Are you Radiohead, U2 or ?

by Tomislav Buljubasic

Do your innovation capabilities rely on single product or you are delivering continuous improvements or innovations?

Well, here is an example from the music industry, I will try to make a point by using the examples of my three favorite bands: Radiohead, Suede and U2.

Everyone knows about U2, they are big, well-known “stadium” band with many hits and top albums. In their first 10 years they was a clearly a rock band that won a lot of fans. Then in 1991. they released album Achtung Baby, where they transformed themselves by the influence of European electronic music. Many fans liked it, but also many doesn’t liked it and they begin to talk of U2 before and after that album. Changes in other albums weren’t so radical, so in last 20 years, they live on incremental changes. Now, they are one of the biggest bands in the world, with fans among all generations.

Radiohead is alternative rock band and that limits they popularity only to those who listen that kind of music. They have similar change in the tone in 1997. and third album O.K.Computer, but later they done similar. They reinvent themselves in each new album. They slide to more and more alternative waters, but also they were able to recruit new generations of fans. They succeed to make radical changes and produce big releases over and over.

On the other hand Suede was a big band in 90s and then they slide down while experimenting with new tones and even vanished from the scene in 2003.. Now, they have a new album with slightly similar tone like in the 90s. Old fans will love it, but will they make a move among younger generations?

So, is your business looks like one of these bands? Are you successful radical innovator (Radiohead), incremental innovator (U2) or something in between (Suede)?

I heard once, that best ideas often comes before 30. That can be so applicable for music, as many authors struggle to create new hits after first success. But, for Radiohead or U2 that isn’t the case.

So, there are 3 models here:

(1) Reinvent yourself with every new project (album), gain new followers with risk of losing some old – Radiohead has devoted fans all over the world, but also big part of population doesn’t know they exist. They are below the radar for many music fans. They even were the pioneers in selling music, when they let the download of their album for free, with note that anyone can pay an amount you want.

(2) Play on safe: incremental innovations, learn your customers (fans) on new things. U2 has army of fans from their first album until now, whole world knows Bono, The Edge, Adam Clayton & Larry Mullen Jr.

(3) Small – big – small – big changes, either love me or hate me. Suede was a big band in the 90s but then it was forgotten in 2000s. Still, they have devoted fans, as they were different than others. Now, they are together again and try to reinvent themselves with new album.

image credit: electricguitarjam.com

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Barriers to Innovative CultureTomislav Buljubasic is an Innovation Manager and writer from Croatia, focusing on creativity, innovation culture and process. Author of Unleash Your Creativity App. He can be followed on twitter @buljubasict

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  1. Ricardo Zamora L

    And Radiohead did it because of the Internet. Not really sure if they reinvent themselves (sound) every album, but they definitely innovate globally.

  2. Thanks for your article. As a U2 fan, I appreciate your analogy. But, as you said, they rely on “incremental changes.” I would actually argue these album releases are now dangerously placed too far apart to maintain their goal of being relevant in today’s world. Coincidentally, I recently wrote about this topic within the design profession: You Too (and U2) Should Get Out of the Studio

  3. Those are me three favorite bands! They all rock on their own way

  4. U2 is absolutely my favorite band. Every body knows when something gets really big, people start hating it because they like to be contrarians. I think U2 are innovators, but you portray them as flakes that go with what’s cool. I like your article but I know that somebody is going to hop on the comments and start bashing these bands.

  5. U2 have kept close to the customers and the fans. They have remained universal and this is why they have a huge following. Also they have understood the sentiments of people ranging from Martin Luther King, Bishop Tuto, John Lennon up to Aung San Suu Kyi. They have incorporated the One concept for everyone. They have moved with the times in respect of music where I agree with the inremental innovation. They have provided us with value innovation thanks to the developments in the technology such as the ipads.

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