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How often do you improve upon the original?


Today is August 25 and the Navigate the Chaos question to consider is “how often do you improve upon the original?” Those navigating the chaos of art, technology, or other fields requiring human creativity often build upon, reinvent, or revise an original work to improve upon it for a new generation. The strategy of engineering previous works to navigate the chaos certainly contrasts the observation of Herman Melville who noted: "It is better to fail in originality than to succeed in imitation.” As with many Navigate the Chaos posts, there is nuance here worthy of consideration.


Take the song “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” for example. The song was written by Robert Hazard, who recorded only a demo of it in 1979. Hazard's version was written from a male point of view. Four years later, in 1983, American singer Cyndi Lauper released her own version this time from a feminist view conveying the point that all women really want is to have the same experiences that men can. The single was Lauper's breakthrough hit, reaching number two on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 chart and becoming a worldwide hit throughout late 1983 and early 1984.


A second example comes from Irish recording artist Sinéad O'Connor’s remake of "Nothing Compares 2 U" was a song written and composed by Prince for The Family and the song was featured on their eponymous album The Family. O'Connor’s version was released as the second single from her second studio album, I Do Not Want What I Haven't Got. This version, which O'Connor co-produced with Nellee Hooper, became a worldwide hit in 1990. Its music video received heavy rotation on MTV. Its lyrics explore feelings of longing from the point of view of an abandoned lover.


A third example from the world of music comes from "Respect" a song written and originally recorded by American soul singer Otis Redding. It was released in 1965 as a single from his third album Otis Blue/Otis Redding Sings Soul and became a crossover hit for Redding. In 1967, fellow soul singer Aretha Franklin covered and rearranged "Respect", resulting in a bigger hit and her signature song. The music in the two versions is significantly different, while a few changes in the lyrics resulted in different narratives around the theme of human dignity that have been interpreted as commentaries on traditional gender roles. Franklin's interpretation became an anthem for the feminist movement in the 1970s.


According to Detroit Free Press critic Brian McCollum, "Franklin's song has been dissected in books and academic papers, held up as a groundbreaking feminist and civil rights statement in an era when such declarations weren't always easy to make." When asked about her audacious stance amidst the feminist and Civil Rights Movement, Franklin told the Detroit Free Press, "I don't think it's bold at all. I think it's quite natural that we all want respect—and should get it." It has often been considered one of the best R&B songs of its era, earning Franklin two Grammy Awards in 1968 for "Best Rhythm & Blues Recording" and "Best Rhythm & Blues Solo Vocal Performance, Female", and being inducted in the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1987.


Films are another area where people improve upon the original. A Star Is Born tells a story that has undergone four adaptations on the big screen — in 1937 with Janet Gaynor, 1954 with Judy Garland, 1976 with Barbra Streisand, and 2018 with Lady Gaga. The latest effort in 2018 was directed by Bradley Cooper, who also stars alongside Lady Gaga, and has earned huge praise from both film critics and audience members. The newest rendition joins the 1954 version as a critical darling, whereas the 1937 and 1976 efforts fell short in comparison. The critical consensus for the 2018 remake on Rotten Tomatoes reads: "With appealing leads, deft direction, and an affecting love story, A Star Is Born is a remake done right — and a reminder that some stories can be just as effective in the retelling."


In their research published in the April 2005 edition of the Harvard Business Review, researchers Fernando Suarez and Gianvito Lanzolla discussed the half-truths associated with being first to market, also known as first-mover advantage and wrote: “For every academic study proving that first-mover advantages exist, there is a study proving they do not. While some well-known first movers, such as Gillette in safety razors and Sony in personal stereos, have enjoyed considerable success, others, such as Xerox in fax machines and eToys in Internet retailing, have failed. We have found that the differences in outcome are not random—that first-mover status can confer advantages, but it does not do so categorically. Much depends on the circumstances in which it is sought.”


One example of a first to market product that failed to keep pace with competitors was the Palm Pilot. Once upon a time, 'palm pilot' was a generic term for PDAs; such was Palm's early dominance of the field. Palm made any number of mistakes, but its decisive failure was letting innovation slip when its biggest growth market -- smartphones -- was starting to explode. Palm's Treo was one of the first major smartphones with a color touchscreen, Web browser, etc. But it was a beast. And as rivals introduced more improved products like Apple’s the iPhone in 2007, and Google’s Android in 2008 Palm failed to keep up. Palm plummeted from a 71% market share in 1999 to less than 1% in 2011.

  • How often do you improve upon the original?

  • Can you allow yourself to improve upon the original or are you convinced the only way to succeed is to be original?

  • Are there any new versions of songs or movies that you found more to your liking than the original versions?