I recently watched a biography of Bing Crosby (’tis the season) and learned that the now-famous Bing Crosby/David Bowie duet was the result of a last minute, Hail Mary innovation. According to the documentary, David Bowie agreed to to a duet with Bing Crosby because Bowie’s mother was a big Crosby fan. When Bowie arrived on set, he learned that they were scheduled to duet on “The Little Drummer Boy.” Bowie refused. He said he hated the song, and he wouldn’t sing it. Period. The show’s writers and composers had one hour to salvage the appearance, so they wrote the accompanying “Peace on Earth” for Bowie to sing. It matches and harmonizes perfectly with “The Little Drummer Boy,” and it’s become a holiday staple.
But it almost didn’t happen, and if everything had gone according to plan, “Peace on Earth” never would have existed. It was the result of the brilliant and efficient scrambling that happens when things don’t go the way you think they’re supposed to.
We have all had the fear pit in our stomachs go into overdrive when a project or a colleague or a personal relationship takes an unforeseen turn. If Bing Crosby’s show producers had agreed to change the song completely, or refused to adapt and sent Bowie home, this bizarre duet would be missing from our cultural canon. Instead, they decided not to dive into the defeat pit. They decided to make it work by creating something completely new.
And this is the Christmas miracle of innovation: the belief that there is a better solution, combined with the fearless commitment to making it real.