Sometime back in the early seventies, I was getting in our family car in a Kmart parking lot when I looked down and found a badly weathered eight-track tape (ask your mom) on the ground next to the car. The tape was in bad shape but closer inspection revealed that it was The Turtles’ Greatest Hits album.
I didn’t mention the find to my mom, because she would have made me report my find to a Kmart sales associate. “Uh, hello. I want to turn in a badly mangled eight-track tape that I found in your parking lot. Do I get a reward or anything?”
At the time, I had no idea who The Turtles were, but it was a free rock ’n’ roll album so I wasn’t going to be picky. When we got home, I begged my mom to let me sit in the car and play the tape on the car stereo, and guess what? I found that I actually liked two or three cuts on it, including the song that was written out of sheer spite.
There is hardly anything musicians hate more than getting notes from the suits, telling them how to make their music. Just after the Beatles’ huge hit, Eleanor Rigby, The Turtles received such a note from their label that said something like, “How about you guys writing something that makes lots of money like Eleanor Rigby?” If there’s anything musicians dislike more than being told what to do by record labels, it’s being compared to (who they believe to be) the competition.
The members of The Turtles were incensed. How dare those business people dictate how the band expressed themselves musically! Why didn’t they stick to running the business end of things and let them handle all the music stuff?
So, to make their point, they conceived an ingenious plan. They would outwardly comply with their label, while giving them the worst Eleanor-like song they could compose. The result was a song titled Elenore in which they included sappy, ridiculous lyrics like,
“I really think you’re groovy.
Let’s go out to a movie.”
Laughing in their sleeves because they had pulled one over on the record company, they recorded the silly song and presented it to their label.
Fortunately, the folks at the record company didn’t get the joke. In fact, they loved the song and released it for airplay. Elenore became one of the Turtles all-time biggest hits.
While you’re digesting that, chew on this for a minute. In 1853, Chef George Crum was attempting to satisfy the complaint of a cranky diner. The restaurant patron kept demanding that the potatoes he had ordered be sliced thinner and thinner. Finally, an exasperated Chef Crum sliced the potatoes as thin as possible, fried them, and sent them out to the diner to make his point.
The diner loved the chef’s sarcastic invention, and a new snack food was invented.
But what do potato chips and a song by a rock ’n’ roll band you probably haven’t heard of (or didn’t remember) have in common?
They both were phenomenal successes produced in response to annoying customer suggestions. Yes, they were produced in spite, but get this: it turned out that the customer was right after all. Sometimes, it pays to listen to the customer even when we are sure they are dead wrong.
The question we need to ask ourselves is: what if? What if we listened to input we receive from those we don’t like? What if we opened ourselves up to the innovation that comes from hearing other people out?
It might be the thing that propels your career, business, or relationships forward is the very thing that you least want to hear.