Harvard Business Review: Tina Brown and Björk, Sisters of Innovation

April 5th, 2012

Harvard Business Review
April 5, 2012
Grant McCracken

Björk and Tina Brown have many differences but one common problem: They are watching the boat beneath them sink. Their print and music industries are being disintermediated by the digital revolution. They are struggling to respond to the blue-ocean and white-space and black-swan disruption that besets us all.

Brown is a British-born journalist, columnist, talk-show host, and author. She edited Tatler and The New Yorker. She is now the editor of Newsweek and The Daily Beast.

Björk is the Icelandic singer-songwriter who, by 2003, had sold 15 millions albums. Her work includes Post, Homogenic, Vespertine, and Medulla. Her current album is Biophilia.

Brown and Björk had enough altitude to glide to career’s end. Yet, they’ve decided to engage in radical experiment. These experiments may not save them (or us). But they’ve given us cultural innovations of some interest. And daring.

Björk’s Biophilia isn’t just an album. It’s an app. We open it to discover a jewel-like universe, a 3D model of galaxies in space. As we spin these, we discover hot spots. And when we investigate them, music begins to play. The music of the spheres has come unto the iPad.

At a stroke, Björk has created a disruption of her own. The album is over. It has been dying operatically since the 1990s, but it lives on, stubbornly, in our heads, a fixed idea of what music should be.

We’re captives of the old order. The accidents of industry, technology, and the marketplace gave us the 3-minute song bundled in multiples of 6 or 8 or 10 songs. And even after the album began to die, it remained an irresistible idea of what music was. Even as the world changed around us, we went plodding on.

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