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The 10 Most Important Innovation-Themed Rock Documentaries of All Time!

With all the keynotes I do, I spend a huge amount of time on airplanes — and often end up going through a lot of video. As of late, I’ve seen a number of rock documentaries, and was struck by some of the unique innovation stories in these films. And so I’ve put this list together!

Start with the slide show on the image below: use the right arrow key to advance through the list! (SLIDESHOW)


You can also continue reading the list below.

#10 Woodstock: 3 days of peace, music …and love

They figured out the HP InkJet business model, long before we even had personal computers

Innovation is all about risk, and Woodstock Ventures Inc. was all about risk. Everything went wrong — problems with ticket sales, the decision that the concert would have to be free, last minute problems that forced a change in concert location which drove up costs. They lost a ton of money on the concert — but made it up in spades with the film and album. Which is an innovation model that many would follow years later, with companies giving away printers for free, and making gazillions off the ink they would later sell you!

Key innovation lessons:

  • Not every business model is certain: and sometimes, the success you achieve won’t be from what you anticipated
  • Stephen Stills on fear: “This is the second time we’ve ever played in front of people, man, we’re scared shitless.” Most innovators are!

#9 The Sex Pistols: The Great Rock & Roll Swindle

Innovators often achieve massive brand success by being at the right place at the right time

Love them or hate them, they were certainly one of the most innovative rock bands of all time. They didn’t respect convention: they tore it up. They didn’t do PR — they redefined PR through their television appearances. They didn’t shy away from controversy — they created it. In a world of massive competition where brands are trying to stand out, maybe there’s a little bit of PR that everyone can learn from the Pistols.

Key innovation lessons:

  • In today’s business social networked world, controversy stands out. I better the Pistols would have more Twitter followers than anyone on the Planet. Then again, maybe the social universe would just look at them as a bunch of wankers

#8 Wayne’s World

Innovation means dreaming big, trying hard, and if at the end of the day it didn’t work out, it will still be worth the effort!

Ok, so they weren’t a real band, and it’s not really a rock documentary, but it had to go on the list! Did you live the Wayne’s World experience? I did, as a part time roadie for two Kiss concerts during the 70’s. I crack up every time I see the Alice Cooper scene: that was me with the ‘backstage pass.’ Wayne’s World is an innovation inspiration simply because of the enthusiasm and inspiration that these two misfits carry about with them as they pursue their mission. of achieving great success!

Key innovation lessons:

  • Goal oriented: “Let me bring you up to speed. My name is Wayne Campbell. I live in Aurora, Illinois, which is a suburb of Chicago — excellent. I’ve had plenty of joe-jobs, nothing I’d call a career. …… OK, so I still live with my parents, which I admit is both bogus and sad. But at least I have an amazing cable access show and I still know how to party! But what I’d really love is to do “Wayne’s World” for a living. It might happen, tsshyeah, and monkeys might fly out of my butt.”

#7 The Clash Live: Revolution Rock

Innovators constantly mix it up, change, evolve their product and style, and never go stale.

If a band can go from punk to reggae-oriented punk with a touch of Spanish flamenco, it’s certainly a leader in innovation. And Clash excelled as an innovative band because it’s music and lyrics also tied into the rage of the region: “Guns of Brixton” will always be a classic commentary on the mood of Britain during the race-infused riots of 1979. They came to influence everyone from the Beastie Boys to U2 to Green Day. This documentary shows them during their early years, full of energy, drive and innovative attitudes!

Key innovation lessons:

  • Each and every transition the band made involved a huge leap in musical style and focus – they were naturals at innovation
  • Their music is an influential now as when it hit the scene some thirty years ago

#6 Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage

Real innovators stick with what they believe in, despite what they are told by others

When Rush first appeared on the scenes in the 70’s, they were told by lots of folks that their music — cerebral, deep, and complex — would never appeal to a big audience. They went on to record 2112 and instantly endeared themselves to an audience of hundreds of millions, becoming one of the biggest rock bands of all time.

Key innovation lessons:

  • Don’t always listen to the experts:
  • There always exists a market for a product that is unique, complex and unlike anything else out there! Product differentiation is a core innovation capability!

#5 Metal: A Headbangers’ Journey

Exploring and understanding the unique motivations of niche markets

The world today doesn’t consist of one generic, homogenous customer base. Nor does it exist in the world of heavy metal. In this documentary, you catch a fascinating glimpse of the many different genres and sub-genres, each with their own unique style, founding principles (or lack thereof), and unique audience value proposition.  A must for those who want to understand how micro-markets are a significant driving force in customer innovation!

Key innovation lessons:

  • From the Web site: “Sam Dunn is a lifelong Metalhead and anthropologist. In Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey, after years of studying diverse cultures, Sam turns his academic eye a little closer to home and embarks on an epic journey into the heart and soul of heavy metal music.” In other words, when it comes to innovation, research into niche markets still matters!

#4 End of the Century: The Story of the Ramones

They defined punk, before punk even knew it existed.

The most remarkable thing about this documentary is that the Ramones were clearly leaders at innovation. They defined the unique musical style that defined a generation of music; they defined the look; they defined the attitude. So much so that their style and attitude came to epitomize what it meant to be different! They weren’t afraid to experiment, even during their ill-fated sessions with Phil Spector.

Key innovation lessons:

  • being innovative doesn’t necessarily mean huge success: maybe it is more important to influence and change the entire course of history instead. That’s what the Ramones did from a musical genre perspective
  • despite setbacks, maybe innovators do get the respect they deserve in the end — which came true for the Ramones when they were inducted into the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame

#3 This is Spinal Tap

It goes to 11”

That’s a massive innovation that few other bands have managed to accomplish (let alone say with a straight face.)

Although a fake documentary,  the lessons on innovation are countless. Don’t be afraid to try new things.  Always be mixing up the stage performance with dramatic new initiatives. Don’t fear failure, but learn from it.  And remember — keeping an innovation partnership together can be one of the most important things you can do.

Key innovation lessons:

  • success doesn’t come all at once: it can take a long time. Be relentless in your efforts!
  • Key line in the movie: David St. Hubbins: “It’s such a fine line between stupid, and clever.” That’s innovative thinking!
  • Motivational moment: Ian Faith (head roadie:)
    For one thing that goes wrong… one… one single thing that goes wrong, a hundred things go right

#2 Iron Maiden – Flight 666

If the business model isn’t working, change the business model!

The business model for concert touring has changed in massive ways; it’s more difficult for bands to launch a successful, sellout regional tours.  So when the business model changes, make up your own!

That’s what Iron Maiden did — they had their lead singer — a pilot — fly a chartered 757 to stadium shows in 22 countries in 35 days, putting on a tour that might have been logistically impossible in the old business model of rock tours.

Key innovation lessons:

  • when your business model changes — get ahead of it and define your own!
  • innovation can be all about logistics — you can get out and do things you haven’t done before
  • don’t wait for others to fix your “problems” — fix them yourself!

#1 Anvil – The Story of Anvil

Innovators sometimes take a long time before they achieve success

Anvil is a Toronto based band that toured with heavy-metal monsters such as Metallica during the 80’s. They never made it big. But they never gave up.  This movie is their story — the story of true innovation heroes, who somehow succeeded to find success in the end — even if it more than thirty years!

Key innovation lessons:

  • never give up
  • be relentless in your focus
  • don’t let the down moments get you down
  • don’t do it their way – do it your own way

Notice of potential conflict: I was transitting through Toronto airport a few months ago, and saw Anvil at the gate for a Los Angeles flight. Turns out they were on their way to a series of concerts in Australia. I had to go up and get a picture, and told them, “I found your story to be one of the most compelling innovation stories of all time.” That’s where I got the idea for this blog post, and maybe I’m a bit biased in my choice for number 1!

What do you think? What other rock documentaries should be on the list?

One Response to “The 10 Most Important Innovation-Themed Rock Documentaries of All Time!”

  1. Jim said:

    Today over on the “Forgotten Hits” blog, this post was referenced. They included the comments: “What?!?!? The brand new Justin Beiber film isn’t on this list?!?!? Now how can THAT be?!?!? Since some of those listed involve ficticious bands, I would quickly add The Beatles’ “Anthology” and “This Is Elvis” to the list. Plus there have been a number of EXCELLENT Made For Home Video releases that are quite exceptional including profiles on The Mamas and the Papas, The Turtles and Sam Cooke … and how about “Standing In The Shadows Of Motown” … or the struggling-to-be-released “The Wrecking Crew”?!?!? All FINE pieces of musical entertainment, high in informational content. (kk)”

    Read it here:

    Plus, too, someone called me pompous, which I really thought was kind of mean-spirited. )-;


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