Listen to part of a discussion in a business management class.
Last week we were talking about innovation in business. Remember the graph I showed you?
The curve that looked sorta like the letter S?
Right, Kathy. Let's take another look. Do you recall, Kathy, how this S-curve represents the life cycle of innovation?
Sure. Starting on the left, the new innovation … let’s say it’s a new product … almost nobody has heard of it—or at least nobody takes it seriously.
Then its popularity increases, slowly at first, till sales really start accelerating quickly—there where the line goes up steeply in the middle—as more and more people get excited about the product and they go out and buy it.
But eventually, moving over to the right side there, interest begins to fade and the growth in sales levels off.
At which point, the market has matured for that product.
We can still sell it, and even marginally improve it. But it’s not new anymore—it no longer offers exciting growth opportunities.
So a business leader might face a choice—Either stick with this old, safe, proven idea … or move on to the next big idea, a fresh innovation.
But innovations are risky—they may succeed, or they may not.
[Pivoting to take a new angle] OK, a case study—George, I’ve heard your Thursday night program on the campus radio station. You like jazz, right?
[Startled] Huh? Uh,yeah, sure.But what — [interrupted]
[interrupting] OK, stay with me here. On your program last week, I heard an old Miles Davis album. Tell us about that.
Uh Miles Davis, trumpet. I played a CD of a jazz classic he recorded in the 1950s, called Kind of Blue.
It's my all-time favorite jazz recording.
Mine too. Would you call that recording innovative -for its time?
Absolutely. Nothing at all like what he’d recorded up till then—I mean, before that, Miles Davis played things so complex that … well, nobody could touch him.
But this was something totally new.
Suddenly his playing sounded so amazingly simple.
And how did people react to this new sound of Miles Davis?
Well, some were disappointed... even angry ... that he'd abandoned his old style.
But soon, most of his fans came around, and this new style appealed to a whole new group of jazz listeners.
I guess so!
Kind of Blue became the most commercially successful album in the history of jazz.
So is there a lesson here, anyone? Think of that S-curve I showed you.
Oh, so his old style of jazz was actually a kind of product, one that’d been developed pretty thoroughly… and he’d taken it about as far as he could.
So he decided to take a big risk and try something totally new.
Exactly. Something completely fresh and "cool" ... and people couldn't get enough of it.
It was a brand new beginning that left lots of room for further development, artistically.
And, as a market analyst, you could say that with Kind of Blue, he was jumping to the beginning of a brand new S-curve, with all that potential for profitable development still ahead of him.
But let me ask you something else.
This isn't just the music of a single performer,[downspeak] is it, George?
Hardly. More like a group of all-stars.
Along with Miles Davis on trumpet, there's Bill Evans on piano, John Coltrane on tenor saxophone。
[Interrupting] Individually, perhaps the best in the business.
But thinking of Miles Davis as the leader of this group, how did he organize and manage all this incredible talent?
Well, he’d lay out the general outline, the theme, and then give each of these star performers, one by one, the creative freedom to really show what they could do with it on their own instrument … to improvise and add something new, but always within the same general theme.
So Miles Davis gets credit for recruiting the best jazz talent anywhere....and getting them to collaborate on a fantastic musical product.
Everyone see the business parallels here?
And give each of these musicians credit for seizing the opportunity and creating great individual performances.
But good jazz is more than just outstanding individual performances, isn't it?
Definitely. Jazz musicians need to listen to each other and go with the flow.
Like, one time, somebody goofed and came in a little early.
But everyone else adjusted and went right along with it, as if nothing were wrong, and this mistake came out like just another … unexpected creative interpretation.
Thanks, George. Great insights... ones that would certainly apply to what we're studying here.