You can’t look at anything we enjoy today without realizing that a pioneering spirit created it. Someone had to stretch way beyond their comfort zone and accepted norms to make it happen. This could have been as simple as ignoring societal convention to risking life and limb sitting on top of a powerful rocket aimed at the moon.
In my experience, everything worthwhile I’ve accomplished was because I ignored “the way we always did it” and forged ahead, doing what I believed was right. When I was 16, I tried to make money writing articles for various magazines. With no experience or agent, I received rejection slip after rejection slip. It wasn’t until I started writing erotic adult fiction, based on some silly stories my brother and I used to make up about “Uncle John’s Motel,” a sleazy fisherman’s inn, that I started to have success.
A 16-yearold writing sexy stories? If the “dirty” magazine that was paying me 10 cents a word knew, they would have cut me off in New York Minute. My family would have freaked out. If the local bank, where I used to deposit my “paychecks” knew where the $300 checks (for 3,000 words) were coming from, there would have been a major scandal in Williamstown, New Jersey (not the end of the world, but you could see it from there).
As a music major in my college days, I continued to write critical pieces about the world of contemporary “serious” music. In the early 70’s, many of my classmates were just interested in getting high and laid. I was getting published in several academic journals. This led to a university offering me a chance to get my PhD for “free,” as long as I would work there as a Professor for 5 years. My writing had caught their attention. Another case of a pioneering spirit creating a better future. (After my wife and unborn son were killed, I turned down their offer, not wishing to live a life we had planned together.)
During my time as a writer and creative director in Advertising and Marketing, I was lucky enough to work for an agency that embraced the pioneering spirit. Our owner, my mentor and good friend Harry Hallman, embodied all the elements of the pioneering spirit. We set the city of Atlanta on its ear by doing things that no other agency would dare. Everything from writing and producing a major amusement park musical show to creating the official city song for Reno, Nevada based on a tune that popped into my head after seeing their city slogan at the time, “Reno Dares You.”
Even during my two years as a trade show magician, I displayed my pioneering spirit. I was one of the first magicians to use a computer in my trade show act. I worked over 250 days a year for corporations like AT&T, Southern Bell and IBM.
QVC’s basic business model was built on a pioneering spirit. Directly selling items on television was a brand new concept in the 1980’s. We embraced it, making it up as we went along, and created the largest TV Shopping Channel in the world.
QVC and I were a perfect fit at the time. I remember when Home Shopping Network (called Home Shopping Club at the time) was having great success selling telescopes in the early 1990’s. They even had a slick on-air salesman who knew a bit about astronomy. I had read an old photo magazine as a kid that had an article about how to take photos through a telescope without a physical interface. I experimented at home until I found an effective way to do it with a video camera.
We went on the air with a telescope and video of the moon that I had taken. The telescope sold many times more than it had in the past. Using this technique our telescope sales soon left HSN’s ‘scope sales in the dust.
The moon video, shot by focusing a camcorder on the mirror of a telescope’s eyepiece. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3tElaqC49js
I remember the morning after our record breaking telescope sale, my immediate superior called me and asked me if the other hosts could use the moon footage. I laughed and told him I already had it loaded into our system and hosts had been using it all day. It was this kind of teamwork that helped to make QVC great. I often shared my video footage with other hosts. I was single at the time and heading off to New York City or other photogenic places was easier for me than my married peers.
For years, QVC embraced the pioneering spirit. Then, much like the radio industry, the “bean counters” got involved and innovation took a back seat to “maximum dollars per minute.” I continued to maintain that maximum sales could be achieved without abandoning creativity and our pioneering spirit. I was always overruled. It was one of the reasons I left QVC after 15 years. Today, both QVC and HSN are dim reflections of their past success. Their host ranks seem to be populated mostly by giggling 30-something women who just don’t seem that bright.
During my tenure as Vice President of Programming and Talent at Shop at Home, I was brought in to instill the company with the pioneering spirit that helped forge QVC’s success. Despite some staggering wins, including the company’s biggest sales day in history, our President didn’t want to deviate from “accepted corporate practices.” They were eventually sold to another company and went bankrupt in a few months by “doing things the way they had always done them.” But during their brief moment in the retro sun, they could sell you 20 swords for under $100 to combat any upcoming dragon epidemic.
As I have stated many times in the past, of all the TV Shopping Channels on the air today, Evine Live is embracing the pioneering spirit that helped to create the TV Shopping industry. They are even programming some adult-oriented shows dedicated to sexual products, books and advice. They do it in an extremely professional and non-judgmental manner. They are also programming music, TV and movie memorabilia shows, a category long abandoned by the other networks in favor of higher-margin beauty, jewelry and fashion products. It will be interesting to watch them grow during the next few years. Their success might take the industry, especially QVC and HSN, by surprise.
My experiences in the music business quickly revealed a lack of a pioneering spirit. The world of country music was completely bastardized with a sound they call “Bro Country.” It’s little more than Hip Hop with a Twang. There is nothing innovative about most of the country music that is being produced today.
I write what I feel is true country music. My music bears no resemblance to “Bro Country.” It took over 5 years, and a lot of rejection, but I am finally getting published and my songs are being chosen for inclusion on some country artist’s CDs. A pioneering spirit usually means doing what you think is right, even when everyone else thinks you’re wrong.
I never saw the “new country” as a pioneering move. It was just an attempt to lower the country music demographic in the hope of increasing sales. It worked for a while, but today’s true country music pioneers are the ones who forged the road ahead with real country music. The scales are beginning to tip in their (and my) favor.
There are all sorts of pioneering spirits, but everything points to one core value – the ability to do the work necessary to move forward. Sometimes, it means just continually refining and improving what has worked in the past, other times, it means throwing away the book and trusting your judgement. I wish you a healthy and productive future with the choices you make!
© 2018 Steve Bryant – No portion of this or any blog can be reproduced or copied and posted on any online site or read aloud on any audio or video media without the express permission of the author.