Why corporate innovation is like that difficult second album

And what we can learn from Taylor Swift

by | Feb 29, 2024 | General

Photo by Erik Mclean on Unsplash


What does the ‘difficult second album’ have to do with corporate innovation?

The difficult second album is a well-known phenomenon touted by music journalists.

A band becomes a stand-out success. Their first album is well-known and well-loved. Then the team is under pressure to repeat the magic. Except that first album took seven years or more of honing their craft and moulding something unique. And now in 18 months, or 2 years maybe, they need to come up with the goods again. More than that, their recent experiences are now very distant from that everyman perspective that made their first album stand out, spending most of their time living it up or on the road.

As Dorian Lyskey says in this article about The Strokes:

The cliche that you have a lifetime to make your first album and only a year or two to make your second holds true. When much of that time is spent shuttling from airport to hotel, recording radio-station idents across the American midwest and telling earnest interviewers from Berlin to Bangkok exactly how you came up with your band name, it can become even harder to retain a sense of perspective.

Dorian Lyskey


Just as a band may struggle to find their creative voice and direction on their second album, companies may struggle to find an effective approach to innovation.

You’ve got an established business that has been there for years. The offer has been perfected and honed over multiple iterations. To some extent it seems effortless – you know you have something that customers want right now. However, you can’t keep touring with just one album, people are bored with it, their wants are evolving and they are ready to hear something new. Something new but kinda like the old thing; what the marketing department might call “on brand”.

But now you’ve only got a year, maybe two to pull something out of the bag.

Not only that but the employees in Head Office have very different life experiences from their typical customer.

For example, median monthly pay in the UK for payrolled employees is around £2200 (£26400/ year). In contrast, median pay for a FTSE 100 CEO in 2021 was £3.4 million. A simple data point that should mean a Red warning sign should automatically flash if the Highest Paid Person in the room talks about their personal experience to guide innovation in their company.

HiPPO = Highest Paid Person’s Opinion Photo by Lady Bugz on Unsplash

The band struggles. They have creative differences. They turn to booze or drugs to make them feel better.

The company struggles. They have creative differences. They turn to ‘innovation theatre’ to make them feel better.

Sticking with the musical metaphor, I turn to the Mastermind that is Taylor Swift.

What can we learn from Taylor Swift?

Why Taylor? She’s been around for over 15 years. And, frankly, This is What You Came For.

Ask me why so many fade but I’m still here

Taylor Swift, ‘Karma’


Taylor knows All Too Well the challenges of longevity. The American Girl has reinvented herself time and time again. For a few graphs on her success, check out this article.

So, how does she deal with the Blank Space of reinventing herself and what can we learn?

  1. Finding the Right Business Model: She knows the importance of having commercial control, having re-recorded some of her most successful albums so that she has ownership of the ‘Masters.’ Management jargon might call this a strategic control point. Taylor calls it Karma.
  2. Exploit Adjacencies: She stays close to genre. Over many years she’s evolved from Country pop, to pop to a more electronic sound. It’s similar to a company finding innovation opportunities that are adjacent to their current successful products or services that play well with their existing customer base.
  3. Use Your Strengths: Tay-Tay writes about what she knows e.g. break-ups. Similarly, companies should leverage their expertise.
  4. Promotion: If you have a great product, don’t forget to promote it. I’m not suggesting you TikTok pulling balls out of a bingo machine like Ms Swift. But find your own authentic thing.
  5. Navigate obstacles: When you come up against resistance, in the words of Taylor, Shake It Off.

Long Story Short, companies should be using Taylor as inspiration for their innovation efforts, no more Would’ve, Could’ve, Should’ve.