Spinning Around

    Sign-up to get this delivered to your inbox every week

    This Episode: Changing your surroundings, why old is the new new, and learning from failure.

    Reports of my Death Have Been Greatly Exaggerated

    In 1948, Peter Goldmark of Columbia records came up with an idea that would transform music – microgroove plastic. You probably know it by the product it became – vinyl records.

    Why was vinyl so revolutionary? Well, until the invention of of these records the standard for delivering pre-recorded music was shellac records. They had two annoying tendencies – they could only store about 5 minutes of music per side, and if you dropped one, it would shatter into about a thousand pieces. Vinyl got rid of both of these problems at once. A 12 inch vinyl record playing at 33 1/3 RPM could deliver over four times as much music per side (leading to the invention of the album). And being made of a flexible plastic, vinyl records were far more durable.

    Vinyl remained a dominant force for decades. In fact, even though the cassette tape was invented in 1962, it took the invention of another technology in 1979, the Sony Walkman, to seal its fate. Cassettes + Walkmans solved a significant problem with Vinyl – portability. Now, your music could be wherever you were.

    What comes next is pretty well documented, particularly if you skip interesting detours like the LaserDisc and MiniDisc. From cassettes to CDs, from CDs to MP3s, and from MP3s to today’s audio streaming nirvana.

    But of course, we now know that the story is a bit more complicated than that. For the last 17 years, sales of Vinyl records have been steadily growing. Today they make up 71% of all physical music sales. Sure, streaming dominates, but Vinyl records today represent a $2Bn market – a market expected to double in the next 7 years. Not bad for something that was supposedly dead by the mid 1980s.

    And vinyl is not the only “old tech” seeing a resurgence. Physical books, and independent bookstores selling them have surged dramatically in the last few years. Traditional safety razers (the ones with old school razer blades) have done the same. This year even saw the launch of an entirely traditional broadsheet newspaper in the US – County Highway. Early signs are that it’s doing well.

    You might be tempted to put all this down to nostalgia, but I’m convinced it’s more significant than that. I think it gets to the heart of what innovation is.

    We often think of innovation as a series of improvements – with each innovation the solution gets better. But in reality most innovation is about using a new approach to solving one or more problems with an existing product. As you solve those problems, you typically create new ones. In other words, the replacement isn’t necessarily better overall, it’s just addresses some of the most pressing issues with its predecessor. Not only that, but every wave of innovation that follows erodes a little more of the essence of the original, and sometimes there is real value in that essence.

    That’s what’s happened with Vinyl. The music on a vinyl record will never be on demand, you will probably never get an unlimited supply of it for one low monthly price, and vinyl records will likely scratch every so often. We have solved all of those problems in the journey towards streaming. But the essence of the vinyl experience is not about that for a significant and growing audience. It’s about the joy of owning the physical artwork of an album cover containing a physical copy of your favourite artist’s work. It’s about the thrill of carefully placing it on your turntable and listening to it uninterrupted in the order the artist intended. It’s even about the physical sensation of browsing through albums in a record store alongside a bunch of other people doing the same thing.

    All of this might seem a bit theoretical, but it actually points to real approaches you can use if you want to innovate as an individual or as a team. Futurists at the Institute for the Future (IFTF) spend as much or more time looking backwards as they do forwards, and they look back quite a way – usually up to 50 years (If you want to learn more about this, listen to my podcast with Bob Johannsen from the IFTF). They do this because they understand that history provides great clues as to what is coming.

    If you are trying to innovate, and you are not looking backwards as well as forwards, you are missing a trick. As you try to understand how to solve a problem in an innovative way, look at solutions that existed previously whether they are 5 months old, 5 years old or even 50 years old. And if those solutions died out, seek to understand what was lost with them when they did. Do this repeatedly, and you will often generate amazing new business ideas.


    Learning from Failure

    A couple of weeks ago, I got the amazing opportunity to sit down with Dr. James Kelley. James is the author of The Crucible’s Gift – 5 Lessons from Authentic Leaders Who Thrive in Adversity.

    Jame’s book is really interesting, not least because it’s the collected insight of hundreds of leaders across many domains, and because it’s a practical guide on how to be an authentic leader.

    But our conversation went deeper. James has gone through his own bout of adversity recently. In June 2023 he took the difficult decision to walk away from his startup – a decision that has caused him substantial financial loss.

    It’s a really fascinating discussion – an opportunity to learn lessons from failure almost in real time. Check it out on your favorite facebook podcasting platform or by watching the video below.

    Surround Sounds (and Pictures)

    Working in inspiring surroundings doesn’t just have to be for digital nomads. Whatever your work arrangements, you should be able to make tweaks that help you get more done, more effectively. In this weeks tip, my animated twin looks at what some of those tweaks can be.

    About Us

    Thanks for Reading

    If you have found this article interesting, please share it and let me know your thoughts in the comments (I will respond).

    Please share this newsletter, subscribe to our YouTube channel and follow me on X (formerly Twitter)