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What does “being innovative” really mean? Did Tom Hanks get it right in “Big?”

Our group had the fortunate opportunity to learn from John Parkinson as he keynoted a leadership webinar for us called “Lessons learned from running three corporate innovation centers.”  John has had an amazing 35 year career as a business and technology leader in in multiple companies.  He’s been a global CIO, run three major innovation centers, writes and speaks worldwide,(including CIO magazine) and currently is both an advisor and investor.  So when he speaks, you can bet his lessons learned come from years of earned experience.

In the first part of John’s presentation, he shared the five attributes of what he felt it meant to really be innovative in a corporation.  As John shared his list, especially the first one on curiosity, an image of Tom Hanks, as Josh Baskin, flashed in my mind.  If you recall, Josh was a young man who became an adult by a magical Zoltar machine and gets a job at the MacMillan Toy Company.  He is promoted to product development, a very innovative position.

As I share John’s list with you, I thought it would be a fun and innovative exercise to compare Josh (as played by Tom Hanks) as he attempted to help the company create fun games.  We’ll set this up as the attribute first given to us by John, and then see if Tom got it right.

With apologies to John for having a little fun while I present his key attributes, here’s the list.

John:  First, be curious.  Cultivate curiosity.  It helps to be curious about why things work and if they work, why they work that way.

Did Tom Get it right?  Absolutely!  Tom’s character, Josh, was totally curious!  He couldn’t help himself and he played and experimented with everything!

John: You have to be comfortable in not being like everyone else in terms of how you think about what you do.

Did Tom Get it right?  Again, yes!  If you recall, executives Paul Davenport (Played by John Heard) and Susan Lawrence (Played by Elizabeth Perkins) did NOT embraced the change that Josh brought to the game company.

John:  You have to be willing to ask questions to people who are not used to being asked these types of questions.  It is never easy to ask senior executives why they are doing things that have been done for a long time.

Did Tom Get it Right?   Yes. If you recall, during the production meeting, Paul Davenport presented his toy that starts as a building and turns in to a robot.  No one in the room, including the owner and president of the company, questions Paul.  Except Josh.  He raises his hand, cautiously and says, “I don’t get it…. What’s so fun about a building?  Wouldn’t it be more fun as a bug?”  Tom’s character, Josh, asked the hard question that no one else was prepared to ask.

John:  You have to being willing to change things.  Innovation requires change.  Unfortunately, people don’t like change and organizations like it even less.  It is helpful to not know in advance how difficult the change and success will be.

Did Tom Get it Right?  Yes!  When Josh pitched the comic book toy, he really had no idea how much work it would take to flush out the idea.  But at least at first, he was willing to help make the change.

John:  You must be willing to unpopular.  Most people in a larger company will have gotten to where they are by managing to the status quo.  You are going to upset the status quo and will upset them and you have to be willing to accept that.  Quite often, at the end of the process, you’ll be friends again, but during the process you probably won’t.

Did Tom Get it Right?  For the final questions, yes!  As Josh became more successful, he was NOT popular with Paul.  Susan eventually became his friend, but not at first.

What about you?  Do you have the five attributes that it takes to be innovative in your company? 

Special thanks to John Parkinson for his excellent presentation!

 

Updated: October 26, 2016 — 5:39 pm

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