Sunday, April 01, 2007

Photo: Only 10 meters between by Fotoliebe. Beautiful shot of QM2. Bravo & thank you!

"Passion begets success. Success begets success formula. Success formula begets isolation from passion, vision and innovation. Isolation begets atrophy, decay, a fading away." Gordon MacKenzie

MacKenzie the former creative genius in residence at Hallmark and author of Orbiting the Giant Hairball sets the table with today's quote. From the first chapter, Where Have All The Geniuses Gone?, to the final page, MacKenzie's book is a gem. It merits your attention and a place in your library. Amazon info here.

The herd instinct seems almost hard-wired especially in the media. Success begets success formula. Once a show becomes a hit the herd scrambles to follow the leader. The pacing of real innovation, resourcing any fresh development, any original approach seems relatively glacial in speed compared to the breakneck velocity associated with producing the knockoff. Corporate staff greenlights plug and play solutions on a fast track buying into the notions of first mover advantage and creative preemption. Once a new hit show appears on the radar, a trend being good enough these days, the corporate paranoia gland has been properly squeezed and the rush is on to introduce the copy. The single hit become the alpha dog that leads the pack, overnight the main attraction of the entire dog show. The buzz becomes the goods. Copy trumps original. Comfort comes in knowing some other corporate team has pulled the trigger. They must know something we don't. It's high school with money and staff provides their board and the analysts with that most adolescent of arguments "everybody's doing it."

It was ever thus. From the variety and quiz show wars of early television to "fake Drake" in sixties radio to the ongoing attempts at covering tunes (e.g., the country version of the pop hit or vice versa) and of course the remake, bringing back hits unheard by today's youth. Licensing a hit for a TV commercial can be more creative than scoring original music just ask The Iron Butterfly. While it would seem fair and reasonable to devote a share of resources to R&D, especially for properties with fair market values exceeding $150 million dollars the facts belie any such thinking. It's the cover that continues to provide cover for c-level folks. Knockoff plug and play is the perfect creative prescription for the 95% who follow the 5% who lead. The challenge is to identify and follow the true innovators, that small percent of the leading 5%, the mavericks who are creating works of sustainable value. That, dear readers, is the pesky detail.

The story of the great genius Kokichi Mikimoto provides an excellent case study. Mikimoto invented completely new competitive space, he founded Japan's cultured pearl industry. Many thought they could simply copy, knockoff his nucleation process. They had failed to fully understand and appreciate the work of this brilliant businessman and tireless promoter. The world's largest oyster, the Pinctada Maxima, is native to the waters off Australia, the famous Eighty Mile Beach area. Using Mikimoto's technique with the world's largest oyster should have produced the world's largest cultured pearls or so they thought but they failed. They failed at first because they merely copied technique expecting a better result. Bigger oysters = bigger pearls. Sometimes ideas don't travel well. Sometimes the success of the original is more dependent on the original's "environment" than may first seem apparent. A well-crafted adaptation always takes the "local environment" into account.

Earlier thoughts on creativity and radio programming here and here and here. A post with the famous Making Something Happen ad copy here. And the very popular You Can't Polish A Sneaker post here. A bounty of earlier scribbling, each post a "most emailed" by readers.

The team that had the courage to greenlight the Queen Mary 2, an $800 million dollar wager, could teach us all a lot about innovation. Innovation has risk baked into it. It's scary. You can fail. You can also hit it out of the ball park and bring home a major victory. At the least you can get on base, get into the game. As Wayne Gretzky once said "You miss 100% of the shots you don't take." This week take a shot.

Another legend passes: The great broadcaster Herb Carneal has died. The voice of The Minnesota Twins for all but the first of the Twins' 46 seasons in Minnesota. I had the incredible honor and pleasure of working for him during my watch at WCCO. We shall not see nor hear the likes of this amazing gentleman again. An artiste and a class act. A major loss for broadcasting and for baseball. More here.

Bonus: The Top 100 April Fool's Day Hoaxes of All Time. Fun! Check it out here.


Anonymous said...


Damn good post. You did miss one key reason for copy v. original. Funding those crazy creatives to develop things requires investment. Knockoffs as you have called them can be managed by C students at lesser outlay.

LOVED your presentation at sxsw. Why have you not posted some of that stuff here?



dave said...

Good point about magnitude of investment.Thanks for the kind words Ethan. My sxsw presentation was the work product of my employer. The work created during the day job is separate and apart from this my personal blog. Thanks too for stopping by here. Best,