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Throughout the process, Morita came up against strong opposition from his technicians and his marketers, all of whom argued that the product was not viable and would not sell. They questioned why someone would buy a tape recorder that did not record. “[I]t embarrassed me,” Morita wrote in his memoir, Made in Japan, “to be so excited about a product most others thought would be a dud. But I was so confident the product was viable that I said I would take personal responsibility for the project.”6 In fact, in order to price the Walkman where he wanted it, Sony had to produce 30,000 units for
Become a Champion
the Japanese launch—twice the number of units its highest-selling tape recorder was selling per month. When the sales force flat-out objected, Morita pledged to do something that few CEOs would do today: He said he would resign if they could not sell them. All 30,000 units were sold within two months. Profitable innovation was a hallmark of this Creative Business Idea from the start.
Before You Leap: If you are passionate about your idea, and you believe that what you are doing is right—right for the business and for the brand—do not be afraid to put yourself on the line. Fight for it. Fight the tug toward mediocrity. And if you happen to work for a CEO who is fighting for a creative idea that seems insane, give him time. He might be one of those CEOs who can sing and dance.
The Sony Walkman was such a brilliant idea because it combined creativity and strategy in new ways. It was an industry first. It was a breakthrough solution that transformed the marketplace and, in fact, spawned a whole new industry. It is a powerful example of a new way to maximize relationships between consumers and brands.
Who Is against Creative Thinking?
In 1995, when Fast Company first appeared on the newsstands, I gave everyone at our next 100-Day Meeting a copy. I wanted them to learn from the magazine’s insights into change—and from the companies that react swiftly to the changes around them.
Later, I invited Bill Taylor, Fast Company cofounder, to address one of those senior management meetings. Taylor and I had an instant connection. It was as if he knew all about us, even though he knew nothing about us.
In Taylor’s view, if one asks, “Who is against creative thinking?” not a single hand will be raised. Of course everyone is for creativity; in the abstract, it is right up there with motherhood and the flag. On the other hand, Taylor points out, if you look at 90 percent of the companies in the world, and particularly the senior executives of those companies, everything they do sends precisely that message: “I
Creativity at the Top
hate innovation; creativity is my enemy.” Why? Because we are against mistakes, we are against failure, and it is hard to have creativity and innovation without mistakes and failure.
No Guts, No Glory
Morita did not always win. Think of Betamax, Sony’s videotape player. If you are young, you have never heard of it—the industry standard is VHS. That is because Sony developed a technology using a tape size that few other makers adopted. Sony got crushed. But here, too, there is much to be learned from Morita and his successors in the way they were able to take risks, make mistakes, accept defeat. They were passionate.
It was passion for their ideas—from the Walkman to the first videocassette recorder to the compact disc—that gave them the courage to fearlessly bring these products forward, against all odds. It was passion that led Gunnar Engellau to defy every automotive trend in the marketplace in pursuit of his belief that safe can be sexy. Passion was also the trademark of that “tough man” in the poultry industry, Frank Perdue.
Be a Renegade
When people talk about leaders who have a passion for ideas, one cannot get too deep into the conversation without mention of one of the true renegades of the business world: Richard Branson, chairman of the Virgin Group. Not only does Branson love to challenge the status quo, most of the time he is remarkably successful at it. He’s had not just one, but multiple industry firsts. He’s been remarkably successful at profitable innovation. And in the process he has reinvented entire categories of business.
I asked a group at the agency to look more deeply into Branson’s empire for two reasons: First, because we felt he could be a potential client (he hasn’t become one yet). And, second, because I felt there was a lot we could learn from Virgin. As it happened, I had a small revelation as we studied the brand: Branson and his enterprise were a
Be a Renegade
wonderful example of a truly great Creative Business Idea. This guy does not just leap, he jetes.
What is Virgin? Is it a music company? An international airline? A cola? An online bank? A bridal shop? All of the above . . . and more. So, what is the Virgin brand? At first glance, the company looks like an array of wildly divergent products and services with little in common. What connects them all—what is at the core of the Virgin brand—is a lifestyle, a mind-set, and a perspective on the world. Virgin is the little guy against the Establishment. And Branson is David taking on a long line of Goliaths: British Airways, Coke and Pepsi, the British upper class.