What is a career risk you have taken and did it (or not) work?
Emerging leaders can enhance their career progression by taking calculated risks and adopting successful strategies of those who have succeeded before them.
Using the holidays as inspiration, here is a case study of how a risky mashup created a legendary holiday classic.
Let’s go back to 1977 – I was a teenager watching the Bing Crosby Christmas Special, which was a revelation to me because sadly, Bing had died 2.5 months before this airing.
Suddenly in this program, the most astonishing thing happened: Ziggy Stardust – a.k.a. David Bowie very awkwardly walks into Bing’s Christmas house.
Who in the world invited David Bowie to appear on Bing Crosby’s Christmas special? The pairing couldn’t be more incongruous in my mind.
Bing Crosby was a conservative legend of yesteryear while David Bowie began his career as Ziggy Stardust, a glam rocker. We would come to know Bowie as a musical chameleon as he ventured into what he called plastic soul, electronic inflected tunes, and other musical pivots.
This generational and genre bending brand mashup of two recording artists was a significant risk - additionally, behind the scenes the pairing did NOT start off well BY ANY STRETCH OF THE IMAGINATION.
Originally, David Bowie’s promoters booked him on this show because he was promoting his new single Heroes.
As it turns out, he didn’t particularly like Bing. The only reason he accepted the booking was his mother liked Bing.
When he arrived, the producers of the show asked him to sing Little Drummer Boy with Bing and he flatly refused. He hated that song and promptly asked what else could he sing?
Well, Bing being Bing, NOBODY TELLS BING what to sing.
The producers and songwriters of the show quickly huddled. What could they do?
After more than a few tense minutes of creative brainstorming, they came up with new lyrics –
a new song, that Bowie could sing in tandem with Bing as he sang Little Drummer Boy.
A duet – both of their needs could be met, and a legendary holiday classic was born.
The result was and still is not only one of the oddest pairings in musical history but also one of the most magical, memorable, and enduring in Christmas music history.
The added lyrics never fail to give me a lump in my throat:
“Peace on Earth – can it be?
every child must be made aware / every child must be made to care / care enough for his fellow man / to give all the love that he can.”
The career management lessons we can learn from this include:
1. Put yourself in new situations where your talents can be seen by a wider audience: exposure to Bing’s audience ultimately helped fuel Bowie’s genre busting career strategy.
2. Know your strengths and weaknesses so you can draw appropriate boundaries: Bowie’s refusal to sing the traditional song forced a stand—out creative solution, which is the only reason we still hear this song today.
3. Be flexible and be a team player: Bowie ultimately did sing the overlapping Drummer Boy lyrics as needed to make a great song.
For those who are interested, here are the lyrics repasted below:
[Verse 1: Bowie and Crosby] Come they told me pa-rum-pum-pum-pum A newborn king to see pa-rum-pum-pum-pum Our finest gifts we bring pa-rum-pum-pum-pum Rum-pum-pum-pum, rum-pum-pum-pum [Verse 2: Bowie and Crosby] Peace on Earth can it be? Come they told me pa-rum-pum-pum-pum Years from now, perhaps we'll see? A newborn king to see pa-rum-pum-pum-pum See the day of glory Our finest gift we bring pa-rum-pum-pum-pum See the day, when men of good will To lay before the king pa-rum-pum-pum-pum Live in peace, live in peace again Rum-pum-pum-pum, Rum-pum-pum-pum Peace on Earth So to honour him pa-rum-pum-pum-pum Can it be When we come [Bridge: Bowie and Crosby in unison] Every child must be made aware Every child must be made to care Care enough for his fellow man To give all the love that he can
[Verse 4: Bowie and Crosby] I pray my wish will come true Little baby pa-rum-pum-pum-pum For my child and your child too I stood beside him there pa-rum-pum-pum-pum He'll see the day of glory I played my drum for him pa-rum-pum-pum-pum See the day when men of good will I played my best for him pa-rum-pum-pum-pum Live in peace, live in peace again Rum-pum-pum-pum, rum-pum-pum-pum Peace on Earth Me and my drum Can it be [Outro: Bowie and Crosby in unison] Can it be