Rich Karlgaard: As I watched a Martin Scorsese documentary on Dylan last night in my Miami hotel room, I thought again how Dylan created an original sound by marrying two forms: folk to a rock beat.
More often than not, what is called innovation is really a recombination of the existing. Steve Jobs married Moore’s Law to pop culture … and he still does, better than anyone. Howard Schultz married the Italian streetside cafe to the American franchise model. SUVs wedded the American family wagon to a truck. Bill Walsh took a fast-break basketball offense and adapted it to the gridiron. George Lucas took Lawrence of Arabia into space.
There are thousands of examples like these. My own small feat of synthesis was bringing the old long-form Playboy interview to a business magazine, Upside, which I co-founded. Back in the day (the early 1990s), I would get four to five hours of taped conversation with Bill Gates, Jim Clark, Michael Dell and the like … and after a while, some wonderfully outrageous stuff would spill from their mouths. Clark, the chairman of Silicon Graphics at the time, said he thought his CEO was an uptight, humorless jerk, for example. On such interviews, Upside built its reputation.
Innovation suddenly becomes accessible to us mere mortals when we drop the genius requirement and think about mixing and matching tasty ingredients with our passions. That’s the lesson of Dylan, Jobs and Schultz.
Blackberry in hand, live from the Miami airport …