Innovation Cannibalism

Innovation Cannibalism In this interview, I’m talking with Mark Lambert.  With a background in HSBC global markets, Mark is a Deep Purple fanatic and a jazz drummer to boot, having performed with Bernie Tormé at our Monsters of Rock event.

Mark’s controversial thesis is that innovation eats itself.  I asked him to explain more:

“The business writer Michael Porter tells us that organisations seek competitive advantage by offering consumers new products and services.  Merely cost-cutting and re-engineering are insufficient for a company to survive. Instead, constant innovation is required to stay ahead in the battle for consumers.”

Is there a limit to how far this idea applies?

“Although the number of potential consumers is large and growing, an optimistic view (putting aside famines, droughts, diseases and wars for a moment) is that there will eventually, one would hope, come a time when, to borrow the ideas of Maslow, all of their needs at all levels will be met.  Moreover, given the relative pace of technological change compared to the rate of human evolution, that time may be soon approaching.  Once consumers have all their perceived needs met, where is the pressure to innovate?

Conventional wisdom would have us believe that innovation is everywhere: mobile phones, e-mail and the Internet have all transformed business and social life in the last 30 years.  The world of today is very different from the world of only a few decades ago.  People in the developed world, especially young people, are switched-on, on-line and linked-in, with supercomputer-like processing power at their finger-tips, unprecedented access to information and extensive social networks.

Yet in one area, there is less change.

Popular music in the 1970’s was awash with a rich variety of styles. Alongside well-established genres that included ‘easy listening’ and jazz, new genres emerged such as jazz-funk, disco and several variations of rock that included ‘heavy’, ‘progressive’ and ‘punk’.  In Darwinian terms, some of these more-or-less random musical mutations can be, with hindsight, considered failures while others succeeded and spawned other new styles such as ‘new age’ and ‘electronica’.  The target consumer group was generally people under the age of about 30 and music was one of the major entertainment/leisure time activities available, the main competitor being television (which had the disadvantages of limited choice, lack of record/replay facilities and relatively poor sound quality).  A trip to the local record shop and a new LP purchase would typically be followed by an evening of contemplative listening, maybe a with couple of friends and a mug of instant coffee.

Now press the fast-forward button on your portable cassette player.  In 2012, the typical western teenager’s entertainment needs are met by a greater number of product offerings that are facilitated by more sophisticated technologies, especially the Internet.  Music now struggles to compete with high-quality (in the technological if not the creative sense) audio-visual content from the likes of YouTube.  Social networking sites are popular and smart phones have a vast range of appealing apps. Young consumers tend to have less spare time, lower boredom thresholds, and are more adept than their parents at multi-tasking – listening to background television while twittering friends and doing their homework.  They generally prefer to download individual tracks from a favourite artist rather than listening to a whole album and buy fewer CD’s than their parents.  Editor’s note – there is more on this point in the interviews with Richard Strange and Bernie Tormé.

Without the perceived need, Joseph Engelberger tells us, the reason to innovate diminishes.”

So what would we expect to hear under such conditions?

“Songs which are musically predictable with lyrics that don’t demand attention from the listener and that are performed by artists who all conform to a generic appearance.  The music industry becomes a cash-cow where commercial returns diminish and companies are unlikely to invest in new, riskier projects.  Eventually, it no longer becomes financially viable to release genuinely new music with old songs being repeatedly re-hashed by an ever-rotating roster of new faces that look and sound just like the previous generation.”

Does it matter?

“Maybe it doesn’t really matter.  Music is not the most important thing for a large proportion of the world’s population who have greater concerns (at Maslow’s lower levels).  But a world bereft of innovative music is, ultimately, a less creative and emotionally uplifting place for us all.”

I could not agree more.  Let’s take a piece of Mark’s favourite music to prove the point.  Deep Purple in full flow jamming with their song Lazy from their album Machine Head, featuring the stunning keyboard work of John Lord:

Mark Lambert is a Business Manager who has worked for several leading financial institutions in London and the Netherlands.  He has a couple of physics degrees and an MBA and his areas of specialism include:

  • Analysing and solving business and IT problems
  • Creating and managing global teams
  • Writing : reports, magazine articles
  • Playing and recording music

image credit:

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Peter Cook is Rock’n’Roll Innovation Editor at Innovation Excellence.  He leads Human Dynamics and The Academy of Rock, and provides Keynote speaking, Organisation Development and Business Coaching. and  You can follow him on twitter @Academyofrock

Peter Cook




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No Comments

  1. P Weiss on November 12, 2012 at 12:38 pm

    I would disagree with the premise both personally (specific to music) and professionally.

    My family share a single iTunes account that mixes all forms of music from a 20 year old college student to my wife’s love of Christian music & my varied interest from rock to classical. We each will buy songs or collections based on what we like and ping each other with new things all the time. Friends do the same. I think the challenge to artists is that this disruption requires a change in how you market as well as package the product and it seems many want to stay in the same model, assuming the new technology will just bring new people to them. That is a sure path to death.

    The same is true in any other business. Innovation in product almost always brings with it disruption (and opportunity) in channels & customer behaviors.

  2. R Hughes on November 12, 2012 at 12:47 pm

    If by financially viable, what is meant by the article is out-of-the-park wealthy, I substantially agree. However, many indie artists do well marketing through iTunes. You Tube and Groove Shark even help expose such artists to a wider audience. While I do not fit the normal demographic for indie alternative since I have five decades under my belt, I challenge you with the likes of Bon Iver (a Grammy winner), Patrick Watson, and Other Lives (opened for Radiohead on a recent concert tour) as proof that innovation in music is alive and well.

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