Olivia Newton John - Disruptive Industry
How Do You Disrupt an Industry?
Work With AJ Kulatunga

Written by AJ Kulatunga

September 4, 2022

Innovation isn’t about technology, it’s actually about implementing ideas. Here’s a great story from Australian Pop Icon Olivia Newton-John…

It’s 1971, Olivia Newton-John is in her 7th year in the UK trying to build out her singing career and things are not going well.

Her singles haven’t hit the charts, her duo with fellow Aussie, Pat Carroll has been unsuccessful, and her “space musical” film with pop group “Toomorrow” is going as well as you would expect it to go with a name like that.

As luck would have it, she crosses paths with British singer, Cliff Richard and he invites her to be a guest singer on his variety tv show, “It’s Cliff Richard”. I guess they weren’t really creative with their titles back in those days!

While singing on the show, two of Cliff’s producers, Bruce Welsh and John Farrar, fall in love with Olivia’s voice and invite her to record demos in their studio. After listening to her unique sound, they realise that it would be perfectly suited for country music.


This is my favourite technique in innovation – taking one thing and putting it into a completely different context to create something new. For example, Jobsy did this with the iphone. All the components existed elsewhere, but the iPhone brought them together in a new way that created a device that disrupted 9 different industries.

Anyway, back to Olivia…


So Bruce and John test out their theory and they record a cover of Bob Dylan’s “If Not For You” with Olivia, mix in some gritty slide guitar and voila, Olivia’s first hit is born!

Over the next few years she records more tracks and two albums and then in 1973 she wins her first Grammy for best female country vocal performance.

Her hit single “I Honestly Love You” won her female vocalist of the year at the 1974 Country Music Association awards.

Here’s where things get a little dark for the bright new star.

Apparently her wholesome look and unique vocals, pisses off some of Nashville’s biggest stars. They’re annoyed at an Australian invading their territory and resolve for this never to happen again.

They form an association dedicated to keeping pop singers out of Country Music.

But Olivia doesn’t care about any of this as she’s too busy producing hits and touring.

Plus big female stars like Dolly Parton and Loretta Lynn stand up for her so it seems what matters the most is going well. Soon the producers of Grease come knocking and well… you know the rest.


So Entrepreneurs, how do you disrupt an industry?

You let your work speak for itself.

These days Aussie Country and Western Singers have a beautiful second home in Nashville and they all have Olivia to thank for that.

What a beautiful legacy – an amazing lesson of innovation, disruption and what it means to live life on your terms.

Rest in peace Queen 🙏🍀❤️


About The Author

AJ Kulatunga is an award winning business strategist and global keynote speaker who specialises in activating innovation and entrepreneurial behaviours for corporate organisations and industry associations. His presentations and programs are used by Senior Leaders to navigate uncertainty and reduce resistance to change. Follow AJ on LinkedIN or Twitter.

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