When people ask me to describe the first step on the path to innovation, I say, “Listen! It's all about the Art of Listening. It's listening to learn!”
Most of us assume that we know how to listen, whether it is music playing, birds singing, or people talking, but in my view, all we're really doing is just hearing. Listening is something much deeper.
Several years ago, I saw a PBS public service announcement that opened with a composer sitting alone at his piano. We could see his frustration and despair as he struggled, without success, to craft his melody. Suddenly, his efforts were interrupted by the sound of flapping wings outside of his open window. He turned to watch as a flock of birds arranged themselves on telephone lines, as if they were notes on a bar of music. He tapped out the notes on his piano that the birds had formed and listened to the melody. Quickly, he turned that melody into an elegant symphony, and the message “be more inspired” appeared on the TV screen. To me, this is the essence of listening and the heart of innovation. When we listen to the world around us, we will often find inspiration—or even just important information—from the most unexpected sources.
Since the time we were children, our parents and our schools helped us to become better readers and better writers and better speakers. But if we think about it, how often did we have lessons in listening? The education system doesn't even recognize listening as a discipline. That's ...