Ask, ‘Who benefits most from my innovation?’
Sony and Philips developed the Compact Disc (CD) which they launched in 1982. It was originally designed to store and play music. It offered much higher quality of recording than vinyl records. It later became used for data storage; it held far more data than most personal computer hard drives.
Mickey Schulhof had joined Sony in 1974 as an engineer. He rose rapidly up the ranks becoming vice-chairman of Sony USA and then the first American to become a board member of a major Japanese company. Schulhof wanted to sell the idea of using CDs for music distribution to the major record companies in the USA but his efforts met with resistance and scepticism. The companies had enormous investment in vinyl disc factories and were unwilling to consider changing formats.
Schulhof asked himself, ‘Who wants much higher quality recordings?’ The answer was the music recording artists themselves. He approached major bands and stars and showed them the benefits of having their music on CDs. When the top recording artists became enthusiastic about the new medium the record companies reluctantly agreed to release some music on CD. The first band to sell a million copies on CD was Dire Straits, with their 1985 album, Brothers in Arms. Ironically, the record companies made handsome profits from the many fans who bought CD versions of albums they already owned in vinyl.
If the main route to market for your great innovation is blocked by naysayers committed to current products and methods, you should ask – who benefits most from this? And then approach them directly.
The song Bohemian Rhapsody was written by Freddie Mercury for Queen’s 1975 album A Night at the Opera. It broke all the rules for a popular music single release. At a time when most pop songs were simple and formulaic Mercury’s song was a complex mixture of different styles and tempos. It had six separate sections – a close harmony acapella introduction, a ballad, a guitar solo, an opera parody, a rock anthem and a melodic finale. It contained enigmatic and fatalistic lyrics about killing a man. And it was very long.
When it was proposed to Queen’s record producers EMI that they release the song as a single they flatly rejected the idea. It was 5 minutes 55 seconds in duration and the general rule of the day was that radio stations only played items that lasted no more than three and a half minutes.
So Queen bypassed EMI and went straight to the DJ Kenny Everett. They gave him a copy on condition that he only play sections of it. He did this and the reaction was so strong that he played the whole six minutes several times on his weekend show on Capital Radio. On Monday morning hordes of fans went into music stores to buy the record only to be told that it was not available. EMI was forced to release it and the song that they claimed was unplayable went on to become one of their greatest hits. It was the first song to reach number one twice with the same version – in 1975 on its first release and in 1991 following Mercury’s death. It went gold in the USA with over 1 million copies sold. It had a worldwide resurgence in 1992 when it featured in the film Wayne’s World.
Fifty Shades of Grey is a 2011 erotic romance novel by British author E. L. James. Reviewers were generally very critical of the standard of writing in the book and of the way it described explicitly erotic scenes featuring bondage and sadism. Salman Rushdie later said of the book: “I’ve never read anything so badly written that got published. It made Twilight look like War and Peace.” With no publisher interested, James self-published the work as an e-book. When it became wildly popular on the internet it was published by Vintage Books. Fifty Shades of Grey went on to top best-seller lists around the world, selling over 130 million copies worldwide. It has been translated into 52 languages and set a record in the United Kingdom as the fastest-selling paperback of all time.
If you really believe in your new product then back it yourself and take it direct to those who need it. Going back to Mickey Schulhof, he said this, “At Sony, the financial review came last, not first. When we launched CDs, we did no market surveys and hired no consultants. We invested $100 million developing the technology and building a factory before the first CD player was put on the market. Nobody gave us any assurance that there would be a market, but we believed it was a good product.”
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Paul Sloane writes, speaks and leads workshops on creativity, innovation, and leadership. He is the author of The Innovative Leader and editor of A Guide to Open Innovation and Crowdsourcing, published both published by Kogan-Page. Follow him @PaulSloane
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