The Creative Process Model and The Black Music Project (p2: Collaboration)

Pt 2 Christopher Fuller uses MG Taylor's Creative Process Model and collaboration to turn dreams into plans.

Christopher Fuller


Industry Insight / Story


February 27, 2023

The Creative Process Model and The Black Music Project (p2: Collaboration)

Part 2 of 3

This post is part 2 of my series showing how my background as a graphic facilitator and visual modeler with the MG Taylor network helped inspire The Black Music Project. MG Taylor's Creative Process Model assists in organizing my thinking and coordination of the project. The Creative Process Model outlines seven different activities of creativity that go into generating ideas from conception to action. The seven steps of the process are 1) Identity, 2) Vision, 3) Intent, 4) Insight, 5) Engineering, 6) Building, and 7) Using. Read this previous post to learn how my experiences in Europe and Africa helped me in the Identity process to use visual modeling and storytelling skills to show how the history of Black music is the story of America.

A graphic of MG Taylor's Creative Process Model.
MG Taylor's Creative Process Model.
The Creative Process Model glyph for Vision

Vision — What Should It Be?

With the seeds planted from my visits to a Berlin house party and a trip to Ghana's Cape Coast Castle, I started thinking about how to tell this important story about Black Americans' contribution to the United States' cultural identity and global influence. For me, this first step means drawing and creating a visual model. While sketching in my journal, I remembered a class I taught on basic visual modeling principles in Turin, Italy, for Unicredit's young bank manager's program.

Teaching an introductory class on visual modeling to some young managers from UniCredit Bank in Turin, Italy.

As part of that class, I showed the group different ways to create a visual model, diagraming a branching system using the topic of jazz. It was one of the most popular and discussed lessons among the participants.

The graphic I used to show my students at UniCredit's workshop on visual modeling. It is a collage history of jazz using the same information in three different ways: 1) a mind-map, 2) a network diagram, and 3) a timeline.
The graphic I showed my students in Italy. It's the same information history of jazz depicted three different ways: 1) a mind-map 2) a network diagram, and 3) a timeline.

During this early visioning stage, I realized I needed to begin with a visual model to help tell the story I wanted. With that memory of teaching basic graphic recording techniques using jazz as an example in mind, I decided to adapt that lesson into a unified graphical map depicting the most significant genres created by African-Americans. I did countless early iterations of the drawing, experimenting with various genres and connections. I then moved to vector-based illustrating for easier control of editing the parts, and then I got stuck.

An early journal attempt (c. 2017) I sketched of the major genres created or heavily influenced by African Americans. Information overload.

Maps are models, and models are tools for understanding

Maps are another form of modeling, just as spreadsheets, paper currency, and even words and concepts are models. And models are simply tools for better understanding, playing, and testing ideas. One of the essential rules of understanding models and model-making in MG Taylor's methodology is the caveat: "the map is not the terrain." That statement means we must never confuse the map with reality because maps are just models that only select information vital to the message the creator wants to explain. A map/model containing too much information would be overwhelming messaging. Hence, models are a "slice of reality," not the real thing. But as I iterated my early map, it grew to include so many genres and subgenres in those early sketches that the message I was trying to express needed to be more apparent.

One of the essential rules of understanding models and model-making in MG Taylor's methodology is the caveat: "the map is not the terrain."

To get unstuck, I had to focus on one of the first lessons of visioning: decide upon my audience. I had to pick between speaking solely to music geeks or a wider pool of people interested in history; I went with the latter. To convey my story to a general audience, I chose to limit the map to only major genres that Blacks were the chief creators of and not go too deep into listing subgenres. So, for instance, jazz was simplified to a few significant genres that helped set the template rather than detailing all the dozens of subgenres that sprung up during and after the mid-twentieth century, like hard bop, fusion, acid-jazz, etc.

The other parameters I gave myself were to tell a story within a definitive period of time with an endpoint that ensured perspective for reflection because this would be a historical story. To show the history of how African-American music changed the world, I knew I had to use call-and-response music as the starting point. From there, the end of the 20th century and the birth of hip-hop was the obvious endpoint because it signaled the genre that would become the dominant cultural force of the 21st century. In addition, that period also marked the change from analog to the digital era we live in now.

With the beginning and endpoints of my map identified and my limited genre parameters, I thought I had the basis for my image — this marked the end of this phase of the visioning process. Now that I had the vision of what it should be, I realized there was much more work ahead.

Many iterations later (c. 2018), the map begins to take shape with the addition of countless hours of illustrations and the streamlining of genre information.

Intent — Do We Want It Bad Enough?

Now we are at the stage where things become interesting. Because at this point, I knew I had something and wanted to get it out there, and I also began actively thinking of how to manage MG Taylor's Creative Process in this phase. Utilizing the Creative Process's most powerful feature was how the Black Music Project went from an individual idea to an honest-to-goodness project — and that feature is collaboration! MG Taylor's Model of the Creative Process is a collaborative one. Matt and Gail Taylor preached the gospel of collaboration and how it is critical to scaling good ideas. Ideally, the Creative Process happens in a group environment so people can debate and bounce ideas off one another. MG Taylor describes the Intent stage as the phase where you "size up the situation" and "decide to do something." I sized up the situation and knew I needed help. And so I showed my map of African-American music (it hadn't yet garnered the title or status of "Black Music Project") to Callum Griffith.

Utilizing the Creative Process's most powerful feature was how the Black Music Project went from an individual idea to an honest-to-goodness project — and that feature is collaboration!

The power of collaboration

I met Callum Griffith when I hired him to redesign the branding and website for Griot's Eye in 2018. I was immediately impressed with his early design drafts for Griot's Eye, and I could tell this young man was brilliant and full of good ideas, so I shared my music map drawing with him and asked his opinion. I wanted his opinion because I recognized his thoughtfulness and wanted to see if this topic engaged him. I figured that with Callum being a member of Gen Z (also Caucasian), if he thought it was interesting, perhaps a broad audience of others would too. He told me it fascinated him and wanted to learn more about the artists I had now drawn as examples of the genres. It was evident at this point that I had poured countless hours into the map, which now included musician illustrations, so Callum asked a crucial question: why did I draw the graphic in the first place?

Finding the Intent together

Callum's simple but piercing "why" question made me think hard about why I spent so many hours creating this picture that didn't connect to any paid assignment. I told him I thought there was an interesting story behind the creation of all this music that I loved and wanted the world to learn about its impact. Articulating that intention to someone else was when the drawing began to take on a deeper meaning.

Though we both realized the illustrated map could be the starting point for something more significant, we needed more time to devote to it. The year was 2018, and my travel schedule was extensive as part of my graphic facilitation work at meetings and conferences nationally and internationally. So the idea sat for nearly two years.

The worst gift I ever received

The Covid-19 pandemic has been awful. It had a hugely detrimental effect on my business, and at its beginning, it evaporated tens of thousands of dollars of assignments in a matter of a couple of weeks. But the worst thing it did was take away so many friends and family members from many of us. It affected me deeply on a personal level, and it's a pain that will never go away. But out of that loss of business and family grief, I suddenly possessed one of life's most precious gifts — time.

Now that I had time, I got to work on passion projects and spec activities as part of my self-managed way of practicing resilience. I've always been fascinated with stories about underrepresented people — people we seem only to acknowledge after their time has passed or in crises when we realize how much we need them. I literally wrote a song about it during the pandemic. The map that inspired the Black Music Project is an extension of that interest in sharing stories of the unsung and underappreciated.

Callum and I were communicating less during that first year of the pandemic because he had completed his successful redesign of Griot's Eye's website and branding. But when I found myself with this unexpected gift of time, I contacted him again to see if he wanted to help me revive the idea of expanding my Black music map and publishing it online. Thankfully, he was excited to return to the project, and we discussed more ideas to showcase the drawing.

Inspiration from the New York Times

We got our biggest inspiration and sign that we were on the right track when The New York Times published the 1619 Project about six months earlier, in August 2019. I owe a massive debt to Nikole Hannah-Jones and her invaluable work in putting the 1619 Project together. Because seeing how much it impacted people convinced me that all this free hard work we did was for a good reason. Because of the 1619 Project, Callum and I realized the scope had grown beyond just publishing the map. We started talking about telling the stories behind all these genres and artists. The 1619 Project also led me to add a timeline at the top of the map, which helped put the image into historical context. Adding the timeline reinforced that this was too big a story to tell with just the illustrated map. I realized that with more help, we were on to something meaningful. But it would require a lot of work. So the question at that moment was, "do we want this bad enough to make the sacrifices needed?" The answer was yes.

With the addition of the timeline at the top, the map gains historical context and now tells a story.
I owe a massive debt to Nikole Hannah-Jones and her invaluable work in putting the 1619 Project together. Because seeing how much it impacted people convinced me that all this free hard work we did was for a good reason.
The Creative Process Model glyph for Insight

Insight — What's the Big Idea and Engine to Get Us There?

According to MG Taylor's Model of the Creative Process, the Insight stage is the culmination of everything that has come before and when the confusion begins making sense. As the confusion faded, we realized the big idea, developing a more extensive project regarding Black American music and its history. And because the purpose had grown beyond just publishing a cool map of Black music genres, I needed a lot of help researching and writing about centuries of Black American music and culture. So once again, I leaned on the power of collaboration and reached out to one of the smartest people I know — my older brother, Marc Fuller.

Adding Marc helped increase our focus on history and uncover compelling stories about the key players. His championing of genres and artists I had failed to include in early drafts helped make it a better story. For example, though I had done an early draft illustration of the Black country artist Charley Pride, I struggled with including him on the map. I told Marc this was because I only wanted to concentrate on genres I felt Black people were primarily responsible for creating in America. But Marc did research and discovered that not only should we include Charley on the map, but it would be a massive oversight to neglect to include country music and other essential artists from that genre. [It was Marc's suggestion also to add techno.] The Insight phase, according to the Creative Process Model, is characterized by an event or series of events that brings things into focus — for us, this meant the three of us deciding to work together to bring an underappreciated story to light. To do so, the three of us began meeting weekly to dream, plan, and strategize. But that's a story for another day — very soon.

A photo of me, Callum, and my brother, Marc discussing early Black Music Project ideas at one of our virtual weekly meetings. I'll let you guess which one is Callum and which is my brother.

Please return soon and follow Griot's Eye on social media to know when the finale of this three-part series drops! Follow Griot's Eye on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, and Spoutible for more information, inspiration, and examples utilizing the power of graphic reporting, graphic facilitation, and visual storytelling techniques.

And be sure to follow The Black Music Project on Spoutible (we're most active there nowadays), Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube (this is our new YouTube address), and Twitter to learn more about how we show that the history of Black music is the story of America.

Please consider donating if you like The Black Music Project and support its mission. The Black Music Project is a sponsored project of Fractured Atlas, a non-profit arts service organization. Contributions for the charitable purposes of The Black Music Project must be made payable to "Fractured Atlas" only and are tax-deductible to the extent permitted by law. You can also make one-time or recurring donations on our fundraising page.

I recommend this short video series by my esteemed colleague and fellow partner-in-scribe, Peter Durand, if you're interested in learning more about MG Taylor and visual modeling.

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