I was watching a show the other day about the making of The Beatles album, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, and one of the things that struck me about the show was the mention of one of the reasons why The Beatles stopped touring: “We couldn’t hear ourselves onstage.” Ringo mentioned he was just hoping he was playing the right notes as he couldn’t hear the music and was trying to play by reading John and Paul’s lips. The sound amplification technology of the day just wasn’t good enough to allow The Beatles to keep touring.
So they stopped touring and took their creative energies to the studio and revolutionized the concept of a rock album exploiting the existing technology of the day to their advantage. They took a risk and the result was a masterpiece.
The Beatles needed an improvement in technology to keep doing what they were doing – touring and sharing their music to millions of fans – but they were not going to create the new technology. They were artists, not engineers. With the technology wall square in front of them, they pivoted in a new direction, and created something the world had never heard.
When you hit that wall in your company, whether a startup or corporation, which way do you pivot? Do you become a technology company and try to create the totally new technology, or maintain your purpose and core skill set to exploit existing technology? Either answer could be correct (the skill set of your team, available resources, etc. all factor in), but you need to choose wisely.
One can only wonder what would have happened if, in late summer 1966, there was a sudden breakthrough in sound amplification technology. And we can be thankful there wasn’t.