Friday, October 06, 2017

We could all use a little Sharknado thinking

I saw a sign in my Twitter feed recently that spoke volumes about innovation culture.

 Image result for somebody came up with the idea of sharknado

Let's contemplate the audacity of suggesting an idea about a movie full of sharks in tornadoes for just a moment.

Creativity and Combinations
To suggest a movie about sharks in a tornado demonstrates creativity.  Good innovation often happens when you combine two unexpected attributes or components together to create something new.  In this case I think everyone understood that Sharknado was over the top. And why not?  If you look at the rest of the movies being made, something a little tongue in cheek makes sense.  The first thing to take away that someone in Hollywood did right from an innovation perspective is making unusual connections.

The guts to go beyond the obvious
But beyond the idea of combining unlike objects, imagine the guts it takes to suggest something so new and unusual.  In many organizations even reasonable ideas get shot down very quickly.  Participants will wonder about profitability or ROI.  Others will question customer demand or technical feasibility of ideas that seem possible and not outlandish.  That's because all of the possibility and "wonder" has been squeezed out of us in the corporate world.  The vast majority of people live lives of quiet desperation, recognizing opportunities but quickly looking away, aware of the challenge to create new ideas or the price one might pay for suggestion them.  What environmental, economic, and emotional conditions must exist for people to suggest outlandish ideas?

Accepting the impossible
Now, place yourself back in that setting, where some low level production assistant has just suggested making a disaster movie, one that places sharks (looking back to Jaws and other killer aquatic animals) in tornadoes (again, looking back at classic disaster movies).  The idea combines two traditional Hollywood tropes, but in an unexpected way.  You'd think even Hollywood producers would have laughed the idea out of the room.  But they didn't, and that's why Hollywood creates more stuff (that's good and bad) than most other organizations and industries even contemplate.

Some producer or producer's assistant had the guts to say:  tell me more.  Rather than shooting down an idea that marries two very unlikely protagonists, someone accepted the nearly impossible idea and said, go further.  This is what divides innovators and creatives from the realists and the execution-oriented folks.  Realists and operationalists would scoff. They'd say "Sharks don't get caught up in tornadoes" or "That's unrealistic, no one would believe it".  Yet today we walk around with more processing power in our smart phones than a spaceship had that carried men to the moon.

We in corporate America need to regain a sense of wonder and possibility.  We need to stop thinking about what customers need next week, and start imagining what they'll be doing or what need they'll have in 3, 5 or 10 years.

But that's Hollywood, you'll say
Some of you reading this will argue that it's Hollywood's job to create funny, compelling, mindless entertainment, and that means stretching the genre or combining or creating really different concepts to attract and retain an audience.  But isn't that also our jobs in corporations?  To create really interesting and valuable products to attract the attention and revenue of new and existing customers?  Do we really think that in a time and place where change happens so frequently, societal norms and tastes shift rapidly, where information flows so freely that we can win by developing safe, me-too products?

Did AirBnB or Uber create a safe, me too product, or did they dream up something new, audacious and quite different that clearly threatens the existing industry players?  Corporations, in all industries and of all sizes need to get some of this Hollywood spirit, to foster new and outrageous ideas, to encourage new growth, to create new and interesting products and services for customers.


We need a little more Sharknado thinking in corporate America, and to get it we'll need a lot more Hollywood style interaction - mixing unusual stuff together, extending ideas or concepts beyond the breaking point, being willing to generate and speak out loud really outlandish ideas, with the sense that someone will say:  tell me more.  The people in Hollywood aren't that much more creative than the folks you'll find in many Fortune 500 companies, but they have an expectation and culture of creating new things, and a tolerance and expectation of failure and experimentation that many companies lack.

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posted by Jeffrey Phillips at 6:42 AM


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