What Can Modern Music Teach us About Tech Innovation? class=

What Can Modern Music Teach us About Tech Innovation?

Doug Hadden, VP Products

Last month I posted What Modern Art can Teach us about Business Innovation based on Marshall McLuhan‘s idea that only the artist lives in the present. Music is another art form known for innovation.

Jazz and Blue Note Records

I’ve written a bit on the influence of Jazz and innovation in The Innovator’s Dilemma and Miles DavisBlue Note Records brought innovation to jazz music by signing more avant garde musicians like Thelonious Monk, Horace Silver and Jimmy Smith. Founder Alfred Lion created an enabling environment for innovation. Lion was a German immigrant who had the outsider perspective: he saw jazz as a legitimate art form worthy of exploration and quality recording.

Progressive Rock

The BBC documentary Prog Rock Britannia an Observation in Three Movements explores the innovations in progressive rock following groups such as Genesis, Yes and Emerson Lake and Palmer. This shows another example of music innovation at work. Like jazz innovation at Blue Note, early progressive rock groups were empowered to develop music without limited interference from the record labels. This may have created something “indulgent” designed to satisfy the musician rather than the audience. Yet, that’s somewhat the model for Google – build for yourself first.


I don’t think that the lesson here is that technology companies should build products without understanding the market. The key lesson here is how management can enable innovation and creativity. I’ve seen in companies how innovation can be stymied. It is rather disconcerting to see software companies claim that minor product enhancements are innovation. Or, that acquiring companies is innovation. Or, combining acquired companies products together is innovation.

Competition was a key motivator in jazz and progressive rock innovation. Musicians learned from each other. Tried something different. The result was something new. That’s a far cry from the proprietary nature of technology these days where Intellectual Property is used to limit the innovation of competitors rather than spurring more innovation – something Don Tapscott thinks is changing thanks to transparency.