Monday, 25 July 2016

Lessons from Wagner about innovation: 10. continuously introduce and adapt

It is often overlooked that innovations recognised as valuable or even great can fade from popular consciousness over time.

Paradoxically, it is some of the most high profile and awe inspiring innovations that can be most prone to fade: their almost mystical or legendary status giving them a rarefied aspect that distances and then wipes them from the everyday person's everyday life. Think about the Apollo moon landings; consider the supersonic airplane Concorde; reflect upon the ground breaking skyscrapers within the elite business districts of the world that no one looks up at any more.  

Supporters of Wagner and his music were certainly aware of this danger, and they took steps to address it. They continuously introduced Wagner's music to new generations of audiences and found ways to adapt it to changing habits and needs.

For example, during the early 1930's (long after the initial introduction of Wagner's works) Leopold Stokowski arranged, conducted and recorded what he called 'Symphonic Syntheses' of many of Wagner's operas. These came at a time when performances of Wagner's operas were on the wane and there was a danger they might fade into the mists of half-remembered musical history or, at the very best, become a high class side-show for a self-styled Central European musical elite.

These Symphonic Syntheses could be performed in the average local concert hall. They usually gave the vocal lines to the strings or some other instrument and, importantly, their self-contained and carefully structured nature provided a satisfying listening experience that could be broadcast far and wide over the radio and distributed through recordings.

Leopold Stokowski successfully introduced Wagner's music to new audiences by effectively adapting it to people's lives and listening habits, including those habits encouraged by new technology.

Wagner's works did not retreat into a half-remembered golden age of music but gradually caught up with and came within reach of people's daily lives (or at least their radios and gramophones).

Today, Wagner's operas (and Leopold Stokowski's Syntheses) are performed and broadcast around the globe.

So be aware, like Wagner' supporters, that valuable or even great innovations can easily fade and be forgotten. Plan for the long-haul and work at continuously introducing your innovations to new people, and find ways to adapt your innovations to the circumstances and technologies that are changing the way people use and interact with them.

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