Punk matters

In the world of innovation, experts are careful to draw a distinction between a genuine step-change and something that is simply the next big thing in a trendy sense.

Punk rock was both, in my opinion. I’m very much enjoying the re-runs of the 1970s Granada TV show So it goes which gave early outings to the likes of the Sex Pistols, the Clash, the Stranglers, and punk poet John Cooper Clarke. The content appeals to me both in its own right as an art form, and because I was there when it happened as an anarchic teenager myself. OK, that dates me a bit, but what can I do? I still think God Save the Queen (the Pistols’ version, not the national anthem) is one of the most exciting records ever made.

Punk was innovative culturally and socially, if not musically (everyone knows Iggy Pop, the New York Dolls, the Ramones, etc were all around long before the Pistols). The primary means of innovating was by sparking reactions the consequences of which those reacting were unable to control. Punk changed the face of Britain and in the process, according to former Economist Washington bureau chief Michael Elliott, did more to revive the British economy than Margaret Thatcher did.

Innovation has become something of a battleground in recent years, torn between sections of the business world where it is corporate-speak for endlessly squeezing more value out of the same old assets, and an empirical approach which insists that major investment and the freedom to do ‘blue-skies’ research is the best way to make genuinely new ideas useful. For an excellent exposition of the latter case, see the London Manifesto for Innovation.

It is a concern for those of us in the communications profession too. If we aspire to remain true to IABC’s Code of Ethics (among others) can we really use our professional skills to promote products, services, and (especially) business models that do not meet the minimum standard for innovation as being ‘new’ in the way that our employers sometimes demand?

IABC in the UK is hosting a debate on innovation, next Tuesday 21 October, in London. I am taking part (and have promised not to play any punk records). If you’re around it would be great to say hello.

the pistols

The Sex Pistols at the Paradiso Club, Amsterdam. Image from http://www.commons.wikimedia.org

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