What every business can learn from the movie business


After passing through the agricultural, industrial and information ages, when strength was based on structure, patterns and sets of rules, today empathy and creativity are proving to be power brokers.

Empathy and creativity are key to unlocking and capitalising on the complexity of life and business, in our unfolding age.

But now we don’t just need to understand creatives better, we need to be more creative. It came as no surprise to see the founders of Air BnB graduated from the Rhode Island school of Design and the entertainer will.i.am made Intel’s new director of creative innovation. The E in TED talks stands for entertainment, and one of our core beliefs at Epiphany, is that everyone’s secondary business is show business.

The most creative and entrepreneurial people I’ve met are independent filmmakers. Working from a germ of an idea, they sketch it out, find investment, crew up, produce a movie, distribute it, and hopefully create a phenomena, that touches us in a way no other art form can.

Creativity has to fit in around business as usual for most of us, and is often a nice to have, rather than vital. But we believe the obvious value of filmmakers in creative production and storytelling leads to us overlooking how they can inspire us to be more creative as leaders.

Filmmakers know how to empathise. When I talk about empathy, I don’t mean vague and sickly sweet niceness. And I certainly don’t mean without conviction. They are hopelessly interested in people, as they seek connection with audiences, but it’s not just about the story they are telling in the movie. Empathy allows them to frame their pitch to investors, cast, crew, distributors and any umber of other people involved in making a movie.

Filmmakers are led by their intuition. While data is knowledge, intuition is pre-emptive knowledge, based on the rare mix of cognitive abilities to spot patterns, join dots, and combine data and experience to make a decision, critical in a time of complexity. As artists they trust their instincts but are open to experimentation. A script may go through 200 versions before it’s right, but intuition leads the process from “wrong, but something there”…to “right, let’s go.”

Filmmakers are craftsmen. Every element of a scene, the lighting, camera angle, shots in the edit, are there with purpose, and they must be exact. Impact is only created by making tough decisions, using only that which is necessary, to achieve your desired response from the audience. We hear too often leaders saying “the strategy was right, but execution failed.” Whatever the challenge in a creative age, we should surround ourselves with demanding craftsmen, who are not complacent and are committed to securing the right emotional response.

Filmmakers are persistent, with unshakeable tenacity and desire to try again, whatever setbacks arise; these are the hallmarks of all successful filmmakers. With belief in the idea, and conviction to make it happen, giving up is not an option; whether it is on the set looking for the right show, or dealing with investors and collaborators. The industry has very little room for those who say ‘that will do’.

Filmmaking is the innovation mindset in action.

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