Guitar Gods: Hendrix vs. Clapton : Innovators vs. adaptors

R U Experienced ? By Craig Swanson ©

Jimi Hendrix is still considered to be one of the greatest guitar players in the world, more than 40 years after his premature death at the same age as Amy Winehouse.  Plenty of guitarists have surpassed Hendrix in sheer technical dexterity, but most people point towards Hendrix’s ‘attitude’ towards the instrument as the source of his genius rather than his technical skill per se.  In my own case, my life was never the same after I saved up the money to buy a copy of his hit single ‘Purple Haze’, which I still own.  We even staged a re-enactment of Hendrix’s famous guitar burning stunt at a University in Cambridge with a bunch of MBA students some years back.  Here’s the record and the result of the spontaneous combustion of my Fender guitar:

Purple Haze – original Track label single

IBM burnt my guitar ….

Check out the real deal from Hendrix’s 1969 performance of ‘Wild Thing’ at Monterey:

Jimi Hendrix is an archetype of what psychologist Professor Michael Kirton would call an innovator, someone who fused together musical ideas to come up with something totally novel.  Jimi Hendrix fused the blues with soul, funk, hard rock and psychedelia in a heady cocktail, whereas many musicians stay within a musical genre.   In doing so, it could be said that he lost some of his audience in the process, if you were to take a very critical view of his work.   See also my post on Prince in this respect.

So what about Eric Clapton then?  Let’s take a look at some of Clapton’s classic work in the form of some blues mastery with Buddy Guy:

Generally speaking, Eric Clapton has stayed within the blues genre, (with the exception of a few ballads for the ladies 🙂 ) sticking closer to this genre and consequentially bringing it to a wider audience.  This is the behaviour of what Professor Kirton calls an adaptor.  In business, adaptors often have greater success than innovators, as they tend to produce ideas that are less challenging and which are recognised by consumers in the marketplace as being a logical build on existing ideas.  It’s the new saying “familiarity breeds repeat purchases”.

Often we need both innovators and adaptors to produce sustainable innovations.  The innovators to produce the hard to copy ideas and the adaptors to help bring the ideas into a practical market focus.

In business, examples of innovators include Sir Clive Sinclair, Sir Trevor Baylis and James Dyson whose innovations have not always been in tune with market desire, for example Dyson’s early attempts to redesign the wheelbarrow:

James Dyson’s Ballbarrow

Archetypal adaptors would include Bill Gates and Warren Buffet and possibly Sir Richard Branson, who have succeeded by taking relatively low risks with product and service innovation.

Finally, let’s hear another musical boundary crosser / innovator talking about Hendrix, none other than Jeff Beck:

To read about others who have been greatly influenced by Jimi Hendrix, see my post on my night in a pub with Bernie Torme, lead guitarist extraordinaire for Ozzy Osbourne, Ian Gillan and Twisted Sister.  Also the music genius Bill Nelson, who has innovated continuously for 40 years in music, whilst shunning the music industry circus.

If you like this mini blog on Hendrix check out our new book ‘The Music of Business”, which has an expanded article on Jimi and much, much more – acclaimed by Harvey Goldsmith.  Sample it here:


About the Blogger:  Peter Cook leads The Academy of Rock – Keynote events with a difference and Human Dynamics – Business and organisation development, training and coaching.  Contact via

13 responses to “Guitar Gods: Hendrix vs. Clapton : Innovators vs. adaptors

  1. Innovators in the 60s , adadptors today: Rod Stewart and Ron Wood.

    As in (business) life ‘success’ decreases your risk level, diminishes your creativity and innovation. At the end all innovators become adaptors. The Money Game wins.and Jack Daniels :)…


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  3. This comment from Joeri Schilders via Linkedin

    Great analogy Peter, and right up my alley, as I am both heavily involved in innovation and music.

    Being a guitarist myself, I can see the points you are making and it makes sense: the market is not always ready for a Jimi. However, it is people like this who have pushed the boundaries of what was possible and acceptable (in music in this case). And yes, we need the Erics to make the link to the wider audiences smoother.

    Building on this analogy (KAI and music), who would be the directors, promoters, stage builders, guitar tuners, fans and roadies? All necessary to make the energy of music


  4. And another comment from Kevin Chamberlain – an Exec Coach

    Kevin Chamberlain

    When Hendrix first started out he was regarded as one of those guys who hangs around the stage keen to learn licks but nothing remarkable. But Hendrix carried on learning and as everyone knows ended up in bands such as Little Richard’s and frequently getting fired. Clearly by the time Chas Chandler saw Hendrix in New York, Hendrix had developed his style but was largely ignored. Chandler brings Hendrix to London, builds a group around him and gets access to a recording studio.
    Hendrix was obsessive about guitar and practised his art for hours each day and in London he found a heady mix of styles to soak up. Unlike Dylan, nobody called him ‘Judas’ but instead the great and good of the guitar world came and watched this remarkable talent. The first time I saw Jimi his record (Hey Joe) had appeared on TV the week before. I expected another great blues guitar showman. What I witnessed was someone who could throw in a classical, jazz, or pop phrase, whenever it occurred to him whilst playing a blues number.
    His musical ability and sense of showmanship created an instant buzz and growing audience. His love of what was possible in the studio meant he took his imagination wherever it would go. Blues ‘officiandos’ once said to Keith Richards, ‘nobody likes the way you play,’ and Keith is said to have replied, ‘they will in time.’ Hendrix had the same sense of vision. Hendrix was a musical sponge who believed in his guitar playing abilities, plus a poetic sense and driven by a need to explore and push musical boundaries. I’m told he thought little of his own voice and would rather Stevie Winwood joined him as a singer.


    And my reply

    Thank you Kevin – you illustrate that many innovators (in Kirton terms) need a Champion (Chandler in this case) – that intensive practice is part of being great – Hendrix was reputed to take his guitar to the bathroom as he liked the sound he could get in there and so on.


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