In the 70s, Bill Withers had a typical experience with “music experts” [via Still Bill, a Bill Withers documentary].
After reaching fame with “Ain’t No Sunshine,” his new record company planned Bill Withers’ next album.
Bill stood in front of the new record company executives, performing his ideas.
A panel of experts judged, divided into two groups: the “R&B black guys” and “blackperts, white guys that tap into the black psyche.”
“Where are the horns? Put some horns into it,” the experts said.
“How long is the intro? Make the intro longer,” the experts said.
Bill retorted that his first hit record, “Ain’t No Sunshine” had no intro. And no horns.
And that he’s frustrated with all of their rules.
“Here comes a whole bunch of guys, trying to tell you what to do,” Bill says, “with their goofy suggestions.”
It’s a cliche scene replayed in countless movies, an artist’s creativity suppressed by lifeless boardroom executives.
But the blackperts, the old, suit and tie white guys, supposedly out-of-touch with youth and R&B, had Bill schooled. They had research, data, and experience, launching the careers of hundreds of artists and executing with precision.
The blackperts had a typical consultant value proposition: replicate past successes for future clients.
But the blackperts and record label could never have created “Ain’t No Sunshine,” a song that defied every R&B rule and challenged market data of the time.
Which makes me wonder how creative the blackperts could ever be, with their bias toward the tried and true rather than innovative and daring.
“If no one throws all their rules at you, you might make a song with no introduction,” Bill explains.
Two entrepreneurs on a living room couch, building a marketing idea to bootstrap their startup, have limitless potential for creativity. While big corporations trend toward mediocrity by obsessing over which new rules to follow.
Those who break the rules, not out of defiance but ignorance, are blessed with an ability to make amazing things.
It’s why the best consultants, every once and while, forget their own advice to create something breathtaking.