Universal CEO didn’t know what they didn’t know

There’s a report here about an interview in the Dec edition of Wired with the CEO of Universal Music Group, Doug Morris.

He makes clear that their failure to capitalise on music downloading in the early days of the internet and file sharing was simply through ignorance of the possible.

When Morris is asked why the music business didn’t work harder, in the early days of file-sharing, to build its own (legal) online presence, there’s this exchange:

“There’s no one in the record industry that’s a technologist,” Morris explains. “That’s a misconception writers make all the time, that the record industry missed this. They didn’t. They just didn’t know what to do. It’s like if you were suddenly asked to operate on your dog to remove his kidney. What would you do?”

Personally, I would hire a vet. But to Morris, even that wasn’t an option. “We didn’t know who to hire,” he says, becoming more agitated. “I wouldn’t be able to recognize a good technology person — anyone with a good bullshit story would have gotten past me.”

Even though we shouldn’t be, we’re actually a little shocked. We’d always assumed the labels had met with a team of technology experts in the late nineties and ignored their advice, but it turns out they never even got that far — they didn’t even try!

I would stake a chunk of cash on there having been numerous people who tried to talk to Universal (and other labels) about the possibility of collaborating on such a venture but who were all rebuffed at lower levels by “business development people” who would have claimed that they were too busy on more important things and that this wasn’t a priority for the business.

Do I have inside knowledge? Nope, but make this assertion since I see the same thing happen on a regular basis with big companies, who turn away ideas that are offered to them without really giving them much thought or because the points of entry to the organisation are not staffed with the right calibre of people. Whilst some ideas are daft and organisations have restricted bandwidth, it’s rare that companies have a unique insight into “the next big thing”. I always believed that the job of the door keeper (biz devt) is to search for and welcome/”catch” lots of such innovations for an initial evaluation and not shoo them away.


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