George Lucas Innovates Outside the Hollywood Box

Point: Consider the role and value of outsiders in innovation

Story: George Lucas, legendary producer, director and screenwriter of the Star Wars and Indiana Jones blockbuster hits, shared these thoughts at the World Business Forum. Lucas described how he got his start making movies by going outside the insular Hollywood system.  When he graduated from film school, Hollywood was not receptive to new ideas and Lucas didn’t want to go there.  He and Francis Coppola moved to San Francisco to start American Zoetrope in 1969.  Befitting their 1960’s cultural background, Lucas and Coppola “didn’t trust anyone over 30.”

The choice of San Francisco had paradoxical properties for young Lucas and the new film company.  The bad news was that San Francisco had little of the movie making ecosystem of supporting companies and infrastructure that make Hollywood the mecca for film making.  The good news is that San Fransisco therefore had little of the movie making ecosystem that constrained the industry to the prevailing ways of doing things.  As a result, Lucas had to invent his own ways of making movies, which led him to develop a long string of innovations in camera handling, special effects, sound, and editing.

Lucas also benefited from the corporate buyouts of Hollywood.  As mega corporations bought Hollywood studios, the new outside owners of the movie industry realized they didn’t know how to make movies.  These new owners decided to hire  people fresh from film schools, like Lucas, to bring in new blood.  The ownership change also created a tumult that allowed people like Lucas freer reign.  Sometimes innovation benefits from benign outsiders.

Action:

  • Consider how the prevailing ecosystem of suppliers and partners could be hindering innovation
  • Take innovation outside of the existing company and industry boundaries to start true greenfield ventures
  • Look for times when outsiders take over an industry (e.g,, foreign investors, industry transformation) — the tumult of ownership changes combined with owners who don’t know “tradition” provide opportunity.

Source:

George Lucas at the World Business Forum October 6, 2009 #wbf09

2 Comments »CEO, Creativity, Innovation

2 Responses to “George Lucas Innovates Outside the Hollywood Box”

  1. Don Peppers Oct 6th 2009 at 10:23 pm 1

    One other thing I took from the Lucas talk. He was unashamedly confident in his own artistic judgment. He knew he had it, he knew it wasn’t B.S., and he acted on this knowledge, repeatedly.

    I think that’s a lesson for all managers. Don’t be afraid of being confident. Just be sure you’re right, if you pursue this course!

  2. Seth Kahan Oct 7th 2009 at 07:16 am 2

    I would like to see those three actions you listed applied to the global business issues we are facing today. Imagine:
    * how the prevailing ecosystem could be hindering innovation
    * what might happen if we took innovation outside of the existing company and industry boundaries to start true greenfield ventures
    * embracing the outsiders who are entering the global economy — the tumult of ownership changes combined with owners who don’t know “tradition” and the opportunities it might generate

    Thanks for this provocative post!

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