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  • Writer's pictureBill Fischer

Jimmy Buffet: Innovator of Happiness

This article was first published on on September 2, 2023

Was there ever a happier innovator than Jimmy Buffett?

Certainly not Henry Ford, nor Thomas Edison, nor even Elon Musk. Innovation was never as much fun as when Jimmy Buffett was involved. Parrot Heads, as Buffett’s followers are affectionately known, were not born, they were turned-on by Buffett’s infectious love of life.

“Happiness,” you might say, “has nothing to do with innovation.” But, in the family of Margaritaville ventures, it is always about fun, whether it is the music, or the concert, or the books, or the Broadway show, burger bars, the cruises, casinos or even the Margaritaville resorts. Despite all the fun, or maybe because of it, the results, in measurable financial outcomes, have been appreciable; lifting Jimmy Buffett’s net worth to over a billion dollars. Happiness sells!

What made Buffett’s happiness so interesting, from an innovation leadership perspective, is the way it came about and the way it grew. Buffett admitted that he was inspired by Mitch Miller, the mid-twentieth-century troubadour who spanned the entertainment industry’s transition from live shows to television, including subtitled-words, which were being sung live by the show’s cast, so that viewers at home could sing along as well. As hokey as it might seem today, we all sang along with Mitch, and it was that shared personal engagement that Buffett recognized as being so compelling. He then grew shared personal engagement in happiness into many different successful businesses. Walt Disney, did the same, after his  trip to Copenhagen’s Tivoli Park opened-up his eyes to the magic of shared family entertainment engagement, and he left-behind his pursuit of the much simpler individual enjoyment of two-dimensional comic strips. Ultimately, this led to Disneyland, the Disneyworlds, and Disney cruises of today. Buffett’s motivation was similar, and he admitted to Bob Edwards, of National Public Radio, that he would watch the crowd whenever he played Margaritaville, so many thousands of times, and always saw that “it’s their song, not mine, I’m just singing [the] background music to their lives.” This is also very much in line with Pharell Williams’ observation that his hit song Happy never really took off until the audience made it their own; the power of engagement!

Buffett’s business models were also a wonder to behold. At first, they were simple and straightforward: shows and CDs; but they quickly spun off to offer value-propositions for whatever sliver of the Parrot Head community lusted after another ounce of Buffett’s carefree lifestyle. No doubt there was significant overlap of the audiences involved, but Buffett did a pretty good job of understanding the “customer-journey” of his followers, whether they were cruise-lovers, Broadway fans, or both, and then he stepped-into that space with a faithful rendition of the Margaritaville message that invited more than a modicum of shared engagement.

Buffett’s music was undeniably happy, but so was everything else he touched. He structured each offering so that the audience was more than entertained; they were a part of it; it was their’s. This is innovation at its happiest for both customer and producer, which is a winning combination. If there is a Mount Olympus of innovation heroes in the great beyond, it is, no doubt, a happier place for Buffett’s now being a part of it.

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