What a fabled marching band can teach you about innovation
I’ve got a soft spot for people who take on the status quo — of an industry, a sport, an art form — and then turn it upside down and inside out. Think Marcel Duchamp for art. Or Ray Kroc for restaurants. Or Bill Walsh for football.
One such person passed away this weekend: William P. Foster, whose obituary runs in today’s New York Times. Foster was a consummate outsider — an African-American clarinetist who aspired to become a symphony conductor, only to realize that his race prevented him from attaining that position.
So instead Foster decided to reinvent the marching band. He abandoned the staid, military-style, Sousa-centric, lockstep approach prevalent at most football half-times — and replaced it with “shows that infused black popular culture into his routines, blending contemporary music, often jazz or rock, with imaginative choreography, his green-and-orange uniformed band members carrying their instruments at a 45-degree angle, legs bent to the same angle.”
These action-packed, dynamic shows were huge crowd pleasers. Foster’s Florida A&M Marching 100 ended up performing for presidents and prime ministers. And along the way, he — like other innovators of his ilk — established not just a new standard, but a new vernacular for his profession. To get a small taste, check out the clip below. Then ponder how you can be more like the man students called “The Maestro.”