The Rolling Stones School of Management Innovation

What do the Rolling Stones and FrontlineSMS have in common? Not much, you might think. Well, they’re not users, they’re a little better-off than us and they’re considerably more famous. But there is something a little more subtle we share with them – management innovation.

In his autobiography – “Life” – published last year, Keith Richards describes the evolution of The Rolling Stones‘ management. Three quite distinct individuals played key roles in getting the band to where they are today. From an article last November in The Week magazine:

“First up was Andrew Loog Oldham – described as an oddity of the London music scene – who successfully branded The Stones as the “dirty, snarling and mean” antidote to the then clean-cut Beatles. Then came Allen Klein, a lawyer expert in negotiating with record companies. Finally, there was Prince Rupert Lowenstein, a private banker with no roots in the music industry, who professionalised the outfit – establishing separate companies to handle publishing, merchandising and touring – which made The Stones one of the richest bands in history”

The evolution and management of FrontlineSMS can also be broken down into three phases:

  • Technology innovation
  • Organisational innovation
  • Business model innovation

As The Stones example demonstrates, each phase requires a very different skill set, and it would take an extraordinary individual to be able to manage and deliver successfully on each. While I may have been the right person – in the right place at the right time at the very least – to successfully deliver on Phase One, that doesn’t mean I’m the right person for Phase Two, or Three. A large part of building a successful organisation is assembling a talented, diverse team with complementary skill sets. Identifying gaps and being honest about our own strengths and weaknesses is a large part of the process.

The social entrepreneurship sector, however, remains largely laser-focused on the innovator, the person behind Phase One. Recognising that organisations develop in phases, and have different needs at each, there needs to be a slight shift in how we view – and support – entrepreneurs and the vehicles or organisations they help create.

With this in mind, there might well be a few things the social entrepreneurship sector could learn from The Rolling Stones.

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