These cats are The Elegants – the original One Hit Wonders. In 1958 their song, "Little Star" went to #1 on the Billboard chart and stayed there for 19 weeks. They never made the charts again and are often cited as the prime example of a one hit wonder, mostly because they were the first – Billboard Magazine began charting their Hot 100 in 1958.
The music business is tough. The number of financial success stories is small, and the number of those successes who survive changes in musical trends and tastes to become long term success stories minuscule. I have no idea what the real numbers are, but I am sure the top three portions of this chart should be much smaller than depicted:
Above the one hit wonders are the 'one genre wonders' – like Donna Summers, the Queen of Disco, who had a bunch of hits, but faded into obscurity when the disco craze of the 1980's mercifully came to an end. There is no doubt many rap music 'superstars' will be looking for work when that genre runs its course – sooner rather than later I hope.
Most who pursue fame and fortune in the original music business never make a dime. Creative genius is only a part of the equation. Timing, work ethic, knowledge of the music business, catching a few breaks and a lot of other things go into the equation. It seems to me that investing in a bright eyed young musician with dreams of stardom depends a lot on your point of view. If that musician is some kid down the street, it might not be a bad investment. He's desperate and living on a shoestring, and willing to give up a big share of any future payoff for the price of a new amp and gas money to get to his next gig.
If that musician is your kid, however, it is a different matter. If he were my kid I would be recommending music school and pursuit of a job with a band playing someone else's music, telling him to hold a solid job and pursue his dreams of individual success in his spare time. Playing in a cover band at weddings pays $52,000 a year, all the way up to $150,000 playing in a big time symphony. The average musician playing original stuff would make more working at McDonalds – if he makes any money at all.
The rapid descent of R.I.M.– Research In Motion – the folks who invented the Blackberry are a stark parallel to the boys in The Elegants. In that regard, they are a lot like the folks who came up with Palm Pilots and countless others. And they were the equivalent of the Billboard #1's of their business. There should be little doubt that the innovation world has its own massive base of smart kids who have never made it our of their parents' basements.
It should be noted by the ardent proponents of innovation that Google and the Droid have a 38% market share of the smart phone business, compared to Apple's iPhone 27%, and the Droid is gaining share faster. There is a lot to say for waiting to see who emerges from the innovation basement, then improving on their creation.
The investment and academic communities that are urging innovation as the core of your business strategy are a lot like the guy who puts a couple bucks into the local garage band. They have little at risk, and potentially a lot to gain. If it's your business, however, the equation is a little different. The investment in innovation looks a lot more like betting on your kid's future. You have an awful lot to lose and you are betting against long odds. Much wiser to focus on being very good at the core business, and pursue the breakthrough innovation in your spare time.