suggestions. The golden rule here is: zero cost ideas only! Anyone can have expensive ideas. I met the inventor of the Y10 slogan "piace alla gente che piace" (liked by well-liked people). Lancia attributed to that slogan much of the car’s success among female motorists. Planned for a 15,000 units annual production, it sold more than 60,000. The engineer Benedetto Vigna father of the Wii, had the idea of combining an accelerometer, invented to reduce vibration in washing machines during the spin cycle, to a computer mouse. The two technologies already existed, but no one had ever thought of putting them together: “zero cost”!

Favorable conditions must be created if great ideas are what we want. The key word is pathos, an ambiguous term which often refers to joy (sports, music) or suffering (that of Christ is a prime example).  "Suffering" as an innovation strategy is not recommended, but you can create an acceptable level of "suffering" by raising tension and then lowering  it at once, set challenging objectives for yourselves and then accept some reductions; put your employees to the test, let them be exposed to this tension, this will create a climate of uncertainty but, if you need ideas, something will certainly come out of it.

A prominent Italian banker, a leader in innovative ideas illustrated one of his annual initiatives which is to gather, evaluate and reward the most interesting ideas. To ensure transparency ideas were numbered and made anonymous to a jury. Only after completing the "game" the authors of the winning ideas were revealed and publicly rewarded. At this stage it might be appropriate to make a brief summary of what was considered so far, how are ideas/melodies created in six steps:

  1. Build strong pathos:  game, tension, challenge, uncertainties;
  2. Name the areas  (sales, communication, production process, organization, products, etc.);
  3. Set up a collection system (forms, boxes, annual event, collection point, drop box) which guarantees the transparency, anonymity and authorship;
  4. Create a competent and impartial jury to evaluate feasibility and consistency with the company’s philosophy;
  5. Publicly reward the winning ideas, even those that might never see production (imagine them to be like Oscars, for originality, feasibility, technology, design, etc.);
  6. Realize one of them every now and then, always acknowledging its authorship.

Authorship should be recognized only in positive cases, wrong ideas belong to everyone, while good ideas belong to one, the soloist who the audience applauds. In other words, make sure that good ideas do not end up having a hundred fathers, while it would be quite acceptable if bad ideas remain fatherless, otherwise, what are we playing at?

“Good melody” to all! And if a songwriter tell you so, you can rely on it.

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