Final Reflection

Posted in Final Reflection on May 15, 2010 by steffenvm
  1. I. Introduction

After finishing my bachelor’s degree BA (Hons) in Music Technology and having gained a lot of experience in the music industry over the last couples of years, I saw the necessity to enhance my knowledge in a different subject (in this case business) which would ideally be related to creativity in a broader context. Hence, the MACE Course at Kingston University was the perfect opportunity for me to do so.

Without any background knowledge at all in business studies I was quit exited about what to expect and if and how I will cope with the upcoming challenges. I hate serious doubts if I can acquire business skills since I consider myself to more a creative person. Nevertheless, the MACE course revealed, that I am not only able to adopt these skills but that it was a lot of fun to me as well.

As it turned out, I gained a great deal of knowledge in this year doing the MACE course.

  1. II. Developing Business Skills

There is no doubt that the MACE course developed my personal skills. I did not only developed skills in the field of professional competence such as business studies but also, which is at least equally important, my social skills such as the ability to find my place in a group and work in a team. But let me start at the beginning.

By the time I learned that we will run a real business under the umbrella organisation Young Enterprise I was shocked and exited at the same time. Setting up a business initially seemed to me a highly difficult task. Setting up an official business was equitable to me with having to deal with a lot of bureaucracy (maybe because Germans are especially good at this), laws and other legal considerations.

Therefore, the course offered me the ideal opportunity to convince myself of the contrary; respectively it provided me with appropriate background knowledge of business practises essential to enhance creativity.

The first essential step we took was to find a group with similar interests but ideally different skills. After twenty minutes of speed dating I thought I will remain single, in terms of finding people to do business with.  At the first glance it seemed that nobody was interested in my background knowledge (music) and shared this passion with me. However, this proved to be wrong and even me I found a group to work with and the foundation was laid.

The next thing I experienced was that I was confronted with a variety of terms I never heard about before. Design Thinking Process? Activity Theory Model? Storytelling (only knew this term from Rap music)? Empathy? The learning experience had begun. While our group tried to find a business idea and a name for the company, I learned the, in my opinion, most essential things about being an entrepreneur such as:

Empathy for your potential customers:

Corrine told us to bring our tooth paste and tooth brush to class. Since, I missed the induction week and this was my first lecture, I was perfectly prepared and forgot both. Fortunately, this enhanced my learning experience because I had to use my hands and water to brush my teeth. This put me immediately into a situation where I could feel empathy for potential customers (thinking of situations where no bathroom, tooth brush etc. are available e.g.at the airport). Therefore, I learned how a need can be identified and a solution to it can be found by having my first prototype experience. In good Teamwork with Harry we designed a portable toothbrush ring which can easily be attached to your finger and fits into any pocket. Additionally, I recognised the important skill of observing (we had to observe each other brushing our teeth) in order to possibly identify a need and hence, in the best case a market gab.

Listening to Tim Brown IDEO’s CEO, I learned other essential things which helped us for Young Enterprise Company such as the Design Thinking Process. By looking at the four steps of the design thinking process; empathy, problem-selecting, solution understanding and solution selecting I recognised for the first time the importance of this order and how this is applicable to the “real” business situation. As Brown (2008, p. 85) describes it design thinking “is a discipline that uses the designer’s sensibility and methods to match people’s needs with what is technologically feasible and what a viable business strategy can convert into customer value and market opportunity.” This was exactly what our team was not able to do at this stage.

At this times our team Mango Media tried desperately to define our business idea. We spend a lot of time finding out our common passions and visions but left the first step of design thinking process out, the empathy or problem understanding. I will discuss teamwork and social skills in more detail in the course of this report. We could not define a real problem or need within our field of passion, which was music, and therefore lost a lot of time for future processes such as prototyping for instance.

After we decided that we are going to be a media company which will provide homepage designs, cooperate video clips, consultancy and many more we recognised that we have to take it back to the first step (finding a need or defining the problem) in order to narrow our business idea down. From a present-day perspective I can say that I will hopefully never make this mistake again, since the confusion at the beginning caused many other problems. Having not narrowed our business idea down at the very beginning we were not able to identify our job roles within the company and could not identify our potential customers which in turn caused problems creating personas. In this way many fun but not productive meetings passed. For this reason I learned that agenda setting and some sort of structure is crucial as well in order to release creativity. As Smith and McKinley (2009) explain creative labour still needs to learn and work with a set of rules and standards in order to allow unique and individual interpretation to emerge.  Wilson and Gurling (2007p.6.20) expand on that by saying that innovation in “Organisational terms, can be viewed as controlled chaos.”

As described on my individual blog the first business presentation in front of the class and especially the feedback of our fellow students and Corrine, finally pushed our business into the right direction; into the direction of creating a tangible product and specifying our idea. Moreover, I learned that small businesses within the creative economy require people to have different job roles at the same time. As Bilton argues (2007p.29) “in today’s creative industries, teams are increasingly moving towards a model based on multiple role rather than the specialised team-based or functional roles.”

In the course of our business activities throughout the year I also experienced the importance and necessity of prototyping. As Corrine explained us basic prototyping with simple materials such as paper is a quick and effective way of testing or improving your product or idea. As Snyder (2003, p.3) states paper prototyping in its broadest sense “can be considered a method of brainstorming, designing, creating, testing and communicating user interfaces”. Since, our business started off as a service we had hard times producing a prototype of our idea. Fortunately, this changed with our re-orientation of the business. A further great learning experience was that it is very difficult to apply all the learned theories and business practises without a tangible object in your hand.

So for possible future entrepreneurial activities I will use this experience and I will try to prototype my business idea, even if it will be a pure service. From what I learned in this year and for the reasons stated above I think that prototyping is crucial in order to set up a successful business.

Another area where I developed myself was the field of management studies such as accounting & finance, H&R management etc. I am really happy today that I choose to do MACE with specialisation in management and not music. Even I am still not an expert in these disciplines I have at least a profound background knowledge. I appreciated the fact that I could apply my newly gained knowledge to our Young Enterprise Company and the MACE class. Especially when we had to prepare the business plan, feasibility study and the final presentation which all included financial aspects. This experience gave me the confidence that I can apply basic business disciplines to real business situations in the future and release creativity based on the knowledge I gained in this course.

To sum up I would like to state that a precise definition of your product or service, a profound and detailed market research as well as agenda setting is essential to release creativity and set up a successful business. A “let’s just do it and see what happens” attitude is not enough in order to achieve certain business goals.

  1. III. Developing Social Skills

Setting up and running a business not only developed my business or entrepreneurial skills but also my social skills which I consider, from today’s point of view, to be an essential entrepreneurial skill as well. Working in a group enhanced my skill to communicate my ideas, problems and personal opinion which in turn is highly important in order to do successful networking. On the other hand I learned to accept other people’s opinion and respect their specialist’s skills. Before making these teamwork experiences I had an attitude of rather doing things on my own in order to get it done properly. But as I learned in this year, this constitutes a lack of trust from my side against other people’s knowledge and abilities. Hence, I am really thankful that my team members and the fact that we ran a business together teach me to build up. As a result I also learned that successful teamwork is not only about working together but also about human relations. I recognised that every individual is doing a great job in his specialised field but that everybody needs some sort of motivation and support in order to stay focused. As Mintzberg (1998, p. 146) stated “professionals require little direction and supervision. What they do require is protection and support”.

However, I have to say that more direction and better agenda setting, as already mentioned above, would have helped us to release more creativity and to work more effective.

Since, we did not know each other at the very beginning it was also a good learning process for me to see how group dynamic works, having so many different characters, diverse backgrounds and skills consolidated in one group. It was highly interesting for me to see how different people see themselves in the group (e.g. the leader, the follower, the organizer, the busy bee etc.) and especially how they rate your own skills and abilities. It is surprising if I see the difference now of how I saw my role in the group at the beginning and where I actually ended up.

Moreover I improved my skills in successful networking. My background as an audio engineer and music producer already showed me the importance of this ability but running the business and facing the challenge now of finding my way in the working life manifested the importance hugely. The trade fair we attend underlined this fact for me as well. I talked to a lot of people who were interested in our business idea and I swapped many business cards. Again this was another proof to me of the importance and necessity of social skills. I learned that it is important to keep in touch with other businesses and customers, to get a good feedback and evaluation of oneself and to gain new knowledge. As Tsai (2001) argues networking inside business units and with other businesses enables organisations to transfer knowledge and experiences and hence to improve the own business.

An important fact I would like to mention is that it was highly useful that we as a group were able to identify our problems even though we were not able to solve all of them. Even if I have to admit that our business failed in terms of making profit and launching our product on the market I am really grateful that we had the chance to fail in the secured environment of the university and Young Enterprise. This enabled us to learn from our failures and develop an understanding for running a business, without having a huge financial risk.

  1. IV. GROW Model

Goal:

Since, I was twelve years old I had the career aspiration of working in the field of audio engineering (mixing, recording, producing music). I continually followed this dream by studying audio engineering in Graz (Austria), and finally finishing my BA (Hons) in Music Technology at Kingston University. The ultimate goal for me would be to run my own production company successful enough to make a living. Since, this requires entrepreneurial and business skills my decision of doing a MA in Creative Economy with specialisation was the logical consequence to me. I took many hurdles, faced realities and had to make important decisions in order to follow my career aspiration. Therefore, I can consider this MACE year not only as an important step forward but also as a midget- version of my life so far in terms of the GROW model.

Obviously my personal goal and I think the Mango Media team goal was to set up and run a successful business and to make as much profit as possible. In order to reach this overall goal it is essential to set many smaller goals or steps along the way (The journey is the reward).  These steps were given to us by Corrine since we had to accomplish assignments every week and had to meet certain deadlines.

And that is the point where reality sets in.

Reality:

The reality is that setting up a business might be not as difficult as one might think in terms of dealing with regulations and laws. Nevertheless, running it and develop an initial idea to a successful business requires much more. Successful business means to make money or otherwise it is not a business (apart from non for profit organisations and charities obviously).

The reality I and we as a team had to face was that we could not meet the given deadlines. As described above our meetings were at the beginning of the course way to time consuming. Hence, we could not successfully accomplish all the interim stages.

Obstacles:

During the time running the business I experienced that you have to deal with some obstacles you might expect but also with some obstacles you cannot predict.  By the time Yvette left the course and hence our group, this became obvious to me as well as when Andrea joined our group. In the real world you have to deal with things like that. Especially if you work in a team such a change might have a huge impact and can change the whole dynamic and performance. This brings me back to the point of agenda setting and time management. The best time management can be worthless if the unexpected occurs. What if in the real world you get a new boss and you really dislike him or her; or the project group changes and you do not feel comfortable anymore?? Therefore, I learned to be prepared that sometimes it might be necessary to see work just as work rather than a meeting with some friends doing business together.  Different people have different characters but you should always try to see the positive side and acknowledge other people skills and knowledge. As observed by Tidd,Bessant and Pavitt (2005p.15) “innovation is about knowledge-creating new possibilities through combinig different knowledge.”

Therefore, I have to say again that I really appreciate the experiences I made regarding my social skills.

Objectives & Way Forward

Considering our company Mango Media, we had to find ways around certain obstacles several times. Our way out of the confusion of the early days for instance, was to narrow our business idea down to music artist press kits. Further problems we solved were the restructuring of our individual roles and responsibilities when team members left or joined our company. Moreover, we figured out that printed press kits might be too expensive to produce and therefore not profitable. Again we found a way around this hurdle by turning the press kit into a digital one. As Stempfle and Badke-Schaub (2002, p. 475) describe that problem-solving in general, and designing as a specific area of problem-solving, requires that a goal space and a solution space must be brought to overlap in such a way that an optimum fit between the goal space and the solution space is being established — the solution should meet all of the relevant requirements”. In our case the goal space was that we still wanted to produce artist press kits and the solution space was to turn our product into a digital one. However, it was in my opinion remarkable to see that the more challenges and obstacles we had to face, the more efficient and creative we became when meeting. This became really obvious when we did our advertising movie which was actually completely finished in a couple of hours. As Piers (2008) states boundaries and constrains such as time and money are a precondition in order to release creativity. Since, we learned towards the end to set precise agendas (especially Isara was really god at it) and had a better understanding of matching jobs with our individual skills this became true.

  1. V. Conclusion

To conclude I would like to say that setting up, running and closing a business provided me with a range of important skills for possible future business activities. In learning traditional business practises as well as creative approaches, and having the opportunity to apply them to a real live situation, I gained a lot of confidence and even more important I had a lot of fun.


References

Bilton, C. (2007) Management and Creativity: From Creative Industries to Creative Management. Massachusetts, Oxford, Victoria: Blackwell.

Brown, T. (2008) ‘Design Thinking’, Harvard Business Review 86(5), pp. 84-92 unusual leading [Online]. Available at: http://www.unusualleading.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/12/HBR-on-Design-Thinking.pdf (Accessed: 5 May 2010).

Tidd, J., Bessant, J. and Pavitt, K. (2005) Managing Innovation: Integrating technological, market and organizational change. 3rd edn. West Sussex: Wiley & Sons

Snyder, C. (2003) Paper Prototyping: The fast and easy way to design and refine user interfaces. San Francisco: Morgan Kaufmann.

Piers, I. (2008) The Illusion of Leadership: Directing Creativity in Business and The Arts. Hampshire, New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Mintzberg, H. (1998) ‘Covert Leadership: Notes on Managing Professional’, Harvard Business Review [Online], 76(5), pp.140-147 Available at: http://www.dkmuseer.dk (Accessed: 7 May 2010).

Smith, C. & McKinlay, A. (2009) Creative labour: working in the creative industries. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Tsai, W. (2001) “Knowledge Transfer in Intraorganizational Networks: Effects of Network Position and Absorptive Capacity on Business Unit Innovation and Performance”, The Academy of Management Journal 44(5), pp. 996-1004 Jstor [Online]. Available at: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3069443 (Accessed: 7 May 2010).

Stempfle, J. & Badke-Schaub, P. (2002) “Thinking in design teams – an analysis of team communication”, Design Studies 23(5). pp. 473-496 ScienceDirect [Online]. Available at: www.sciencedirect.com (Accessed: 10 May 2010).

Wilson, N. and Gurling, C., (2007) Managing Creativity and innovation. Surrey: Kingston Business School.

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3 PROTOTYPING AND PILOTS

Posted in THE OPEN BOOK OF SOCIAL INNOVATION on April 30, 2010 by steffenvm

You will find this chapter at http://www.nesta.org.uk/library/documents/Social_Innovator_020310.pdf page 50.

“As an idea progresses through multiple stages of rapid prototyping, it faces
many challenges: the feasibility of making the product, delivering the service,
how to deal with particular issues, what the economics look like, and how it
could be made cheaper. The driving principles at this stage are speed, keeping
costs low, tangibility and feedback loops from users and specialists” (NESTA 2010).

I liked this chapter because it is strongly related to the problems of our enterprise. We experienced exactly the points mentioned above.

I experienced so many times that prototypes are essential and very important for the given reasons in the quote. We still have the problem that we have to make our product cheaper. Furthermore the prototype gave us the opportunity to gather customer feedback and to improve the product. Without a tangible in your hands it is really difficult if not impossible to communicate your idea and develop it to a professional standard. Prototyping helped me to learn from my/our mistakes and is the best way of improving, finding solutions to problems and finally produce your product or service.

I also liked the idea of “Proof of concept testing” which we did on the Kingston University Music School. By interviewing our potential target audience (in this case music students) we approved the first time that our idea might be viable and useful. This is really important before you take the next step. Maybe it is just you who likes the idea (since we are all weird creative people this might happen:-) and creativity is useless if it is not applicable or realisable somehow.

Some weird ideas to inspire you:

GRMTV

Posted in Apprenticeship challenges on April 30, 2010 by steffenvm

For me and our team this was a perfect challenge since we have great passion for music and are all involved in the music business somehow.

Even if we did not win the can of Sprite it was a good experience for the following reasons:

1. Generating ideas and presenting them to potential customer in such a small time frame (3 hours) needs to be learned and requires a lot of spontaneous creativity as well as appropriate background knowledge of the market/business.

2. The challenge put us into a real life situation (B2B conversations, convincing the customer of your ideas and suggestions).

3. Realising and acknowledge your competitors work is quit an experience as well. There are many creative people out there, coming up with ideas you would not think of and they are finally competing with you.

Finally I have to admit that i can not share the feedback provided by GRMTV and Corinne that you should not criticise your customer (we criticised the design of their online platform). In my experience as a music producer, customers have been always honest to me about my work which helped me to improve my skills a lot. The other way around, I am always honest to my customers about their work, since they want to improve as well and they always appreciated this fact if not expect honesty from me. Without honesty, I would not have made it that far in the music industry.  obviously, critics  needs to be reasonable and professional but if the customer needs my help to improve his work, appropriate critics is in my opinion a must and will make you get the job in other cases.

Orange Invasion

Posted in Mango Media At The Trade Fair on April 30, 2010 by steffenvm

For the trade fair Astrid, Isara and me went to town to organise things that helped us to follow our branding strategy. The aim was to attract potential customers and business partners and to stand out from our competitors. Therefore, our stand was covered in orange colour, we served mango juice and our close followed this theme as well as you can see in the pictures below. Furthermore, we decided to  present our advert on a big I Mac screen (kindly carried and provided by Andrea -:) )to relate our stand to media and technology.In my opinion the branding strategy did not fail to have the desired effect.

Actually, this attracted many potential customers and other people at the fair which was the most exiting part this day. People really came to our stand, showed great interest and wanted to know what our business is about. I exchanged many business cards with other businesses which were interested in cooperating with us.

The downside was (but still an important experience) that we could not properly answer the question “How much do I have to pay for your product?”. Still, we could only estimate the costs, since we did only two copies of our prototype.

Anyways the responses, comments and suggestions made by the visitors were really inspiring and motivating to continue our juicy Mango Media Enterprise.

See pictures from the Mango invasion below:

The next step

Posted in Our First Tangible Prototype on April 30, 2010 by steffenvm

We decided to do our first prototype on my band project called “Canice & Stiffla” since this left us space to make mistakes and to experience if the design and manufacturing process is reasonable. Furthermore it gave us the opportunity to figure out the real production costs (not just an estimate) and the time needed to finalise our product.  It turned out that the initial design process was really successful and that our product is reasonable in terms of the manufacturing and time consumption. However, pricing is still a major issue since the printing (around 28 pounds for one printed press kit including laminating) and the purchase of USB flip cards (around 550 Pounds for 100 units customised) is expensive.

The name for the upcoming album of the band project is called “Tornado Lifestyle” hence design thinking was inspired by the name and influenced the outcome. Below you can see some initial designs of this session at inoversity and the final prototype:

Creative Leadership

Posted in Creative Leadership on March 4, 2010 by steffenvm

Suspending hierarchy…

The creative leadership classes with Miguel and sessions with Pierce made me think about the importance and scope of leadership.  The idea of suspending leadership impressed me the most. I tought how an Orchestra or the military would look like and how they can effectively and efficiently function without any hierarchy? The idea that hierarchy constrains innovation might mostly be true but did not the military especially, introduced the most innovative inventions of the 20th century such as the internet?  How would an orchestra sound like without a leader? So do we need innovation in any case? These are my thoughts now after being convinced that innovation is the key point for every business.

Drama sessions…

I have to admit that I have never been a big fan of role-playing games and similar group exercises. Mostly because I am such a bad actor and do not feel confident in doing so:-)! Further more I could not see the outcomes and the link to real life situations. However, the last weeks changed my mind. All exercises we have done with Pierce had a tangible and surprising outcome and were definitely applicable to real life situations. It was really interesting to see how  groups with different hierarchies work together and how different their results were in completing the same given task.

So should we introduce a hierarchy at Mango Media? Or stay like we are, with a system where everybody is on the same level and contributes equally?

We will find out….

TBC

Steffen

Update

Posted in Update on December 4, 2009 by steffenvm

Isara and Andrea interviewed music students about our product and service  on Coombe Hurst campus. The outcome was really interesting and helped us to further improve our business. Astrid worked on our homepage and the logo and the results are truly impressive!! Thx guys!

Here is a short version of the footage i edited.

I will now try to get a meeting with one or several major labels such as Sony/ATV or Warner Music to investigate their point of view and hopefully gather some important informations. I hope they will give us the chance to talk to them!!

This will  help us to position our company in the right place. WHO knows maybe we will make useful contacts within the music industry!