Finding inspiration all around him, Emmanuel Aouad can turn even the most mundane of subjects into a catchy bop. Approaching life with a creative mindset and a passion to continually improve, he's currently making waves in both the world of process improvement AND the world of nerdcore rap.
Finding the Beat
Rapper Highlights the Fun Side of Lean Six Sigma
Video games. Anime. Lean Six Sigma and the DMAIC process.
What do they all have in common? They're all things Emmanuel Aouad loves — which means they're all things he's written songs about.
By day, Aouad is a process optimization program manager with a passion for Lean Six Sigma and organizational efficiency. By night, he's an up‐and‐coming rapper and nerdcore artist who goes by the name Creative Mind Frame, writing and performing original songs about anything and everything that interests him.
"Music is part of my DNA," Aouad says. "It's part of who I am, and it's how I connect with people in a joyful way."
Aouad started his music career writing mostly about video games and anime, which are both popular topics amongst nerdcore fans. But about two years ago, he decided it was time to expand his repertoire and write about other topics as well.
"At the time I felt like I was forcing songs about video games, so I started thinking, 'What if I just wrote about ANYTHING I enjoy,'" he said. "I just wanted to make music about things I genuinely like. I wrote a song called 'Snoozing.' I have a whole album called 'Standard Deviations.' I decided, if I feel like making a song at a Six Sigma conference with some new friends, I'm going to make one."
And that's how a rap song about the DMAIC process — called "Take it Back to Define" — was born.
MUSIC VIDEO: Take it Back to Define
Clearing hurdles & breaking records
To truly understand what drives Aouad, you have to take it back much farther than the "Define" stage of DMAIC. You have to go back to before he even knew what DMAIC meant. If music is part of his DNA, process improvement is right there alongside it.
After moving to the United States from Ghana just 7 days after being born, Aouad grew up in Buffalo, NY, where he enjoyed performing from a young age; however, music wasn't his only passion.
Aouad also has the distinction of being a former track & field star, setting multiple school records in both hurdles and long jump at Wabash College. He reached nationals and earned All‐American honors during his collegiate career, thanks to a lot of hard work, precision, and attention to detail.
His journey as an athlete highlighted the growing passion for process improvement that lived within him.
"I've always wanted to be very efficient and do things the right way. We all have a finite amount of time on this planet — I want to make sure I'm spending my time the best way possible," he said. "When I trained for hurdles, that's kind of how I approached it. There's a very small margin for error, so I spent a lot of time studying my race footage and working to perfect my form. Coaches always taught me to fix your form first, then work on speed."
Through hours of hard work, film study, and repetition, Aouad achieved his goals and even went on to spend some time as a USA Track & Field certified coach after college. Although he'd never heard of Six Sigma when he started competing, the basic principles already lived with him.
"When I started taking Six Sigma classes later in life, it all made sense to me," he said. "It was like, 'Why don't we all work this way?' No one wants to go to work and spend time doing something that doesn't add value for anyone."
Finding his niche
After college, Aouad took a position at Fidelity Investments doing reconciliation work. Although he still hadn't heard of Six Sigma, this is when his natural instincts for process improvement began to flourish.
"I spent a year in that job, and while I was there I started finding patterns in the work I was doing," he said. "I found ways to do the work more efficiently, and basically was automating my way out of a job. I actually started getting a little bored with it — I didn't want to just sit there for the last 3 hours of the day with nothing left to do."
A former classmate recommended he apply for a process engineering position at Capital One, which is where he ultimately discovered the world of Lean Six Sigma.
"My friend encouraged me to apply for this position — I didn't really know what I was getting into, but he thought I'd be good at it," Aouad said. "As a process engineer I started learning Lean and going through the belt program, and it all just clicked for me right away. I took a Lean class and finished my project pretty quickly, and my boss said 'I can tell you like this so much, why don't you skip ahead and get your Green Belt.' So I spent the next 12 months getting my Green Belt."
Now a student in the Master Black Belt program run by MoreSteam.com and The Ohio State University, Aouad hasn't looked back since. He spent more than three years on the Business Excellence Team at Lennox International, leading the Lean Six Sigma program and helping over 300 employees — including his wife — earn their certification in Lean Management.
Today he works as an Enterprise Business Process Optimization Program Manager at Fisher Investments. It's a long title, but remember, that's just his day job.
Creative Mind Frame
As Aouad says, music is part of his DNA, and it's been that way since the very beginning. After teaching himself to play things by ear on the family piano at age 7, he eventually moved on to play the clarinet and later the saxophone in school. Experienced in both classical and jazz, Aouad went on to minor in music at Wabash.
But it wasn't until after college that he discovered his passion for nerdcore music, which is broadly defined as "a genre of music characterized by themes and subject matter considered to be of general interest to nerds and geeks."
"The same guy who hired me at Capital One, he asked me to shoot videos for his basketball training company, Full Throttle Basketball," Aouad said. "That led to me eventually making a parody video with some of my colleagues on the Process & Training Team. We made a parody of 'Gangsta's Paradise' called 'Nerdcore Paradise,' and we put it on YouTube and actually started seeing a bunch of traffic with it. A blogger wrote a whole article about it, saying this guy could be a decent nerdcore rapper. So I started looking into a little more, and I realized I'd been listening to nerdcore since I was in college."
One of his first big breaks came in 2013 when he earned an invitation to perform at Nerdapalooza, an annual nerd music and arts festival in Orlando, Fla. While there, one of Aouad's nerdcore rap idols, Mega Ran, watched him perform for the first time. That ultimately led to an invitation to open for Mega Ran on an upcoming tour stop in Dallas.
"That's when I really started getting a little more serious about it," he said.
When asked why he's so passionate about writing and performing, Aouad quoted one of his songs:
I want you all to imagine a world with no art, no music, no paintings,
that means no epic soundtrack starting off your movie,
nothing in the clubs when you're trying to get groovy,
no theme song for "I Love Lucy."
Check out the full lyrics of the song to understand more of his motivation. But stepping outside his lyrics, there's an even simpler (albeit less catchy) reason for why Aouad continues to make music. It's because he loves doing it.
I hope I'm sitting in a rocking chair someday and someone is still out there playing my videos. I want to be able to look back on my life and know that I put myself out there and tried to make the world a better place.
— Emmanuel Aouad, aka Creative Mind Frame