- John Rogers is an author, former CEO, and founder of RL Leaders, a consulting team that solves complex challenges for public and private sector organizations.
- He says many major business fail for one reason: rigidity of thought.
- These companies, that were once industry leaders, can fall from success if they refuse to evolve and work to stay ahead of the curve.
- Rogers suggests that businesses take a “Hollywood-style, science fiction“ approach to their work by thinking drastically outside the box when imagining and creating the products and services of the future.
Of the companies that made up the Fortune 500 list in 1955, only 60 remained by 2016. None of them set out to fail, nor did their leaders decide to stop serving customers. Instead, they fell into the trap of rigidity of thought. Prisoners of their own perspective, they resisted the call to change.
Yet heeding the call to change is barely enough to stay afloat in today’s brutally competitive, ever-evolving environment. You need to get ahead of the curve – far ahead – anticipating the next major product or consumer trend. Otherwise, you risk going the way of Kodak and Toys R Us.
This involves doing the sort of thinking that dreamed up game-changing gadgets such as the cell phone. The kind that envisioned the precursor to Google translate and bionic eyes. Or that might, in the future, invent devices such as the transporter that famously „beamed up Scottie“ of Star Trek.
One of the best places to find creative thinkers is the entertainment industry
The Hollywood references are no coincidence. As it turns out, one of the best places to find thinkers with the level of deep creativity, diversity of thought, and perspectives critical to business is the entertainment industry – including Hollywood itself.
In the hyper-specialized society we live in, even those whose knowledge and experience encompasses a variety of fields frequently can’t offer the creative thinking required to imagine the next great innovation.
Creatives such as sci-fi writers and others writing and directing in Hollywood are different. They’re trained to break free from their own perspectives, to imagine a world that does not yet exist. The virtual world, called a “metaverse,” was created by Neil Stephenson in his 1992 novel “Snow Crash.” In the book, the metaverse allowed users, through avatars, to shop at virtual stores and go to online nightclubs. This became a reality in 2003 when Linden Labs launched their online world, Second Life. Stephenson also predicted Google Earth. In “Fahrenheit 451,” Ray Bradbury describes one character using what is essentially earbuds – nearly a half-century before their time.
Businesses require creative thinking as well as innovation
But business‘ challenges are not just about innovation. From cybersecurity breaches to the evolving pressures of globalization, organizations today face cultural, technological, and operational disruptions on a daily basis beyond anything they have experienced before. The magnitude and complexity of the problems they need to solve requires a similarly extraordinary level of creative thinking.
Hollywood-style creatives can help solve problems, too. Writers, for instance, conduct more research on a wider variety of topics than anyone can possibly imagine. They visualize thousands of plots and imagine countless character motivations each year. In their stories, they have to consider what people entirely unlike them would do, what the ramifications of those actions would be, and then what that might look like a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.
They must also be resourceful and quick-thinking while dealing with tight deadlines. When working on a TV series, for example, they have to pound out multiple drafts of a script every week, so they operate under constant pressure. These people are gifted, experienced, and trained imagination mavens accustomed to working within a time budget. Their unique experiences make them ideal for tackling unusual challenges with surprising, fresh ideas.
How to bring professional creatives into the business world
Hollywood embodies the Star Trek mantra: They boldly go where no one has gone before. Who wouldn’t want a sci-fi writer at the table when envisioning a future with disruptive technology? Hollywood has already been influencing society and technology for decades. Let’s bring them in to do it intentionally and consciously, rather than unintentionally. In a time when nothing short of revolutionary thinking is needed, the creative arts community may be our best secret weapon.
One way to bring in professional creative thinkers is to hold what I call a mixed table: three nights, three dinners, one conversation.
It’s not as simple as it sounds.
In fact, a mixed table is an incredibly dynamic process during which a diverse group of people addresses an overarching question and subsets of that question, diving deeper and deeper to uncover more creative, innovative solutions and answers.
Why three nights? Because it has to take place over more than one night. You’d be doing yourself a disservice otherwise. There’s just too much to unpack in one night. Sometimes, it takes three whole dinners of wheels turning and conversations flowing for people to really open up, stretch their minds, and reach a question no one first thought to ask. That singular question could lead to the most interesting insight of the entire process.
If you have subject matter experts, thought leaders, and those invaluable creative thinkers at your mixed table, you’ll reach unforeseen outcomes and paths forward, armed with insights you wouldn’t otherwise glean.
Where to find creative collaborators
If you can’t access Hollywood, the good news is you can find creativity anywhere. Creativity is like a muscle, and just like an athlete, using that muscle strengthens it. We all have creative potential, but if we don’t make the most of it, the muscle atrophies. The key is finding people who use the muscle daily. The creative arts community is where you’ll find the superstar athletes who have tapped into their creative potential and excel at it. Local artists in your community are excellent alternatives to creatives working in Hollywood.
Meet writers performing readings in your local bookstore. Connect with local theater directors and artists. If you see something creative that catches your eye, ask about it, for you never know who you might meet, and whose perspective might help you.
Very few problems in life are completely unsolvable. The solution exists, just maybe not in your sphere, or mine, or in the spheres of anyone else you’ve ever met. But it could exist out in the ether, a space that creatives tap into, a space that helps them boldly go where no one has gone before, and a space that today, now, can help you solve your greatest, most complex challenges.
John Rogers is the founder of RL Leaders, which solves complex challenges for public and private sector organizations. Former CEO of the nation’s largest privately held transportation company, he has directed a national campaign around stem cells with Michael J Fox, actively contributed to the Department of Defense’s war against terrorism, and provided high-impact solutions for charitable organizations such as the Parkinson’s Action Network (PAN) and the Brain Aneurysm Foundation. He is the author of The Renaissance Campaign.