Analog Innovators: Moving Innovation Ahead in Music, the Arts, etc.

Earl ScruggsBest known to non-bluegrass fans as the composer of the Beverly Hillbillies theme song, Earl Scruggs pioneered a style of banjo playing that has since become the norm in bluegrass music.

To mark his passing the day before, last week’s innochat looked at the influence of Scruggs on banjo playing. (Innochat is a weekly Twitter chat attended by innovation experts and practitioners around the world.)

Dubbing him an analog innovator, moderator Renee Hopkins (@Renee_Hopkins) suggested looking at Scruggs’ work and what he could teach people in other fields about innovation. His “style became so pervasive that almost every other banjo player now plays a variation of his style,” she said.

For the purposes of the discussion, Hopkins defined analog innovation as non-business creativity, or “visionaries whose visions were embraced.”

“Scruggs was some innovator to get this Yankee interested in bluegrass music,” quipped Saul Kaplan (@skap5) in Rhode Island. He “changed and revolutionized his craft,” said Schawn Thropp (@sethropp).

Himself a musician, Harvey Briggs (@OBX_Briggs) said he bought a banjo because of Scruggs, and added, “All great musicians that I know are open innovators. We always jam together and ask, ‘how did you do that?'” The lesson from Scruggs is that we should listen and not be burdened by convention, Briggs said.

“A new musical style, like all great products, must touch emotions. Music does this really well,” said Kevin McFarthing (@InnovationFixer)  in the UK. Fellow countryman John Lewis (@JohnWLewis) agreed. “It is not just a different way of doing the same thing, it is having a different effect on the ‘consumers’,” he said.

The Innovator’s Perseverance

Although participants mentioned many musical innovators and styles, the conversation turned to other endeavors and experiences. Cathryn Hrudicka (@CreativeSage) mentioned Van Gogh, Picasso and James Joyce as notable innovators. Jenny Neill (@jennyneill) thought of wine makers. Jose Baldaia (@jabaldaia) in Portugal spoke of food and the “application of science to culinary practices and cooking phenomena.”

“Impressionists brought innovation in painting. They persevered through lots of negativity and criticism,” said Gwen Ishmael (@Gwen_Ishmael). “I think most innovators love what they do regardless of success. It’s the innovating, the doing, they love,” said Mary Beth Raven (@MaryBethRaven).

Tom Asacker (@TomAsacker) said the reviews of Beethoven’s 1st Symphony, which premiered on this day in 1800 in Vienna, were poor. “How about Arnold Sax whose instrument was banned in many states for being the siren call of the devil,” said Mike Parker (@Sysparatem).

“Social innovators” also got a hard time, said Jonny Goldstein (@jonnygoldstein) in Pittsburgh. He mentioned Ghandi, Martin Luther King and Malcolm X as examples.

The business lesson was summed up by Catherine Constantinides of One Desk (@OneDeskApp) in Montreal. It is that the “impact of persistence extends far beyond a person, but doesn’t always include them in the positives it creates,” she said.

Image of Earl Scruggs courtesy of Eric Frommer (armadilo60) on Flickr.