Fender Guitar's Rules of Groundbreaking Innovation

Josh Linkner

Josh Linkner

Five-time tech entrepreneur, hyper-growth CEO, NY Times bestselling author and venture capitalist.

Since Leo Fender started making guitars back in 1946, the Fender name has become synonymous with musical innovation. The iconic brand has outfitted countless music legends with their precious axes, and has set the standard with instantly recognizable inventions including the Stratocaster, Telecaster, and Jazzmaster.

Today, Fender is the largest guitar manufacturer in the world. So why change? "If it ain't broke, don't fit it," the saying goes. Luckily, the most innovative organizations disregard such pedestrian advice.

On January 22, the company broke the mold again with the release of its new Acoustasonic Telecaster. The new instrument – best described as a mash-up of an electric and an acoustic guitar – is profoundly different than anything the world has seen. I recently interviewed Fender's executive in charge of the launch, Billy Martinez.

"This was a three-year journey, taking cues from artists, to fundamentally reimagine the guitar," Martinez told me. Musicians had a number of frustrations: they loved the feel of their electric, but it sounded pretty weak unplugged. They wanted the warmth of their acoustic, which didn't perform as well plugged in. Martinez and his team set out to create a single instrument that was easy to play and could meet the broad needs of musicians wanting to toggle between electric and acoustic sounds. Was it possible to have a single guitar replace the need of ten?

With the firm belief that Fender's innovation didn't end decades ago, Martinez started with a blank sheet of paper. The Acoustasonic, which was the result of thousands of hours of design and refinement, is poised to shake up the large and competitive guitar industry. 

As a musician myself, I was fascinated. But as an innovator, I was enthralled. Examining the launch, it looks like the wizards at Fender followed these important rules of groundbreaking innovation:

  1. Start with the ideal state and work backwards.

Instead of tweaking their existing lineup, Fender had the guts to start fresh. They imagined the ideal instrument, and then figured out how to build it.

2. Break free from restrictive beliefs.

The design team ran into dozens of "it can't be done" roadblocks, but they didn't let prevailing wisdom dissuade their mission of crafting a profoundly better instrument.

3. Discover the intersection of beauty and performance. 

Lazy designers settle for either/or results. Instead, the Acousasonic is an ‘and.’ not an ‘or.’

4. Design for humans. 

The new instrument had to be comfortable to hold and easy to play. Martinez tells me, "We worked hard to ensure you don't need an engineering degree to figure it out. It had to be super user-friendly, or it was back to the drawing board."

5. Refine until it hurts. 

The first versions of anything are rarely the ones that make history. Whether you're developing a new guitar, drug therapy, or business plan, the creativity must sustain far past the initial idea. It's those painful, endless hours of refinement that create true enduring value.

We'll have to see if the Acoustasonic will achieve the legendary status of its Fender siblings, but the company's innovative and courageous departure from the past stacks the odds in their favor.

These same five rules can apply to your own business, as you fight for competitive advantage and sustainable success. Your instrument may be a laptop, a medical lab, or a saxophone.  Regardless of your chosen medium,  it's time to create artistry by embracing the principles of groundbreaking innovation.

Rock on.

The post Fender Guitar’s Rules of Groundbreaking Innovation appeared first on Josh Linkner.

When We Stop Doing The Things That Made Us Great
Last weekend, I went to one of Detroit's most celebrated Italian restaurants. I'd been years ago and anticipated the same exquisite experience. Known for their impeccable service and inspired dishes, I was expecting them to nail every detail like they had in the past. Yet the very things that made them successful had obviously been significan...
Read More
The Hard Part
Whether you are running a startup, building a relationship, or rebuilding a community, there's an easy part and a hard part. One requires less work in the moment while the other unlocks the potential of your efforts and concurrently is your playground for personal growth. Those comfortable things that require little thinking, risk, or effort ...
Read More
You're Always Auditioning
Think about how you shined during the interview where landed you your job. You were prepared to impress, fully engaged, and leaning forward with enthusiasm. Acutely aware that you were being evaluated, you made sure your answers were crisp and your questions were thoughtful. Simply put, you were ON. Unfortunately, that moment is the brightest...
Read More
One Word That Will Change Your Entire Outlook
As busy people, we often sprint from one obligation to the next. The mandatory client meeting, the business lunch, the kid's soccer game all while keeping your seven social media streams up to date, your boss happy, and your family fed. In the modern age, we can feel overwhelmed with all the things we just have to do. When the events in our liv...
Read More
Making Mistakes
In school, we're taught that mistakes should be avoided at all costs. We learn that getting something wrong somehow means that we're wrong as a human beings, that each mistake translates to a lower self-worth score. These dreaded slip-ups can be so hurtful that we learn to recoil from the very thought of stumbling, much like we avoid the hot sto...
Read More
The Mother of Dragons
Spoiler Alert! (if you haven't caught up on GOT, stop reading and JUMP to "SPOILER START" below) Wow. How incredible that the woman who built her career on kindness and empathy turned every heartfelt follower to ash this week. The power of the loyalty that she built was, prior to this week, unstoppable. Her motives pure and sincere, and those th...
Read More
The Last 10%
I was nearing the end of my three-mile run (I'm no marathon candidate), and was feeling awful. Tired, hot, sore, and ready to throw in the towel. Looking at the fitness app on my phone, I realized that I only had 10% remaining. As much as I wanted to quit, I forged ahead and completed the full run as planned. That moment of difficulty, angst, an...
Read More
Leadership Lessons from the Most Feared Jazz Song Ever Written
Ask any jazz aficionado about the most challenging jazz standard ever written, and you'll likely get a knowing smile followed by two simple words: Giant Steps. The tune, composed and performed by legendary saxophone genius John Coltrane, has sent chills down the spines of would-be performers since its release nearly 60 years ago. Performed at ...
Read More
How Google Kills Ideas to Drive Killer Innovation
According to its tombstone, Trendalyzer was a data trend viewing platform that lived a happy life from 2007-2017. Latitude, a location-aware feature of Google Maps, was just over 4 years old before it was euthanized in 2013. Fabric, a platform that helped mobile teams build better apps, was sentenced to death after only one month of life. All in...
Read More
Nine Simple Pre-Game Questions to Maximize Business Results
There's an old saying in the boxing world: "Champions don't become champions in the ring, they are merely recognized there." The implication, of course, is that hard work, day after day, in the cold gym is what enables a fighter to win. This makes sense in many areas of life. "Sweat more in practice, bleed less in war," is the basis of the Spa...
Read More