Analog Innovators - What Can They Teach Us?

Renee Hopkins's picture
Chat Date: 
Thu, Mar 29, 2012

I'm overworked and consequently overwhelmed this week. As a twangy musician with one foot in bluegrass, I'm also saddened and stunned by the passing yesterday of banjo legend Earl Scruggs, an exceptional music innovator. So I'd like to do something different than what I had planned (and not followed through with) for this week. Let's talk about innovators in other fields, and what they can teach us about being better innovators. Artists, musicians, educators, fashion designers and others -- anyone but innovators in business and technology. 

By "innovators" I mean someone who completely changed their field of endeavor, created a new kind of art, music, etc., that was picked up by others, spawned new creations, and "crossed over" to others outoside the field. Someone who changed the value proposition, process, and/or market in their field. 

So here's what I want us to do:

Suggest an example and say:

  1. Why this person was an innovator and not simply being creative within their tradition.
  2. What we as business innovators could learn from their example.

I will start with Earl Scruggs.

1. Scruggs was an innovator becaues he created a new way of playing his instrument. He created it not out of thin air, but from out of the music he heard around him (clawhammer and frailing banjo styles, other people experimenting with three-finger rolls, Maybelle Carter's guitar style). Then he teamed up with Bill Monroe, who heard Scruggs style as the final piece of a new style of music that still lives on. Scruggs also poularized his style and applied it eclectically across a variety of popular music styles, changing the way his instrument was used and changing public perception of it.

Here's some background about him and his legacy:

And here's a Spotify playlist of 5 tunes illustrating Earl's influence. It contains one tune that illustratse the "clawhammer" style of banjo, which was the predominant pre-Scruggs style and still played by many; then two tunes by Earl Scruggs using the three-fingered "Scruggs style"; then two tunes by Bela Fleck that illustrate current banjo-style innovations (of which he is the master). Fleck had never heard the banjo until he heard Earl Scruggs playing the theme to "The Beverly Hillbillies" TV show as a kid growing up in New York City. 

Image from The New Yorker


Earl Scruggs
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