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Innovation with purpose. A game changing process that defines you.

Posted: September 13, 2023
Innovation is a process by which a domain, a product, or a service is renewed and brought up to date by applying new processes, introducing new techniques, or establishing successful ideas to create new value. The creation of value is a defining characteristic of innovation.

Do you consider yourself a master of innovation? It is possible that before this article, you may not have known what innovation meant. What are the steps or processes that define someone that innovates? Does it even matter? Well, these are some of the questions that we hope to answer before the end of this article and interview. However, there is so much more to what defines an innovator that can be covered in an article / interview. It is our attempt to give you as much information to make this topic intriguing. Hopefully, we can inspire you as well to follow the steps that lead to innovation.

The world we live in counts on individuals that create, design, and develop products or services that are life changing. Whether it is for our entertainment, health, or emotional support, it is a requirement. THE BEST innovators are filled with ideas that will change the way you interact with others. They affect the way you feel about yourself. Many feel that they provide meaning OR PURPOSE TO LIFE as well.

Throughout history, there have always been memorable innovators that have had a profound effect on the way we live. Such as Albert Einstein, Thomas Edison, Benjamin Franklin, Steve Jobs, and Bill Gates. There are others that would make that list as well. Few would deny the impact that these innovators have had on the human population throughout history.

If you are anything like these individuals you may wonder, is it possible for me, to become an innovator. After all, you have ideas, processes and strategies that could add value.

Let’s first start by referring to a popular resource for innovation:

According to Score.org the following steps to implement innovation:

 

Here are four key ways to help create more innovation in your business:

1. Don’t make everything about efficiency and scale
Typical business management practices in companies of all sizes favor efficiency and process at the expense of experimentation. But being innovative requires a test-and-learn approach that includes taking some risks and trying different things.

2. Embrace uncertainty
The fundamental nature of innovation is that nothing is certain. Businesses that are best at innovating are often dominated by ambiguity and change. Get used to it and create an environment that allows for experimentation, invention, and exploration.

3. Seek small innovations
Sometimes, thinking smaller is the best way to achieve innovation. Innovations don’t need to be big or audacious. Setting – and achieving – small, proximate goals and innovations may be a better way to keep the ball rolling. Most innovations are small, incremental things that are close to the core activities of your business – be they products, services, processes, or all the above.

 

Innovations can and should build on things that have already been done – they don’t have to be revolutionary. The kind of ideas small businesses and startups should want to generate are all about creating new value for customers.

 

What’s most important is that they create value for your customers and that no one else is offering them in quite the same way. The best innovators learn how to combine existing things a little differently or transfer concepts from other industries or domains.

4. Don’t try to isolate innovation

 

Sure, innovation can be a choppy process that is prone to failure. But don’t try to isolate it within certain places or people in your business. In other words, don’t feel like you need to segregate innovation from the rest of your business, where you have people who “execute” and others who “innovate.”

Execution and innovation can go hand in hand, and the bridges that help connect them are information sharing and learning. When you encourage employees – and yourself – to learn about new things and avoid “my way or the highway” type thinking, you will foster innovation in your business.

Those are some excellent points to apply to ideas that you have created. Some of the above tips apply directly to a business model. Note, that the principals can be applied under any process or creative idea Large or Small.

It is interesting how many topics at Guitar Thrills Magazine always come back to the music industry. That is because many ingenious ideas and innovators have a musical background. Such brands as Gibson, Fender, Bowes, PRS, Marshall, etc. etc. The list grows quickly when you think of all the brands that decided one day to improve upon how music is heard or felt. Thus, there was need for change and innovation.

This brings us to our guest for today. I don’t believe there is anyone that would doubt his creative genius. Many would compare him to some of the innovators listed this article. The name of this talent is Steve Vai.

Most of us that know his extensive accomplishments would classify him as an innovator. Steve Vai has an uncanny ability to create music and albums that will endure the test of time.

 

ABOUT STEVE VAI

Over the course of a more than 40-year career, Steve Vai has routinely transformed what would appear to be outrageously impossible into something very, very possible… and still also outrageous. From his days as Frank Zappa’s “stunt guitar” player to his more recent expansive and exploratory solo work, Vai has continually challenged notions of traditional guitar playing and composition – and on more than one occasion even reimagined the very instrument itself.

Which, he’ll admit, is not necessarily his intention.

“I don't sit around and say, ‘Okay, what can I do now that pushes the boundaries?” Vai explains about his approach to the guitar. “What I do say to myself is, ‘Okay, Vai – what are you going to do now that's going to interest you, that’s going to fascinate you, and that’s different than anything you've done before?”

The answer to that question comes in the form of Vai’s newest and 10th solo album, Inviolate, a nine-song opus that (sorry Steve) does indeed push the boundaries of instrumental guitar music – this time out, Vai quite literally invented not just a new guitar, but also a new guitar-playing technique.

At the same time, Inviolate presents his most focused, streamlined and perhaps invigorating music in years. “It’s very ‘Vai,’ whatever that means,” he says, and then laughs. “Someone else might be better than me at explaining what that is. But it’s just very honest music. Because a lot of my records, they're long and there's a lot of concepts and playing around with stories. This one has none of that. This is nine dense all-instrumental compositions that I wanted to capture and record so I could get out there and play them live for people.”

The desire to bring these songs to the stage was central to Inviolate’s conception. Early in the pandemic, Vai was deep into the recording of a very different record, one comprised primarily of solo acoustic songs with vocals. But as we’ve all learned over the past few years, sometimes the universe has different plans for us.

In Vai’s case, he was sidelined with not one but two serious ailments – three torn tendons in his right shoulder that required surgery, and a bout of trigger finger in his left thumb that eventually froze the digit entirely, making it exceedingly difficult for him to play his instrument. By the time he got through the recovery process, the world was beginning to open back up and he was staring down – rather excitedly – a slate of more than 200 tour dates. And so, the acoustic album went on the backburner, and the decidedly more made-for-the-stage Inviolate came to life. And to be sure, it’s easy to imagine Vai and his band exploding onto stages in 2022 to the electrifying strains of the new album’s barn-burning, melodic-shred tour-de-force, “Avalancha,” to give just one example.

But while that song, with its alternately grinding and throttling rhythm attack (courtesy of drummer Jeremy Colson and bassist and longtime Vai musical compadre Billy Sheehan) and long, legato strings of exceedingly hooky, high-wire guitar lines, represents the artist at his most straightforward and accessible, much of Inviolate finds him delving deep and wide – in some cases deeper and wider than ever before – to plumb the furthest reaches of his abilities and creativity.

The most fully realized example of this would be Inviolate’s mesmeric opener, “Teeth of the Hydra,” a sinuous, Latin-fusion-tinged composition that Vai wrote and recorded with a one-of-a-kind custom guitar he coined the Hydra. But calling the Hydra a mere guitar is selling it way, way, way short. Built in conjunction with the designers at Hoshino and based on a “steampunk motif” idea of Vai’s, the Hydra is a beast of an instrument – a one-bodied, two-headstock-ed, three-neck-ed creature that encompasses, among other things: seven- and 12-string guitars; a four-string bass; sympathetic harp strings; half-fretless necks; single-coil, humbucking, piezo and sustainer pickups; floating and hardtail tremolo bridges; phase splitters; and much, much more.

“It's an incredibly built machine,” Vai says. “I told the guys at Hoshino, ‘Anything that you think is conventional, don't do that.’ This was an opportunity to exercise brutal creativity. And they went beyond.” As did Vai in his performance. Throughout the track he employs the Hydra’s full range of tone and timbres to craft a guitar part that sounds, in its expansiveness and expressiveness, positively alive. “The interesting thing about the song and the guitar is that it all came at the same time,” Vai says. “It was one of those ‘inviolate’ inspirations – boom!”

That said, he continues, “I knew that I needed to create something with the Hydra that sounded like a real piece of music. It couldn’t be just a novelty. Because if you knew what my hands were doing, and how I'm using my left hand to create phrasings that work when I can't pick a note because my right hand is off somewhere else…my god. But the finished piece had to stand on its own. It couldn't sound like I was just trying to juggle stuff.”

While “Teeth of the Hydra” pushes the limits of what two hands can do on one instrument, another Inviolate track, “Knappsack,” finds Vai taking a more streamlined approach. Vai composed and recorded the song following his shoulder surgery, at a time when his right arm was in a sling (or, as his surgeon, Dr. Knapp, called it, a “knappsack”), and thus was able to use only his left hand when playing the piece. Difficult? Sure. Although when he released a video of his one-handed performance earlier in 2021, he says with a laugh, “soon after I started to see some clips of young kids pulling it off, too. It's fascinating.”

Those kids will likely face a greater challenge attempting to take on another Inviolate track, “Candle Power.” For this one, Vai not only set up parameters outside of his comfort zone (Strat-style guitar; clean tone; no whammy bar; no pick), but also – why not? – developed an entirely new guitar technique that he calls “joint shifting.” The core concept there, he explains, is to enact simultaneous multiple string bends in opposite directions, which “requires bending only the top joint of the finger independently from any other finger.” And while he acknowledges that bending multiple strings is not a new concept in and of itself, “I had not seen any of it done in the way I envisioned it,” he says.

Like “Knappsack,” Vai released “Candle Power” an accompanying performance video earlier in 2021. But he added a little something extra to the version that appears on Inviolate, with a newly recorded drum track from fellow Zappa alumnus Terry Bozzio (to that end, additional crack players who lent a hand to the record include bassists Bryan Beller, Philip Bynoe and Henrik Linder, keyboardist David Rosenthal and drummer Vinnie Colaiuta).

Other spots where Vai steps outside the lines? Try “Little Pretty,” a dark-toned fusion-funk workout played almost exclusively on a Gretsch hollow body guitar. As for what led Vai to the unusual (at least for him) model, he says, “It’s on the wall with all the other guitars, and I’d always just look at it and go, ‘One day I’m going to play you…’ ”

Or cue up “Apollo in Color,” where Vai’s soaring runs on his Ibanez PIA signature guitar (the newly designed model’s first appearance on a Vai studio album, it’s worth noting) are surrounded by filigrees of sound played on all manner of exotic stringed instruments. “I thought, ‘Okay, what can I do to color this thing up?’” Vai says. “So I pulled out all these little acoustic instruments I've collected through the years and I said, ‘I'm going to use every one of them somehow.’” These included a cavaquinho, a saz, a sitar, an oud and more. “Some of the instruments, I don't even know their names,” Vai admits with a laugh.

But perhaps the biggest stylistic departure for Vai is the album’s seventh track, “Greenish Blues,” which, true to its title, is an actual (gasp!) blues song. Or, at least, Vai’s version of the blues. “I've never really been an authentic blues player,” he acknowledges. Although, he adds, “I haven't really been an authentic anything. You would not turn to me to hear the blues or jazz or classical or fusion or even straight-ahead rock, you know? There's always weird stuff going on with me, and it's always very quirky.”

That said, he also points out that, like most players, “one of the first things I learned on the guitar was the blues scale. I thought I discovered the holy grail. Virtually everything I’ve played since then is derived from that scale. When I’m ‘mode-ing’ around the neck, I don’t think of Lydian or Mixolydian or finger patterns. I think, ‘blues with altered notes.’ So, in that respect, I guess everything I do is my quirky version of the blues – ‘greenish blues.’”

In essence, it all comes down to finding your own voice, and then having the courage and conviction to follow your musical and creative instincts wherever they may take you – something Vai has never been shy about in his playing.

“One of the great things about the guitar is you don't need to be a virtuoso to express your creative vision,” he says. “I mean, Bob Dylan plays the guitar perfectly well for his expression. So does John McLaughlin. You just need to decide how much technique you want or need to get there. For myself, I came out of the chute wanting and needing it all. So, when it comes to my music, I don’t feel like I must prove anything or conform to anything. I just love to think up creative ideas, and then use whatever skill I must manifest them.”

Which is what he has done, yet again, with Inviolate.

“An inviolate inspiration is one that comes to you completely pure,” Vai explains. “It appears almost in its completeness, and there’s a recognition of it as being right for you – perfectly right for you. There’s no excuses in it. There's no fantasy in it. There's just a recognition of ‘yes.’ And then you capture that in a way that’s authentic to your unique creativity. Hopefully, that’s what I’ve done with this record.”

INTERVIEW WITH STEVE VAI AND GUITAR THRILLS MAGAZINE

GT: Hello Steve. Thank you for joining us today. I know you are busy, and we appreciate the time you have taken out of your schedule.

 

GT: In connection with the topic of this article, would you consider yourself an innovator? Please explain.

Steve: It’s only just recently that I would consider myself an innovator of sorts, and that’s because I started to see that word associated with me.

True Innovation usually happens organically. It’s starts in the mind of person as a simple and practical idea that they act on. They usually do not realize they are innovating. I don’t think it’s something you can plan on doing because you never know the results of your “innovation” until you see the fruits of it in the world.
I do believe that there are certain things that I’m associated with that could be considered innovative based on the effects they have had as they blossomed. Some that might come to mind that I have contributed to are perhaps… hmmm, let me see… it’s difficult because answers like this can come off seemingly self-centered, but eh… here goes.

a. Complex polyrhythmic music notation. I started transcribing for Zappa when I was 18. Some of my transcriptions of Zappa's guitar solos along with the transcriptions of Vinny Calaiuta’s drums have deeply complex polymetic notation that is unique. They can be found in “The Frank Zappa Guitar Song Book”.
I believe it contains rhythmic ideas, the concepts of which have never been considered at the time. I did not know how “out there” or transformative they were when I was doing them.

b. The Ibanez Jem guitar: I designed this guitar back in the early 80’s as an answer to the direction my idiosyncratic playing was heading. The deep cutaway and 24 frets on a “Super Strat” style guitar, The pick up configuration and how the toggle switch splits coils for unique combinations at the time, and the floating tremolo system that allows for a note to raise perfect 5th or higher were all aspects of the electric guitar that were not conventional at the time are all now considered “innovative”. I didn’t know I was being innovative at the time, I just followed my simple organic desires. Off course there are people that will argue these instances and that’s fine. The ideas were unique to me at the time.

c. Diatonic Harmonization: Back in the mid 80’s I was approached by Eventide for some ideas regarding a new harmonizer they were designing. At the time, as far as I know, the word “Harmonizer” was trademarked by Eventide and they had originated the idea of it. At the time, their harmonizers allowed for one note that moved in parallel harmony with the main pitch being played. I suggested diatonic pitch change and multiple voices, such as 9, that could be effected separately so each pitch could be tweaked to sound different. Diatonic voices follow the a particular key that a user can type in such as C Major, etc. But also suggested the option to create synthetic scales that harmonized notes would follow. There were various other algorithmic ideas I suggested that may have been unique at the time, but the diatonic pitch change concept was new. These days it exists in most Pitch change effects and usually goes by the name “smart pitch shifting”. I perhaps felt at the time it was an innovative idea.

d. Whammy Bar antics: I would not claim that some of my whammy bar use has been innovative, but I’ve seen many others who have.
It’s not up to me to claim to be innovative but above are some of the things I might point to that others have claimed about me.

 

GT: At what point in your musical career did you believe that you were going to accomplish something great? What was the first indication?

Steve: I always felt as though I was accomplishing something great for me. The first time I was able to play my first Led Zeppelin song I thought that was something great for me. When I started writing music and composing in high school I thought that was something great for me. When I was doing all those transcriptions for Zappa, when I was able to play his complex music, when I made Flex-Able, Crossroads, Passion and Warfare, etc. etc. all these things seemed so great to me. But you never know how the rest of the world will judge what you are doing. I had no expectations of accomplishing great things in the eyes of the music and guitar worlds. I just new that all the little achievements I made from where I was at to where I ended up were just great because they gave me the feeling of accomplishment and joy.
I strongly urge every guitar player to feel that their accomplishments are great because if they take you from where you are to a new level, they are great accomplishments for you. You will never be able to know how anybody else will judge them, but if they feel good to you, they are your great accomplishments.
But I understand the questions you are asking. I never felt as though I was going to accomplish something great in the eyes of the world. I just navigated towards those things that were compelling, interesting and satisfying to me at any given time. But the first indication that I was making strides in the guitar community was the reaction to “The Attitude Song” from my Flex-Able record once it was included in an issue of Guitar Player magazine back in the 80’s. And then once Crossroads came out I felt as though I had contributed something that was energized and entertaining.

 

GT: You have some great releases throughout your vested time in the music industry. Which album stands out to you as being the ultimate reflection of your work?

Steve: That’s a tough one. I might suggest that my orchestral record “Sound Theories” is a good one because it has many of the songs on it that my fans enjoy and also has some rich compositional pieces.

 

GT: Outside of what you have accomplished, who would you define as an innovator of our time? What specific achievements stand out to you?
Steve: Anybody that has a connection to their uniquely creative inner voice and manifests those ideas into the world is part of a collective of innovation. Nobody can innovative on their own. It requires the innovation of the tools that came before them. I, nor anybody, can do anything without the achievements of virtually everybody else. In reality, innovation is a team effort. It’s a collective of thinking and manifesting that contributes to the uniquely creative manifestations of all. We like to think it’s one person but it’s actually a collective effort until perhaps an individual sprouts a product that is the result of standing on the shoulders of everyone who has innovated tools before them.

Many “creators” base their creativity on what already exists, sort of like AI. But anything that comes from pantomiming the achievements of others usually has a superficiality in it and is a rehashing of the past in different forms. True innovation comes when a person uses their imagination to conjure ideas and mental pictures that are unique. People do this in all walks of life be it cooking, business, art, commerce, sports, etc. etc. To be truly innovative requires a person to find those creative ideas that resonate with them very simply. You have to reach into that infinite creative fantasy zone within yourself and find things that feel exciting and compelling to you. Once you find an idea that brings you the feeling of enthusiasm and the knowing you can accomplish it, the Universe will do the rest through you if you let it. The only thing that can derail your uniquely creative ideas is yourself. The obstacles are not in the outside world. They are the negative thoughts you have about accomplishing your enthusiastic idea that are always at the foundation of the failure to manifest them. But if you have an enthusiastic idea that feels doable to you, you have to protect that enthusiasm. The evolution of enthusiasm is passion and when you feel passionate about your creative ideas, the sun, the moon and the starts will work with you to accomplish them.

 

GT: We mentioned that innovation can happen in all aspects of our lives. How has music transformed the way we view creativity?

Steve: Creativity has transformed the way we view and create music, or anything else. The creativity has to come first.

GT: When I think of Creativity and Innovation I think about the “Hydra”. How did the design and concept come about?
Steve: Thanks, the entire idea for the Hydra came to me in one mental download. I wanted to create an instrument that could carry and entire piece of music with a bass neck, tuned down 7 string, 12 string, 13 harp strings, guitar synthesizer, piezo’s, sustainer, various fretless parts of the necks, etc. I saw myself in my minds eye creating a piece of music that was first and foremost a good piece of music with a nice melody, and then performing it on this instrument by navigating it seamlessly, elegantly, and creatively and not resulting in something that sounded like a limited piece of music based on a gimmicky instrument. It became a compelling challenge in mind until it reached a boiling point and I felt as though I had to do it. Figuring it out was sort of like solving a Rubik’s cube. I really enjoyed doing it as challenging as it was for me.

 

 

I believe that anybody with some guitar technique could perform the piece if they had the patience and time. But it’s the composition of “Teeth of the Hydra” and the way I navigated the parts that’s the real marvel.

 

GT: I can experience some challenges playing one guitar. How do you managing playing 3 in 1?

Steve: Very carefully, 😉

 

GT: How do you compare the sound of the Hydra compared to what you are used to performing with? I believe it’s an Ibanez product, but as you know not all models have the same sound. Can you provide us with some insight into the advantage of performing with the Hydra?
Steve: One great advantage is that it looks so freakin cool to witness, and I see myself as a service provider of quality entertainment for people who are interested in that kind of thing. The Hydra is a beast to play. The 7 string neck is not so far different in tone that my normal tone with the exception of the low drop-A tuning. For this track I processed the bass like a conventional bass guitar, the 12 string as a clangy mass of harmonic direction, and the 13 harp strings as something similar to the 12 string.

GT: Now, I want to get into the album Inviolate. After so many successful releases, did you picture that you will still be crushing the music industry with a new album like Inviolate?
Steve: I don’t know about crushing the music industry but offering a particular brand of music… Yes, because I love chasing compelling ideas. That’s what I believe all artists that continue to create as they age do. It’s a blessing and a curse. You do it too. You get a compelling idea for something, (maybe in your case its’ writing) and then the idea becomes so compelling you just find yourself navigating to manifest it. These interview questions may be an example. When we follow our creative impulses with no excuses, age and time are not a restriction, within reason of course.

GT: You have been to many places in the world. Do you have a favorite country to perform at? Any specific stadiums that stand out to you?

Steve: I enjoy it all! But I just say, latin communities usually express their zeal more powerfully than most. The first time I played Madison Square Garden was pretty stand out for me because I remember the first concert I saw was there. It was Led Zeppelin, my favorite band. I think I was 14 years old. The seat I had was the furthest seat from the stage in the building in the complete back up against the wall. I was riveted and could not believe I was seeing Jimmy Page play in real life. It was a transformative experience for me. The first time I played MG when I was doing my guitar solo on the ego ramp at the front of the stage, I looked up, way back at the seat I sat in for Led Zeppelin and played my solo to the kid sitting in it.

 

GT: What do you think about the types of music that are played today? Do you get inspired by any of the newcomers? If so, who stands out to you?

Steve: I’m fortunate in that I have seen perhaps 3-4 generations of guitar players evolve and in each evolution I find things to enjoy. I find many things in contemporary music I love in various fields. Some of the innovations in playing and technology are stunning. I see so many new guitar players that inspire me, especially the new players like the Polyphia boys, Matteo Mancuso, Daniele Gottardo, Tosin Abasi, Guthrie Govan, Sarah Longfield, Christine Ingram, Mateus Asato, Marcin, Mohini Dey, Ichika Nito, , Yvette Young, Cory Wong and many others.

GT: Excellent feedback. I know I have taken up much of your time with this interview. However, I deeply appreciate that you have spent some time with us today. I totally respect your guitar knowledge and insight. You will always be one of the top guitarists of all time. Please let us know if we can do anything to help promote your new release. Thank you.

Steve: You are very kind, many thanks.

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