Ringo, Innovation, and Challenging Times

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So I was out to dinner last night, and two guys at a nearby table were discussing Sunday’s Grammy awards—specifically Paul McCartney’s performance of I Saw Her Standing There with Foo Fighter (and former Nirvana drummer) Dave Grohl on drums. This led one of the two to say “Well, Ringo never really was much of a drummer. But I guess he was an okay timekeeper, and that’s really all the Beatles needed.” The other one agreed. At that point, I’m pretty sure I was visibly shaking, and it was all I could to keep from setting fire to their table.

Don’t get me wrong—I’m a big fan of Dave Grohl’s. (In fact, I used to hang out with him from time to time during his Nirvana days here in Seattle.) He’s a fabulous drummer. But, as a drummer myself for most of my life, I’ll defend Ringo’s chops until my dying day. Here’s what I mean:

Imagine you’re a drummer in the 60s. At this time, most rock drumming is simple, bubblegum stuff. Straight eights on the hi-hat, snare drum backbeat on 2 and 4…that kind of thing. Then somebody—say, John Lennon—starts shaking things up by bringing in songs like She Said, She Said; Strawberry Fields Forever; and A Day In The Life. Stuff for which there is no precedent. Simple 2 and 4 aren’t going to cut it. So what do you do? You come up with drum parts that are not just good, but so astonishingly innovative that it’s all but impossible to imagine the songs played any other way. “Yes, but I can play anything Ringo played,” the detractors say. To which I reply, “So can I. I can also sit down at my computer and retype Hamlet, but that doesn’t make me Shakespeare.”

So what does any of this have to do with you and your business success? Well, the increasingly more groundbreaking songs that Lennon, Paul McCartney, and, later, George Harrison, brought to the Beatles represented a huge change from the way things had been done before. A lesser drummer would have tried to stick with the old, tried-and-true drum patterns of the past (“Hey, they’ve always worked before!”), with mediocre results at best. What did Ringo do? He adapted, he innovated, he challenged the old rules and invented new ones. The result was that the songs rose to an even higher level, and the competition was left in the dust.

Your business is no doubt facing change. Maybe it’s coming from the current economic crisis, maybe it’s coming from new technology—it doesn’t really matter. The point is that whatever you’re facing, it represents a change from the way things have been done before. The question is, what are you going to do about it? Are you going to stick with the old, tried-and-true patterns of the past? (“Hey, they’ve always worked before!”) Or are you going to adapt, to innovate, and to challenge the old rules and invent new ones?

Yes, we’re in the middle of big change right now. Nobody can predict with certainty how things will play out. But one thing we can be certain of is this: there will be winners and there will be losers. The winners will be the ones who, like Ringo, see change as an opportunity for innovation and growth, who rise to the occasion and invent new rules. The losers will be the ones who try to make yesterday’s patterns fit today’s realities. And they’ll be left in the dust.


About the Author:

29-time Emmy Award winner and Hall of Fame keynote speaker Bill Stainton, CSP is an expert on Innovation, Creativity, and Breakthrough Thinking. He helps leaders and their teams come up with innovative solutions — on demand — to their most challenging problems.
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