Chris Wright, the founder and chairman of Chrysalis, has had some unkind things to say about that TV programme, The X-Factor. He makes a point, and his observations have a resonance that applies beyond the world of music.
“The music industry,” he said, “hates X-Factor with a passion.”
His argument is this. The programme creates a log-jam, which in turn stops other artists from coming through. “People like Bob Dylan would struggle to get a break today,” he said.
But there is another point, too.
Innovation, be it in music, business or technology, can be a somewhat random process. No one can really say where the next good ideas will come from.
Did you know that when Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin, it was an accident. Sure, he was a scientist in the inventing game, but he just happened upon penicillin after he left a culture of staphylococcus on the side and noticed that a blue-green mould adjacent to the culture was dissolving bacteria.
The point here is that innovation really can jump, apparently out of the blue. The key to it lies in trying lots of ideas. Who knows what they will lead to.
The X-Factor, on the other hand, has ceded control of much of the music industry to one person. Sure, the shows uncover good talent. But variety is the price that is paid, as would-be rock stars and music are crowded out.
And as variety suffers, the chances fall of stumbling across the next great music innovation.
It is like that in business, too. No one could have predicted the rise of Facebook, Twitter or Google. But for every big success, there were literally dozens of ideas, maybe hundreds, that failed. Among the failures were products developed by the giants of technology, including the likes of Microsoft.
And that’s why the key to innovation lies in innovation itself, and that is why the success of The X-Factor will ultimately mean less innovation. Either that, or the programme itself will lose popularity as the sheer weight of innovative music products makes the format of the programme look old and tired.
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