RIP George Martin – An Innovation Master

RIP George Martin – An Innovation Master - Innovation ExcellenceIt has been a tough few months for Rock and Roll.  We have lost Bowie, Lemmy, BB King, Chris Squire, Scott Weiland, Glenn Frey and today, Keith Emerson.

All delighted us with their music, but all were also consummate innovators as well.  Bowie in particular was an innovation hero of mine, for the way he blended ideas, challenged boundaries, and fearlessly reinvented himself.

On Tuesday, we lost another master blender and enabler– Sir George Martin, the real Fifth Beatle.  I’ve mentioned Sir George as a master innovator in some previous articles that discuss the power of blending art and science, but his role as an innovator went far beyond that.

Sir George played a pivotal role in creating the spectacular catalog of recorded genius that the Beatles left behind. And in the process, he epitomized many traits that as innovators we should all aspire to. He had enormous expertise, was remarkably open to new ideas, habitually crossed boundaries and blended ideas, and had enormous passion for quality, and separating the wheat from the chaff.

Expertise: He was a brilliant, and creative producer.  He was not only an expert in current studio technology, but in partnership with McCartney & Co, he pushed the boundaries of what was known almost routinely. He pioneered complex overdubs and layering of tracks, reverse playbacks, sound-scaping, and the recording of unfamiliar instruments and ambient sounds.

Openess: For those of us who grew up in the slipstream of the creative brilliance of the Beatles, it is hard to imagine how revolutionary some of their ideas were. But it must have taken enormous openness for this rather straight laced English gentleman to shrug off the inevitable discomfort of the experimental, unconventional, sometimes drug fueled visions that were the creative inspiration behind Revolver, Sgt. Pepper, and Magical Mystery Tour.   But he not only shrugged it off, he embraced and enabled it with brilliance.

Crossing Boundaries: I am a passionate believer that innovation occurs at interfaces, and that one of the most productive, if sometimes uncomfortable boundaries is the one between art and science. By definition, as the master of the recording studio with the worlds most creative musicians of their time, Sir George blended cutting edge technology with artistic creativity.  But he was also an enabler for blending different types of music, helping to score and integrate them into Beatles songs. The stunning trumpet solo in Penny Lane, the crescendo that closes A Day in the Life, are just two examples of his helping to ice the cake of brilliance the Beatles created.

Passion for Quality: Whilst Martin embraced the trail-blazing, innovative, creativity of the Fab Four, we know that he did sometimes disagree with them, most notably on the track list for the White Album. He felt that there were too many weaker spots in the double album, and that it would have been better as a stripped down single album, delivering more consistent brilliance. Whether you agree or not, this desire to cut high quality material shows enormous passion for quality. I have to imagine that this passion for quality contributed less publicly to the other album. Escalation of commitment makes it incredibly difficult to throw away the ideas that we’ve worked on, but that aren’t quite good enough. But it is something best in class innovators have to do.  George was willing to do this at the highest level.

Rest in peace, Sir George, a consummate, multi-faceted innovator. Thank you for the music, and for the lessons in innovation.

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A twenty-five year Procter & Gamble veteran, Pete has spent the last 8+ years applying insights from psychology and behavioral science to innovation, product design, and brand communication. He spent 17 years as a serial innovator, creating novel products, perfume delivery systems, cleaning technologies, devices and many other consumer-centric innovations, resulting in well over 100 granted or published patents. Follow him @foley_pete

Pete Foley




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