chuck_berry

Chuck Berry invented rock ‘n’ roll, or so suggest the obituary writers who were out in force yesterday, but not everything he did was cutting edge. And that illustrates the tale of innovators solution, of how companies can respond to disruptive technology.

Innovators dilemma is a theory, advanced by the Harvard Professor, Clayton Christensen, which tells the story of how companies in a seemingly invincible position can lose their position of strength, as new technology disrupts the industry they operate in. Companies that have fallen victim to innovators dilemma include Eastman Kodak, Nokia, Blackberry/RIM and Microsoft’s Encyclopaedia Encarta. But there is fix, there are ideas that companies can apply to resist the curse of innovators dilemma.

And maybe the best way involves experimenting – trying lots of different ideas. Take as an example, the challenge facing Microsoft when its operating system Dos seemed to be approaching the end of its natural lifespan. There is an assumption that it decided to switch to Windows, but that is not accurate. It tried lots of ideas. It looked at beefing up Dos, it entered into a joint venture with IBM, another joint venture with UNIX, it looked at making acquisitions, working with Apple, even at selling the company, Windows just happened to be the approach that worked – it evolved in the true Darwinian sense.

Darwinian evolution works by experimenting, it is an obvious, but often overlooked point. For every mutation that occurs in nature that can create a new species, there are countless numbers that fail.

Traditional venture capitalists don’t like this idea so much. They believe that companies should be slaves to their business plan, the idea that a company that they have invested in should try different ideas is an anathema to them. They see this as their job, they want to invest in a diverse range of companies each of which is 100 per cent focused on their core product.

And that means companies that are likely to survive into the future, need to experiment, and in the process, ignore advice from some VCs. An inevitable consequence of that is occasionally getting things wrong.

There is a parallel with the music business. The perfect example of innovators solution in action within the music industry was David Bowie.

He would periodically re-invent himself, often creating a while new persona. What he didn’t do so much was listen to his customers – if he had done that he would never have killed off Ziggy Stardust – something he did live on stage to the consternation of both his audience and fellow band members.

But in his attempt to experiment, he occasionally got things very wrong. To his later embarrassment, he wrote the Laughing Gnome – catchy tune, to be sure, but not exactly an example of pushing out the barriers of music culture.

But then the Beatles did Yellow Submarine, post Beatles, Paul McCartney did The Frogs Chorus, and Paul Young, one of the most gifted musical artists of his generation did ‘Toast’.

The point is, the most talented and trend setting of rock artists occasionally strayed away from their core, cutting edge approach and came up with s song, in some cases a very memorable one, that created the very opposite image of the one they tried to portray. But that’s what you do when you experiment – you stroll away from your core model, and occasionally come up with something that is a tad embarrassing. For example, Apple once launched an edutainment console called the Pippin, something that Apple aficionados like to forget.

Chuck Berry was the man behind Johnnie B. Goode, No Particular Place to Go, Roll Over Beethoven, and many more memorable hits that seemed to exemplify rock ‘n’ roll.

But then he also created My Ding a Ling!!!

He sung:

My ding a ling, my ding a lingI want to play with my ding a lingMy ding a ling, my ding a lingI want to play with my ding a ling

Even geniuses move away from core values – sometimes.

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