Back in 2009 I wrote a book called “Sex, Brands & Rock’n’Roll“. In the book I argued that the future belonged to the DJ’s ~ not the original content creators. That book landed me my first corporate gig as one of Europe’s first “head of social media”, and is one of the reasons I still encourage people today to write (or self-publish) a book into order to land their next dream gig.


The premise of my thinking back then was that original thought was over-rated. At least for me. I love consuming information and learning stuff (I still make the time to read a new book every week). There is nothing I enjoy more than sharing some of the things I’ve learned in workshops, seminars or keynotes – but anyone who has heard me speak will probably have noticed one major trend. I’m not saying anything particularly innovate or unique, I’m just re-packaging the things I’ve heard from various sources, and re-mixing them into a format that I think a different audience would appreciate.


The future belongs to the DJ’s” I used to say.


It’s a line I (partly) stole from Gary Vaynerchuk who used a version of it on his WineLibraryTv show many years ago. GV was saying that despite his fame and the $60m business he had pretty much built from scratch in 7 years – he was not doing anything original. His real talent lay in finding something that was emerging (but not new), and becoming obsessed with developing it – re-packaging it in a way that his audience had not seen before. He was not an innovator in video blogging, but he jumped on it very early on, and just worked harder than almost any other vlogger (long before YouTube made it cool). WineLibraryTV was certainly not the first show of it’s kind, but it was certainly one of the most successful shows at it’s peak.


Original thought is difficult. Historically it’s also been a very lonely way to pass the time. Things are far easier today as crowd-sourced ideas and collaboration tools help us to streamline new thoughts faster – but generally speaking, looking for that new thing, or creating your own unique perspective, is not easy.


So when I heard author and “Senior Maverick at Wired” Kevin Kelly (pictured on the headline) throw out this beautiful quote on Mitch Joel’s podcast this morning, I thought “Yes!”…


“It makes no business sense to innovate. The proper thing to do [for most people] is to perfect what you know”.


This flies in the face of many of the books I’ve read, especially “The Innovators Dilemma” and “Innovators DNA” – both superb reads by Clay Christensen. To justify this provocative statement, Kelly cited Thomas Edison. Edison was the 23rd “inventor” of the light bulb. He was certainly one of the most prolific inventors of his day, but in this instance he was not “innovative”. Edison managed to do two things very well that made him a huge success.

  1. Edison was able to take all the previous versions of the light bulb, and build upon their ideas, finding a version that worked better than all the previous versions.
  2. He used his business acumen to take his idea to market in a way that no-one had managed previously. He made his light bulb economically viable, and armed with some great PR skills and a valuable network of investors and entrepreneurs – Edison’s bulb was the one that became a commercial success.


I see this several times each week at many of the conferences I attend or in a new technology story. Everybody loves being seduced by the next new shiny thing. My industry, marketing, is especially guilty of being the shiny shiny profession – always looking for something cool and new to talk about.


Edison did had a REALLY cool “ideas lab” though at Menlo Park, packed with tools and artifacts from all over the world. Being constantly surrounded by collections of your favourite things is the best way think smarter…

Greenfield VillageDearborn, Michigan

Greenfield Village Dearborn, Michigan

Commercial success though doesn’t come from new shiny things. It never has. Innovators, musicians, artists, writers and designers all hold a very special place in my heart, because I am always drawn to the passion of a creative person. But it’s hardly ever the creative people who make money. How many friends do you have trying to make it as a musician, crafts person or an interior designer? Creating something new is highly rewarding work, but seldom well paid.


In business I liken this to any of the “hype-cycles” from research company Gartner. No matter which hype-cycle you look at, the story is always the same. The innovations and shiny new ideas are on the far left. The “innovation triggers“. But when they don’t perform (or enough of a market doesn’t adopt those new ideas), they fall off a cliff into the “trough of disillusionment“. Only when someone refines those ideas and makes them commercial viable, do they get adopted by the wider market and enter the “plateau of productivity“.


Now don’t get me wrong. I am not against creativity, nor should I ever suggest we should stop innovating; but where the majority of customers I deal with would benefit (and many of my entrepreneurial friends hoping to build the next big thing), is to focus more on perfecting the small things that they already know, rather than chasing something sexy and new.


In my small but feisty world of marketing, this means brand investing in better customer service, email campaigns, database management or memorable content – instead of chasing pretty meaningless “engagements” on Vine, FB, Twitter, Snapchat or Instagram. If I had £1 for each time an average brand which hadn’t perfected the basics,  telling me about their new VR experience or augmented reality app…


“It makes no business sense to innovate. The proper thing to do [for most people] is to perfect what you know”.


Anyway… I encourage you to listen to the podcast yourself for Kevin Kelly’s explanation and the full context. If you like it, you should invest in his new book “The Inevitable”. It’s an outstanding read.


Communications Designer @IBM • Climate Reality Leader • Lover of Old Business Books, Clever Technology and the NHS • Based in London, UK.

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