A bit of rebellion can lead to magical results
What do Spider-Man, Bohemian Rhapsody, and Ikea have in common? They almost didn’t exist, writes innovation expert Simone van Neerven. Fortunately, the inventors were rebellious go-getters. ‘Groundbreaking innovations often require a healthy dose of courage.’
Bohemian Rhapsody failed to meet any standards
When Freddy Mercury proudly presented Bohemian Rhapsody to his producers, they were anything but enthusiastic. The song was completely different from all the other songs of the time. It had no chorus and it was six minutes long, which was way longer than all successful pop songs that were only three to four minutes long. It also contained no fewer than five different musical styles, including opera. And so the producers refused to release it.
But Mercury was so convinced this was a good song that he called his good friend and radio DJ Kenny Everett. He asked him to play the song on the radio over the weekend to find out how the public would respond to it. They immediately loved it and went en masse to the shops on Monday to buy it. This convinced the producers to release the song after all. Today Bohemian Rhapsody is one of the most streamed songs of the last century.
Spiderman almost did not come to life
Stan Lee, the spiritual father of Spiderman, also initially did not receive any cooperation from his publisher of the monthly magazine Amazing Fantasy. When asked to come up with a new superhero after the success of ‘X-Men’ and ‘The Fantastic Four’, he thought that the new superhero should be able to move quickly and flexibly, for example like a spider.
But his publisher didn’t like this at all: “Stan, this is seriously the worst idea I’ve ever heard”. He said that people hate spiders. He also didn’t like the idea that a teenager with personal problems would be a superhero. Back then, teenagers were always the sidekick but never the superhero themselves. And personal problems weren’t befitting a superhero.
Due to a lack of success, the monthly magazine was getting worse and it was decided to end it. Because Lee still believed in Spiderman, he published the story in the very last issue and put him on the cover as well. When the sales figures came in, it turned out to be a great success. They decided to make a series out of it, and today everyone in the world knows Spiderman.
If Mercury and Lee hadn’t taken matters into their own hands, Bohemian Rhapsody and Spiderman would never have existed. All too often innovation is held back by the establishment, often due to a lack of empathy for the new idea. It is so far beyond imagination that its potential is overlooked. Both examples show the power of following your ‘gut feeling’ and just daring to try something out to see what happens.
Dare to go off the beaten track
But it also shows that it takes a good dose of guts to persevere in the face of opposition. The founder of IKEA, Ingmar Kamprad, also encountered a lot of resistance from other Swedish furniture manufacturers in his early years. They ensured that he was not allowed to exhibit his furniture at the annual major furniture shows. Instead of giving up, Kamprad opened a warehouse in the Swedish countryside. People could come to explore the showcased furniture and order from a list. This is how IKEA’s world-famous ‘concept store’ came about.
Elon Musk also received a lot of opposition when, in 2002, he founded SpaceX as the first commercial organization to launch rockets into space. The US Air Force refused to allow him to launch from a base in California. Musk diverted to the island of Omelek, in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. There was an old military base from where he could freely launch missiles. In just four years, SpaceX launched five rockets. Although three of them failed miserably, they did provide very valuable information to improve the technology.
Innovative ideas often seem completely idiotic at first and are rarely welcomed with open arms. They reach so far beyond imagination that, most of the time, they are rejected immediately. But usually, these ideas are the very beginning of breakthrough innovations. So when you have an idea like that, it takes a good dose of rebelliousness to persevere.
This article has been translated from its original version, which was originally published in Dutch on MT/SPROUT in January, 2023.
i would be over the moon if you share your thoughts on this column