#TBT: One-Step Strategy for Success: Be Awesome, Part I

Happy #TBT. Here’s an oldie-but-goodie post from Jim: One-Step Strategy for Success: Be Awesome. We’re breaking it into two parts. Check back next week for Part II.

In 2009, Bob Lefsetz wrote about the state of music and the music business.

I’ll paraphrase here, which of course means you’re getting my interpretation of what he said, so maybe it’s best if you also go read his piece, too.

But his point is this, as far as I can tell: The concert business (or as he has suddenly started to say the “live touring business”) is in deep, long-term trouble because the new music isn’t good enough and the old music is, well, old and overpriced.

His remedy is better music. On some level, I agree, because like Bob, I’m a bit of a True Believer. I was listening to Pete Townshend’s “Let My Love Open the Door” on my iPod last night with my nine-year-old daughter. If you listen to that song, there’s so much beautiful — but by today’s standards, completely unnecessary — musical stuff going on: the slight echo on the voice in the chorus; the little bit of off-beat syncopation in the drums, the jangly acoustic guitar that you don’t hear unless you listen closely, and probably other stuff that a more expert ear than I could hear and explain.

And then the lyrics. They’re not poetry, but they sound like something that an adult would actually think and experience. Somehow, it sounds important.

And, hey, you may hate that song or Pete Townshend or whatever, but when Bob says the music needs to be better, he’s right, and I really feel it when I listen to something like that song.

Having said that, a lot of the pop music during whatever Golden Age you want to define was complete garbage. We just don’t think about that. We think about Thriller, not Kaja-freakin’-googoo, which really and truly sucked.

So yes, better music would help.

But I can’t stop from thinking about the ‘better mousetrap’ fallacy that so many technology businesses fall into. The assumption here is that if a company builds a better product, they will win in the marketplace. (And ultimately, what Bob is talking about is winning in the marketplace by some standard or definition. If a band can’t win in the marketplace, no one ever knows or cares about their music, and how does anyone benefit from that?)

Steelcase Lateral File Cabinets

So, many technology companies strive to improve their products, and believe me, they do. They add features, they improve performance, they do surveys and find out what people don’t like about their current options, and they build to what they think people want.

But it doesn’t always help. There’s a famous B-school story (that I heard in B-school obviously) that goes like this: The CEO of Steelcase (who used to make primarily those heavy metal filing cabinets) was complaining about the erosion of their sales from companies making cheap plastic cabinets. This to him was an outrage because their commitment to craftsmanship and quality was so low and yet the marketplace was rewarding this slapdashery.

He is reputed to have said, “It doesn’t make any sense. You could throw one of our filing cabinets out a third-story window and they’d still work.”

To which a subordinate replied, “Yeah, but nobody does that.”

This story has the scent of a semi-legend, but take it for what it’s worth: It means that quality as defined by you could be very different from quality as defined by your potential audience.

To be continued … Check back for Part II next week.

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