This is an excerpt of the book Processing Creativity: The Tools, Practices And Habits Used To Make Music You’re Happy With. If you would like to download an excerpt or buy a copy you can do so here.

The Hub And Spoke Method

In Cal Newport’s Deep Work, he talks of a hub and spoke method of execution, where each person in a team will go back to their private office to develop an idea. They then vet the idea together in a collaborative environment. This method allows development to occur in private without the interruption of flow. Later, when the idea is fleshed out it, can be vetted by the group.


Even if you have a positive environment for developing songs that would make the happiest hippie kindergarten teacher give you a gold star, band practice is still not the optimal place for creativity to occur. Keith Sawyer, a psychologist at Washington University, talks about decades of studies that show brainstorming results in a worse creative outcomes. Instead, the best creative outcomes come when the individuals work alone and later pool their ideas.


Since we know being creative in front of others isn’t the optimum environment, why is every startup employing an open office with no room to think alone? MIT’s Building 20 is considered a mecca of creative achievements such as Noam Chomsky’s linguistics department, which influenced both Pixar and Facebook’s open offices being built around the hub and spoke idea. But unlike the open offices cheered throughout startups today, a small detail is left out of Building 20’s history; it contained soundproofed offices for isolated work, unlike modern open office designs.


This allowed the creators to work alone in their own spoke but also meet with others in the hub. This model lets them think in private but then, when they’d leave their private soundproofed rooms, the building was designed to make serendipitous run-ins happen as often as possible, exposing them to other ideas outside their discipline. Put simply, the creators worked alone but were very likely to discuss with others what they're working on to gain both insight and objectivity into their work.


So if song development in groups is often toxic to creativity, how do we fix it? This model can be taken right back to many of the deficiencies of the band practice room or the modern day writing songs around a computer approach. Knowing what we know about creativity, it's usually best for one person to work by themselves when they feel inspired and then continually go back for collaborative vetting in the hub. In the modern band sense, this means working alone on a song privately and then taking it to the practice room or inviting collaborators to the studio to refine after you've gotten your creative burst out. When the collaborative environment gets stuck on a problem, it can be especially helpful to take the problem home to work in private.


Employing the hub and spoke method isn't always about going from your home demo studio to a collaborative band practice room. Chris Baio from Vampire Weekend talks about their band evolving from jamming in a room to now sending demos back and forth, with members adding their parts on top of what's already there in a DAW. The benefits of this practice are echoed in interviews I've done with members of Thrice and Publicist UK who, like Vampire Weekend, live in different cities, so to effectively collaborate, they have no other choice.


A hidden benefit to this method gets back to what we discussed when members of a group need to feel they're being heard and not shut down. By developing your idea on your own, you're free to build it until you're happy with it without criticism. The option paralysis of too many collaborators trying to get their ideas through at once can be paralyzing. Getting the initial idea as far along as possible in seclusion can allow a more clear mindset to avoid many pitfalls of creative obstruction.


Visionless people always defend the status quo. While I know most of our favorite songs were birthed in band practice sessions or sitting around a studio computer, this doesn't mean we can't reach greater heights by learning from this concept. But taking creative contributions out of the practice room for further development can help many musicians get to a much better creative place.

This is an excerpt of the book Processing Creativity: The Tools, Practices And Habits Used To Make Music You’re Happy With. If you would like to download an excerpt or buy a copy you can do so here.