Any business needs to constantly be aware of its changing marketplace if it hopes to survive. Markets, businesses and products have life cycles just like living beings do. The trick is to understand which ones really impact your core business.
A great example of an organization that has done a consistently good job of managing its life cycle in a very mature business is the LA Philharmonic. In an era when many people consider classical music to be dead or dying, this group consistently manages to stay abreast of its market and thrive. And, they have done so for most of my lifetime.
How? They refuse to be defined by what people say they should be and keep reinventing themselves. In the late 1960's, they started this trend by offering performances beyond the traditional symphony. They introduced the concept of smaller groups of their orchestra, a chamber group and a new music group, doing additional performances that offered a sound and experience beyond what a traditional symphony could offer. While revolutionary in their day, these ideas have become copied universally throughout the music world as other organizations tried to imitate the success of the LA Phil in the face of their own declining audiences.
In the early 1980's, they had their first experience with a young conductor by the name of Esa-Pekka Salonen. It was unheard of at that time for such an established, prestigious orchestra to turn the baton over to someone in their mid-20's. The success was unprecedented. They continued their run together for some time and eventually Salonen became their full time music director and took the orchestra, literally, to places no American orchestra had ever gone. In 1992, he conducted the Phil as the pit orchestra in the opera Saint Francois d'Assise at the Salzburg Festival, the first time an American orchestra had been given such an honor. During his tenure, Salonen lead a movement away from conductor worship and reinvented his organization into one that focused on the music and musicians, leading them to unprecedented heights.
Just recently, he retired as full time music director and they did it again. As his replacement, they hired Gustavo Dudamel, a young Venezuelan, barely 3 when Salonen first picked up a baton with the LA Phil. By going against conventional wisdom, again, the group continues to defy odds and have a successful organization in a business many consider dead. By the time he is done, Dudamel could easily be one of the all time great conductors and this group was smart enough to get him on the way up.
There are lessons in this story for all of us. If an organization rooted in classical music can keep reinventing itself by ignoring the boundaries of its box, all of us can as individuals and businesses.
Thanks for reading.