Let Your Black Sheep Get Disruptive

One of the most exciting areas in innovation, especially for a techno-geek like myself, is the concept of disruptive innovation; ideas that are revolutionary, not evolutionary; ideas that change the basis of competition; ideas that force followers to react. Think of digital photography, the Nintendo Wii, downloadable media, hybrid cars. But disruptive innovation can only come within the right environment, where people feel comforable challenging ideas and to fail, fail again, fail better. A great example of this culture can be found at Pixar, which is why this interview with Oscar winning director Brad Bird on fostering innovation is so engrossing. Amongst the many great points made

(which are available in a digested and no-need-to-register format over at GigaOM) is his approach to bringing together the so-called “black sheep”:

“So I said, “Give us the black sheep. I want artists who are frustrated. I want the ones who have another way of doing things that nobody’s listening to. Give us all the guys who are probably headed out the door.” A lot of them were malcontents because they saw different ways of doing things, but there was little opportunity to try them, since the established way was working very, very well. We gave the black sheep a chance to prove their theories, and we changed the way a number of things are done here. For less money per minute than was spent on the previous film, Finding Nemo, we did a movie that had three times the number of sets and had everything that was hard to do. All this because the heads of Pixar gave us leave to try crazy ideas.”

I had a few jobs before starting at ?What If!, and in the past have felt like the black sheep on many an occasion – shouted down in a meeting for offering an alternative point of view, or chastised for spending time trying to find a more efficient way to do rote tasks. However, on starting work here, finding many more “black sheep” willing to rock the boat, frees your creativity, with ability to formulate great ideas is catalysed by the energy of those around you. One of the first things I was told was to “ask for forgiveness, not for permission” and this approach leads us down all sorts of avenues, such as the blog you’re reading right now.

Remember, some of the greatest ideas have come from questions that start “I know this sounds stupid, but …

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