This page contains selected old blog posts that relate my world in Business with my other life as a musician.
Innovation lessons from the world of music – part 6
One of the things I find amazing about musicians is their capacity to innovate – and I don’t just mean new technologies.
One definition of innovation from The Business Dictionary is “the process of translating an idea or invention into a good or service that creates value or for which customers will pay.” – and there some great examples of people who have done just that: taken a good song and done it in a way that is very different from the original.
One of my current favourites is a brilliant cover of “All about that Bass” – the Meghan Trainor original is a huge hit out here judging by the amount of video plays on the music channels but the idea of a real bass player covering this is genius! Here’s Kate Davis’s take on the song:
I think we will be hearing a lot more about Kate Davis! There’s also a good parody of this song here.
Going back to creating something customers will pay for, I would think that getting your new album to #2 on Billboard’s Top Jazz Albums chart and going Gold in Canada suggests that Paul Anka got this spot on when he did a great series of swing covers of well know rock songs. Who would have imagined Spandau Ballet’s “True” quite like this:
If there was ever a band that sold millions of records on the back of an ability to craft out fine arrangements of other people’s songs, it has to be James Last who according to Wikipedia, has sold over 100 million records. Of course, it helped he had fine musicians like the late Derek Watkins in the band: (also a song written by Paul Anka!)
So instead of “if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it”, maybe your business should be thinking “if it isn’t broken, make something new out of it” instead to increase product reach and ultimately, sales revenue.
Or what about that product you have that still doesn’t seem to have a use? You know, the “solution looking for a problem”? Just like 3m did with their “pressure sensitive adhesive“, thinking of a different use for it could just be your next killer product!. I don’t recall Bruce Springsteen making much out of “Blinded by the light” but Manfred Mann’s Earthband turned it into a massive selling single :
Of course, it isn’t always someone else improving your song though! There are many examples of a band releasing a totally different version of a song that is very different to the original. In this way, Eric Clapton extended not only the life, of “Layla” but would have increased the royalties on the way! (and with the introduction of payments for musicians if you play any of these video’s, you too will have contributed!).
Remember that your next killer product could be someone else’s dead product or a second lease of life for one of your own older ones! And simply changing the name isn’t enough – Snickers is still a Marathon bar!
Innovation Lessons from the World of Music – part 5
This post has been inspired by a brief discussion with my good friend Peter Cook at The Academy of Rock who is a huge Prince fan! Peter saw Prince in Camden recently and he said something like “above all, be yourself”. This reminded me of a similar sentiment that can be heard from Maestro Leonard Bernstein in this clip of him rehearsing “Nimrod” from Elgar’s “Enigma Variations”.
The instruction he gives to the Orchestra is simply “let it happen by itself” – and whilst many hate his incredibly slow reading of Nimrod, it is arguably one of the most sublime versions you will ever hear. (The complete concert and extracts from the rehearsal were recently released on DVD.)
But what if you “just let it happen” at work? Sounds likes a recipe for chaos doesn’t it! But not necessarily so! How do you think this company might have been performing?
- No mission statement
- You chose your own manager
- 2 seats at board meetings are taken by the first 2 employees who turn up
Here’s what Simon Caulkin of The Observer said of this company in 2003:
“..it ‘rambles’ into new areas by trial, error and argument. Its current portfolio is an odd mixture of machinery, property, professional services and fledgling hi-tech spin-offs.”
The Company is Semco and it’s remarkable growth started when Ricardo Semler joined the family business. With growth at that time (2003) being quoted at 30-40% pa against a backdrop of the economy in Brazil at the time, it seems “just letting it happen” can be profitable after all. His biography “Maverick” is worth a read to learn more about Ricardo Semler.
What we learn about Semco though is more than “just let it happen” – it’s a totally different kind of organisation. And they are not alone in this – check out Premium-Cola in Germany who do things very differently. Here’s Uwe Lübbermann, the “non-boss”!:
To finish on a musical note, the ultimate in “let it just happen” has to be the drum solo! I was once on a gig where the band walked off during the drum solo and left him to it – no problem for him, he could have been there all night!
Innovation lessons from the world of music – part 4
I write this having just returned from the English National Opera production of Mozart’s Magic Flute. As this run ends shortly, here’s a taste of what you missed:
It’s an interesting take which included modern day language, excellent use of Audio Visual effects, Papageno trying to kiss audience members and even a hash tag on stage! Whilst this will not be everyone’s cup of tea, there is still the great music and a quality cast.
This got me thinking: when you consider this work was first seen in 1791, how many other products out there have been around for as long without being adapted to modern surroundings? And what about those that failed to change? Now, I am not suggesting for one minute that all Opera should be staged in modern settings with the language of the day but that sometimes, we do need to inject some freshness into our product lines to make them appeal to new buyers or audiences.
A visit to http://www.retailresearch.org/whosegonebust.php will suggest a few companies who may now wish they had refreshed their product lines before their customers disappeared.
Sometimes, it may be necessary to completely re-invent yourself too – and this can be very successful! Take my former employers at RSA (Royal & SunAlliance) as an example. I spent some time prior to the merger of the old Sun Alliance and Royal Insurance working in a team that were exploring new products and channels to market with a new brand and new fulfillment approaches. I believe that from these seeds, the concept of a new brand emerging from the old one led to the creation of the now highly successful “More Th>n” brand we know today.
And there are parallels in music here too: Who remembers Shane Fenton and The Fentones? No? Here’s a little reminder:
A few years later, a new style and a new name: Welcome Alvin Stardust!
Of course, you don’t have to change your name – simply taking a new direction can work wonders too as rocker Linda Ronstadt proved when she turned her attention to the arranging skills of the legendary Nelson Riddle for a series of 3 albums of Jazz and Pop standards that bought her to the attention of a whole new audience. I leave you with this brilliant version of a 1939 song, “What’s New”.
Innovation Lessons from the world of music – part 3
I never in a million years thought that I would find myself writing about a DJ as a musician! But my mind has been changed to a degree by coming across DJ Ravi, a Las Vegas based performer – and I mean, performer!
If we take the base idea from my previous post that innovation is about taking something that already exists and adding other ideas & influences to make something new, then this guy does just that with dance music.
The starting point is take 2 tunes and mix them – but all DJ’s do that, right? Right! But not all DJ’s have a drum kit and play along with their mix! And that is what made this guy different. Here’s his promotional video:
I remember the discussions in the UK’s Musician’s Union magazine on the topic of allowing DJ’s to become members – I didn’t agree back then but DJ Ravi may have just changed my mind on that!
Bringing us back to the real world of business, we see this mix of ideas from different places around us all the time – a great example is the “Swatch” watch company. The Swiss watch market was in serious decline in the early 80’s until a consultant, Nicholas G Hayek, decided to add Italian Fashion thinking to the mix along with a touch of Lego plastic engineering skills. The result was the iconic Swatch range you have today. Or how about Phillips, the electronics giant, working with Italian furniture maker Giulio Cappellini to put televisions and DVD’s into furniture items? (from http://www.designcouncil.org.uk/resources-and-events/business-and-public-sector/guides/innovation/examples/)
And if you don’t innovate, you may just find your business sliding towards closure. Only today, we read about the closure in the US of Blockbuster – could they have innovated their way out of trouble? We shall never know now. There is of course, the other Blockbuster which will remain with us forever!
Innovation lessons from the world of music – part 2
One of the areas of musical innovation that has interested me the most over the years has been the fusion of Rock music and the world of the Orchestra. And what makes this really interesting is that the pioneers of the 60’s and 70’s are still doing it today! One of the early adopters in this was of course Deep Purple who performed their epic “Concerto for Group and Orchestra 1969” – here’s the 3rd movement of this. The opening of this movement wouldn’t be out-of-place in an Orchestral concert today – love the Horns!
It’s a real shame the sound quality doesn’t make it obvious but 30 years later, they are still using an Orchestra – the “Smoke on the Water” riff is perfect for the brass:
One band though that found you couldn’t make much money out of this was Pink Floyd whose “Atom Heat Mother” is still a favourite of mine, probably because of the huge use of brass! Touring with a brass section and a choir wasn’t cost-effective and in recent times, some of the band members themselves have thought it was rubbish anyway! (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atom_Heart_Mother) – I like it though hence its inclusion here!
One of the down sides to this kind of work is that you are unlikely to have the same resources available from one gig to another – and that can impact on the quality of the performance. Back in the day, I used to do a lot of work at local clubs backing whichever ex-celeb was in town this week. They never knew what they were getting from one night to the next and this was one of the issues that Floyd faced.
One band that did make a big commercial success out of using an Orchestra was Procul Harum – there won’t be too many record collections from that era that don’t include “Live at Edmonton” with The Edmonton Symphony Orchestra. And they are still doing it today – here’s Gary Booker’s distinctive voice with Procul Harum and The Danish National Concert Orchestra with “A Salty Dog” from 2006.
Amongst the many lessons we can draw from all of this, there is one that sticks out:
- Don’t create a service if you can’t control the quality of the localised resources that you may need to deliver it.
I also can’t ignore my all time favourite band: “Yes”. I first saw them live in 1974 at Queens Park Rangers FC, Loftus Road, London – the first tour post Wakeman with new boy Patrick Moraz and the “Relayer” album. Much of the 70’s prog rock use of the Mellotron, which sampled strings, could have been done using the real thing – so why not do that!? Enjoy the superb slide guitar of Steve Howe in “Soon” from the Relayer album, performed in Amsterdam in 2001.
And to finish, I just love this Bill Bailey item from his “Remarkable Guide to the Orchestra” – as if Ron Grainger and the Radiophonic Workshop weren’t innovative enough, Bill discovers the “Dr. Who” theme could easily have been Belgian Jazz!
Innovation lessons from the world of music
It’s been a while since my last blog as I’ve been busy getting stuck into my new job. One of the benefits of my travel schedule though is the amount of time I now have sat in hotel rooms!
Today’s blog is not only a follow-up to my earlier post “Succession Planning lessons from the world of Rock Music!” but has been inspired by discussions with Peter Cook of “The Academy of Rock” (check out his new book “The Music of Business”) who has made some great links between Rock and Roll and the Business world. It turns out that Peter was heavily involved in the Open University’s “Creativity, Innovation & Change” module which I did as part of my MBA and much of my thinking about Social Learning & Knowledge Management has its roots in that course and the OU Knowledge Management course.
One of the key ways to get innovation in the workplace is to ensure that staff have access to data & information from both inside and outside of the organisation – yet I still hear of companies that do not allow staff access to the Internet from inside the firewall! Taking an existing idea and adding to it with influence and fresh ideas from outside of the organisation can refresh an old product and gain new customers but of course, that’s nothing new to us musicians! Take The Beatles – great songs, presented in a way that can’t be bettered. Or can they? Many would argue that Earth Wind & Fire did a much better version of “Got to get you into my life”:
And whilst many more might disagree, The Carpenters had a knack of taking a sad song and making it better! Not, not that song, but this one:
But if you are looking for radical change, then look at what happens when multiple external ideas get put together: Led Zeppelin, Reggae and an Elvis impersonator shouldn’t work – but it sort of does! And even Robert Plant likes these guys:
My final example comes from a different genre altogether – the world of Shakespeare and “Romeo & Juliet”. This one never had music and wasn’t even an original idea! According to Wikipedia, Shakespeare borrowed heavily from 2 earlier works The Tragical History of Romeus and Juliet by Arthur Brooke in 1562 and Palace of Pleasure by William Painter in 1567.
But what none of those people would ever have come up with was moving the tale to mid 1950’s New York – the writing of Arthur Laurents, the lyrics of Steven Sondheim and the musical genius that is Leonard Bernstein. So, texts first written in the 1500’s are still producing income today! This clip takes one of those songs, Maria, into yet another new plane – the stratospheric trumpet playing of one of my hero’s, the late, great, Maynard Ferguson:
The world of music is great at innovation – we see it around us constantly with new slants on an old tune, adaptations of music to the stage (Mama Mia), taking the stage to the big screen (Les Miserables) through to Paul Anka making Nirvana swing! Some thoughts for our business life:
- Old products needn’t just die – adapt them to new uses or even simply re-package them. (Lots of re-issue CD’s have “bonus tracks” to make them just slightly different for example).
- There may be audiences for your product that aren’t yet aware of it because you are marketing it to a particluar niche customer base.
- Licence products you can’t change to someone who can still make money out them. Royal Enfield motorcycles still live on, now manufactured in India for example.
- Years after its demise, the Stylophone came back! A bit like the tribute acts, don’t forget that there may sometimes still be life in an old product! (and even Vinyl is making a small comeback).