Sunday, June 08, 2014

Moments of Conception 017 -- The Boardroom Scene from The Hudsucker Proxy

All creativity begins with the moment of conception.

That little piece of kindling that gets the fire going. That initial source of inspiration that takes on a life of its own. That single note from which the entire symphony grows. That single spark of life that signals an idea’s movement value, almost screaming to us, something wants to be built here.

And so, in this new blog series, I’m going to be deconstructing my favorite moments of conception from popular movies. Each post will contain a video clip from a different film, along with a series of lessons we can learn from the characters.

Today's clip comes from the hoola hoop scene in The Hudsucker Proxy:

So, what did they do right?

Innovation is innocence plus ignorance. Norville is a na├»ve, overzealous, inexperienced mailroom screwball. And that’s exactly why the board of directors puts him in charge of the company. He’s the ideal candidate to temporarily depress the company’s stock price so they can execute their trading scandal. But as I’ve said before, sometimes it takes a person who knows nothing to change everything. Objectivity is equity. It’s the outsider advantage. When you know nothing, you can offer perspective without a vested interest. You can spot opportunities without being subject to the internal politics of the organization. Progressive insurance followed a similar narrative. The founder died in a car crash in the mid sixties, at which point his college aged son took over the business. But despite the new president’s lack of experience, the company went on to become one of the largest in the country. Not to mention, their approach to pricing changed the auto insurance industry forever. Why? Because when you don’t know the rules, you don’t know when you’ve broken them. When you don’t know the limit, it’s easier for you to surpass it. It’s counterintuitive, but, the less you know, the more likely you are to come up with an original idea.

Capture people’s imagination. Hudsucker throws a wealth of resources toward their new innovation. From engineering to production to accounting to marketing, they’ve committed to producing and marketing this new product. And yet, nobody knows what the hell it is. Or how people are even going to react to it. The extent of their market research is the frequently quoted line, you know, for kids! The paradox is, it’s hard to persuade people to pay for something they’re not used to paying for; but nobody knows how good your product is until they give you money. What’s a creator to do? Steve Jobs, the a master at figuring out what customers were going to want before they did, would tell us to just ship the damn thing. As it says in his biography, he had an uncanny ability to cook up gadgets that we didn’t know we needed, but then suddenly couldn’t live without. Why give customers what they want when you can tell them what they need? Hudsucker achieved the same goal. Their hoola hoop created a new standard by capturing people’s imagination, not by listening to their needs.

Everybody is somebody’s somebody. In one of my fiction books, The Religion Wars, we learn about someone called the prime influencer. It’s a big data theory about a single influential person who sits at the seed end of a vast social network that ultimately connects all of civilization. According to author Scott Adams, the prime influencer isn’t aware of his or her power. And yet, any catchy idea from them has the potential to quickly travel through the social fabric of civilization and change the world. Cool. Enter the little boy on the sidewalk. He’s about to become the prime influencer. I love how it reads in the original screenplay, “The screaming pack of children are staring, fascinated, at the hula-hooping youngster. The children are dumbfounded. It is a moment the likes of which they have never dreamed. They become maniacal, possessed. We don’t know where they are running, but we can guess.” This moment is every innovator’s dream. Virality. And it occurs right at the low point, when the inventor and the storeowner have all but thrown in the towel. Proving, that momentum hinges on the power of one.