Thursday, February 28, 2008

Plant and Kraus: how singing a different tune inspired music--and business--innovation

When looking for examples of business innovation it's not difficult to to find some stellar samples. I wrote about how the innovative pairing of Lego branded children's toys with the Star Wars "empire" (pun intended) has culminated in a joint brand strategy with epic potential (Lego Star Wars video games, toys, online presence, etc.). I stumbled recently upon another unique pairing that illustrates the genius creativity and risk-taking audacity often behind the most truly innovative ideas. Coupling the one-of-a-kind singing styles of legendary Led Zeppelin front man Robert Plant with the luminous voice of the undisputed goddess of bluegrass Allison Kraus brings, imho, true music--and business-- innovation.

This inspiring story all started when renowned music producer T-Bone Burnett contacted Plant and Kraus to work together on a tribute concert. Neither artist had ever considered working with the other, and it was Burnett's out-of-box thinking that led to this monumental collaboration.

When watching coverage and concert footage of their collaboration from the show Crossroads featured on the MusicHD channel--originally aired on CMT--I was struck by how transformative the experience was for each musician. Both artists clearly came from rich musical backgrounds with their roots firmly planted in both blues and bluegrass heritages. But together they were able to make music that neither of them had imagined possible.

Robert Plant contrasts the bluegrass/country style of singing with his own masculine, ego-driven renditions of Led Zeppelin songs and seems to expose more of his personality in the process. He steps out from behind the microphones and high-tech music production techniques and finds his voice again. In contrast, Allison Kraus discusses how her previous musical experiences had remained primarily acoustic. And in her singing you notice that the addition of drums and an ethereal electric guitar echo elicit a uniquely confident sound not often found in her classical bluegrass songs.

This new combination is utterly stunning. Burnett expertly combined Plant's smoky and sultry singing with Kraus' clear and contrasting voice, and as a result produced a rich, complex sound whose texture transcends the music categories that follow these celebrated artists, thrusting them into a whole new genre of music I've playfully labeled "soulgrass." It's this new sound that makes this creative combination not only musically innovative, but innovative from a business perspective as well. By combining artists with two decidedly different sounds--and fan bases--the project widened its appeal and will undoubtedly cross sell into both the rock and country categories. I've even heard some of their songs played on local popular music radio stations.

The lesson to be learned here is this: to inspire innovation it's important to step outside our comfort zones and explore new and creative combinations of ideas. We too often get stuck in our think holes (a concept adeptly explored by my friend and innovation consultant Chas Martin in his article titled Think Holes: How Predictability Undermines Competitive Advantage).

So next time you're out of jelly to go with that peanut butter, reach for a new ingredient. You may just find that peanut butter and peppers are the perfect pair to inspire the next craze in food fusion.

Friday, February 15, 2008

will the real social media expert please stand up?

I've been in several circumstances lately where the subject of social media expertise has bubbled to the surface of conversation. There appear to be some diverging opinions on this subject so I thought I'd pose the question to you, my loyal readers. But first a deep dive into the idea.

One of the facets of social media I find most fascinating is how many flavors there are to the concept. To some folks participating in social media simply means using an RSS feed to get their daily fix of news stories or other content they've chosen as personally relevant from an aggregate of sources. Others take it a step further by posting their own MySpace page, Facebook profile, LinkedIn profile, or some combination thereof. Some--and this number continues to grow steadily--take it even further and become *gasp* bloggers themselves.

Being a blogger personally--yet arguably far from an expert on the subject--I will say that blogging alone doesn't necessarily deliver a deeper familiarity with social media, other than experience using blogging tools like Blogger (which I use for this blog, obviously) and Wordpress (yes, I write another blog using that tool as well). But if the blogger is working diligently to increase his or her blog traffic, more than likely he or she is also taking one additional step to include every button or widget possible--tools like Technorati, Digg, Stumble--meant to drive the maximum traffic to their site.

So whom of these folks would win the coveted title in the battle to become a social media expert? To claim "guru" status in this growing field, would one need to be an avid blogger blogging about the social media movement while featuring their blog on their Facebook, LinkedIn, and MySpace pages which also include YouTube videos of them sitting and writing their blogs? In essence does just checking the box marked "all of the above" catapult you into the realm of virtual social media virtuoso? I can hear the collective exclaim of glee as all you bloggers start polishing your bios in hopes of starting that coveted career on the conference speaking cirtuit.

You want to know what I think? Probably not, but I'll tell you anyway. I think that it is virtually impossible to become an expert in a field that is as ever changing as Britney Spears' hair color. Sure someone can know a lot about what it takes to successfully drive site traffic through a well thought-out SEO, tagging, and linking strategy. And that same person could also be skilled at contriving creative concepts to ride the viral marketing waves that ebb and flow on Facebook. But to be an expert in a field that changes from one day to the next is akin to placing your hand in a running river; you can trap a small bit of water for the moment, but once you lift your hand again the river rushes on.

IMHO, there is a bit of a social media master in each of us. We all probably know more than we realize as we attempt to stay on top of concepts, software applications, and methods that are meant to make marketing "easier" by facilitating our ability to have deeper connections and conversations with our customers (a vague term that could mean readers, consumers of media, purchasers, etc.). Experts we may not be, but afficionados we probably are. And that's ok with me. Because as long as what I'm doing works at the moment, that's what counts. That is until "Whatever 3.0" comes along and the process--and my learning curve--begins all over again.