Future FWD

How Sound Can Transform Productivity

January 19, 2022
Digital Surgeons

"Can you hear me?"

It's a phrase we are all too familiar with over the last few years. A simple phrase makes us all feel human and momentarily powerless. While what is seen of us now lives in the rectangular confines of our screens, the real magic happens when we stare down what others call an impossible problem and we simply put on our headphones and get to work. We may not need to see work happening to know it is. However, the inspiring transference of energy we used to experience together now resides with keyboard warriors solving problems and inventing the next generation of the internet seemingly alone from home.

The design thinking process may be a gold standard that unites the design community, but every creative has a carefully curated approach to jumpstart their executive function in order to yield results. Sit around any creative agency table and the conversation is guaranteed to land on music and podcasts. In case anyone is confused by media representation, TikTok isn’t popular because it is a dancing app for Gen Z. It is wildly beloved across generations as a music and sound bite app. TikTok reinvented the user experience of the hashtag to be community-driven content creation that is centered around sound.

A career's worth of process refinement in order to put on that creative superhero cape looks very different in our new normal. Teams are left to co-create solutions remotely and asynchronously like never before. However, forward-obsessed organizations are already exploring Web3 opportunities on the blockchain to form new communities for their brand voice. As a leader in marketing strategy, I have traveled the country to consult with a range of leadership from small businesses to enterprise organizations. I can share firsthand that there is one universal human truth to team alignment. Seeing is believing. One of my favorite questions to ask a creative team is, "Should we say it or show it?" Visual communication has always been my superpower to influence change.

Do you want to make a big brand change?
Storyboard the target audience data.

Do you want to co-create with others?
Break out the whiteboard or post it.

Do you want to redesign your website?
You better show the research!

I don't like labels but if I had to pick, I identify as more of an elder millennial. One morning, my news algorithm chose hate with a headline that read, Why Do Millennials Fear the Sound of Silence? While that article clearly lived rent-free in my head for months it completely reframed how I thought about productivity in a pandemic. As a neurodivergent professional with a neurological prowess for pattern recognition, there is no line between scrolling for pleasure and scrolling for research. In my strategy world, form follows function and data paves the way for true performance. I started tracking content patterns and I couldn't help but notice the juxtaposition of Gen Z demanding bosses make work more meaningful on TikTok while Boomers recycle articles full of generalized operational or culture solutions on LinkedIn. While this may not be scientifically generational it's certainly a missed opportunity for empathic conversation across platforms.

If the future of work was an online group project then we are missing the first step to design thinking; empathy. The future of work needs to bridge the psychological safety gap between individuals being in full control of their environment and submitting to the office vibe that groups create. As headline after headline begged the question "what does the future of work look like?" I realized we are collectively solving the wrong problem and should be asking ourselves, "what does the future of work sound like?" According to TikTok, we didn’t understand the assignment! After all didn't we all find a quiet place to work from home before we questioned what it looked like? Only focusing on what we see limits our innovation.

Let's talk about the neuroscience of creativity...

What is executive function?

Remember the habit-forming craze in marketing? While "executive function disorder" does not officially live in The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) there are parts of our brain responsible for developing the skills needed to be productive in our day-to-day. Executive functioning skills include working memory, mental flexibility, and self-control. These mental skills are learned and can also be affected by trauma (like a pandemic).

How does the brain affect our ability to perform?

Consider the amygdala like the air traffic control of your nervous system. Trigger that sensitive protagonist and they'll shut the whole operation down to focus on your fight, flight, freeze, or fawn patterns. Anxiety, panic attacks, and nervous breakdowns are when the show just cannot go on.

  • The temporal lobe powers language
  • The frontal lobe powers decisions
  • The cerebellum powers physical responses
  • The limbic system powers emotional responses
  • The cerebrum houses memories

My Heroes in Neuroscience:

Where is the link between sound and the bottom line?

Phew, we got through feelings and by now you may be asking yourself... "okay, but where's the data?" Alex Edmans of London Business School and three coauthors collected data across 40 nations to measure the positivity of songs listened to on Spotify. They took the data from 500 billion streams and 58,000 songs and compared it to the equity markets in the US and 39 other countries. According to the story published in Harvard Business Review:

"We then looked at mutual fund flows and found similar effects: Positive music was associated with inflows. We even ran a test with government bonds, which should go in the opposite direction. Optimistic people should buy fewer bonds, because they’re at lower risk than equities are, thereby causing bond prices to fall. And in markets that listened to happy songs, they did."

If you're still unsure about the future of sound as a high growth category then you should know that Statista estimates that the worldwide music revenue in 2021 was $25 billion and is expected to grow to $35 billion in 2025. We are already seeing sound explode in home auditory innovations like Lovesac Stealthtech™ Sound + Charge. Its new technology leverages immersive Dolby Digital surround sound through their partnership with the premium audio company Harman Kardon. Also, the most recent CES technology and innovation conference this year debuted several luxury audio products.

How can everyone use sound to hack their human operating system?

Now, I can't share all of my brain hacks without also making it clear that not all brains are the same. Individuals with sensory processing issues, such as myself, experience the world with their amygdala ready to fire off a full-body alarm simply because the fluorescent lighting is too bright. Think of my neurodivergent brain like a manual transmission and the brain of a neurotypical like an automatic transmission. This means I spent my whole life studying what comes naturally to others and running an agile project for my executive function with software updates to my creative process. Luckily for you, I have become an expert in how to reset and get back into a flow state.

My Sound Hacks for Productivity:

Feeling low energy?
Skip the 2pm coffee that is only going to add to your anxiety and sing to a song out loud for a few minutes to increase oxygen in your blood. Make sure the song has multiple people singing. The choral effect releases the feel-good chemicals your brain craves. Daniel Pink dives into how to align certain tasks to natural rhythms of the day for peak performance in his book When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing.

Feeling lonely?
Body doubling is where colleagues work muted on video chat. This ADHD trend and TikTok community have brought us Focusmate.com which enables anyone to find an online body double.

Feeling distracted?
A perfect sunny day in New England means there are two choices. Work outside as a battery life and glare laptop warrior or admit you need two screens. When outside is a little too distracting I close the blinds and turn on atmospheric rain music to stay focused.

How can sound unleash creativity during any phase of design thinking?

The key to getting s#!t done is a carefully curated playlist. I actually organize mine by mood or vibe. I put together a guide below to get you started powering your creativity with neuroscience. According to a 2014 U.K. study by Mindlab International on behalf of MusicWorks 81% of people worked fastest and 88% of people worked most accurately when listening to one of four music genres. Fast forward to 2022, and we have amazing AI and applications like Endel which suggests soundscapes powered by neuroscience.

Hopefully you'll join me for the evolution of sound in the metaverse. I applied the core four music genres to boost productivity and organized them by design thinking phases and common tasks blocked by executive function. You can use this as a roadmap to customize your creative journey.

In 2022 I hope you always have...
✅ music to ideate
✅ music to execute
✅ music to think

Happy Streaming!

Sound & Science Guide for Productivity:

Step 1: Empathize // Research
Toss upbeat instrumental and jazz on in the background while identifying the problem.

Step 2: Define // Write
Clear your mind from all lyrics and get lost in planning and writing ideas with atmospheric or calm classical music.

Step 3: Ideate // Create
Get out of your head and allow soft lofi into your heart for a more meditative and self connected approach to inspire creativity.

Step 4: Prototype // Build
Jumpstart that nervous system and get back in your body. High tempo EDM and video game tracks are literally designed for listeners to get lost in time.

Step 5: Test // Admin
It's a tough job but somebody's gotta do it. Turn up the pop or rap and sing for the serotonin.

Now that we are literally on the same page I'm curious...

What does your future sound like?

Thanks for reading.
Digital Surgeons
Spread the word!