It is unusual for a riot to break out at a ballet.
But that is exactly what happened when Igor Stravinsky’s ballet “The Rite of Spring” was first shown a hundred years ago at the Theatre des Champs-Elysees in Paris.
For its time, Stravinsky’s composition was more than avant-garde; the melodies were discordant, based on Lithuanian folk music and the choreography was at best unorthodox. It was a little too much for a 1913 Parisian audience.
As the first chords sounded, there were disturbances within the audience, and before long the theatre became a battlefield. In the words of the conductor Pierre Monteux, "Everything available was tossed in our direction, but we continued to play on."
About 40 theatre goers were thrown out of the show by police.
Not a resounding first night success.
But history has vindicated Stravinsky. Despite his first-night critics, "The Rite of Spring" is now regarded as an innovative masterpiece.
The problem with innovation
I guess that, like Stravinsky, you want your customer’s experience to be the best it can be. You want to be innovative, to deliver new and enticing services, to excite and engage customers both new and old.
Your customers will tell you that this is exactly what they want, too.
But as Stravinsky’s experience shows, most of us don’t want innovation at all. We would far rather have safety and reassurance. We are scared of the new and unknown, and innovation must be new by definition.
This causes a problem. You need to innovate, to develop novel, improved, and better services to keep and win customers. But customers are wary of the new, and scaring your customers is not great for business (unless you make horror movies or rollercoasters).
A classic catch 22.
How to avoid the innovation conundrum
Fortunately there are a handful of ways you can break the cycle and make your innovation more readily acceptable:
1. Make it easy
It is an overused example, but even my 73 year old mother has an iPad. It is so simple to use and so intuitive that she was hooked from the moment she picked one up.
Is your service innovation so blatantly easy to use that consumers can’t get it wrong? Have you run usability tests to see how customers behave (and ironed out the issues)?
2. Make it familiar
Over the past decade, Amazon has changed its homepage design over and over again, adding multiple services and occasionally undertaking a full makeover. But it is so familiar few of us even notice.
Does your innovation change only what needs to be changed, keeping everything else the same, or have you changed for change’s sake? If you have ever had a Microsoft Office upgrade, you will know exactly what I mean.
3. Make it enticing
The London Eye is a blot on London’s horizon, a one hundred and thirty-five meter high steel Ferris wheel, an eyesore if ever there was one. But when it was put up, most people were too intrigued by what the view was like from the top to complain.
What is the promise your new innovation offers? What is in it for your customers? How could you make it so desirable that they would be prepared to throw caution to the wind and try it?
4. Make it their idea
Tim Ferris has sold millions of copies of The 4-Hour Work Week. Famously, he tested different book titles using a Google Adwords campaign to see which worked best. What isn’t so well known is that, once he had settled on a title, he mocked up a handful of dust-cover designs, slipped them over other books in his local book store, and sat back to see how consumers reacted.
What market research could you do to modify your idea to make it more acceptable to your customers? How can you incorporate your customer’s ideas into your service innovation?
The other way to ensure success
Of course, you don’t have to do any of this; you can risk it and rely on the shock of the new to carry your innovation through. But if that is your strategy, your innovation has to be very, very good. And even then, you had better be prepared for the reviews.
The Rite of Spring is "a laborious and puerile barbarity."
~ Henri Quittard 1913 (Arts Critic Le Figaro, Paris)
process improvement in the customer service industry at www.squawkpoint.com.
Photo Credit: Everyone's a critic - graifitti under Mancunian Way in Manchester by Alex Pepperhill