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).

And finally, speaking of Rolf, here’s another slant on Led Zeppelin – enjoy!







2 thoughts on “Innovation lessons from the world of music

  1. Peter Cook

    Fusion in music is just like ‘Combine’ in the SCAMPER method from B822. Much ‘genre merging’ produces pretty mediocre results in music, but you have picked out some great exceptions in your post Andy. And Rolf is there – I have that album including Smoke on the Water done in a jazz style!

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