What matters most: people or ideas?

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To be innovative in business what matters more: people or ideas? This seems like one of those insoluble chicken-and-egg question, but it’s not.

People matter far more than ideas.

Pixar President Ed Catmull learned this simple but powerful lesson during the painful birth of Toy Story 2. He’d assigned an inexperienced “B-Team” to producing the Toy Story sequel because he figured making a hit would be easier the second time around. Half way through the production it dawned on Catmull he’d made a huge error – and he had a complete disaster on his hands.

Radical action was required.

For the first time in the company’s history Catmull removed directors from the movie in the middle of a production. He placed his trust – and the failing movie – in the hands of Pixar’s “Brains Trust” – the most talented team in the business which included legendary director John Lasseter.

The Brains Trust made important changes to the story, and the rest is history.Toy Story 2 became one of the few sequels in cinematic history to outshine the original and took $500m at the box office.

In his book Creativity Inc. Catmull sums up the lesson for leaders everywhere:

“If you give a good idea to a mediocre team they will screw it up. If you give a mediocre idea to a brilliant team, they will fix it or throw it away and come up with something better.”

If you want your business to be consistently innovative don’t focus on great ideas, focus on forming your best people high-performing teams with the right chemistry.

Ideas come from people. Therefore people are always more important than ideas.

If you like this try my bookThe Spark: How to Ignite and Lead Business Creativity’ (FT Publishing)  available on Amazon.

How to clarify your business vision

This blog briefly describes a 3-step process to create and share an inspirational vision for organisational change 

How would you like to change the fortunes of your business this year? To drive change you need to see the future. This isn’t a mystical gift. It’s about believing your business can deliver more for customers and clients – and then persuasively communicating the specific pieces of this picture to others.

Gordon SelfridgeThe ITV/PBS drama “Mr. Selfridge” tells the story of the visionary entrepreneur Harry Gordon Selfridge who shook up the straight-laced British retailing industry in 1909. He pioneered a vision of shopping for pleasure, rather than just necessity – and injected “style, glamour and razzmatazz!” for good measure. Crucially, he was able to back up the high-flown rhetoric (“we are going to show the world how to make shopping thrilling!”) with a highly-specific picture of what this would look, sound and feel like for his staff: everything from how silk scarves should be enticingly displayed (slight messy, so they’re more likely to be picked up by customers!) to the creation of attention-grabbing window displays that portray an aspirational lifestyle.

But having vision doesn’t need to be about transforming an entire industry. It can also be useful in helping to change business culture (“the way we do things around here”) or turning around a specific department or team.

Dream, Create, Share

Here are three simple steps to develop a vision for change:

Step 1 Dream: Sit down in a quiet place with a blank sheet of paper. Throw yourself forward three years (or a time-frame relevant to you). In your mind’s eye walk into your business and describe what’ll be happening. What will you see? What will you hear? What will the place feel like? How will your people be communicating and collaborating? What will your customers be saying about the “new you”? What will you have achieved? What’s changed and improved? Write notes as you imagine what the future might look like. Don’t get hung up at this stage about it being “right” or even “doable”. Allow yourself to dream a little.

Step 2 Create: Flex your fingers and get creative! Write up your notes in the form of a short, first person story describing a perfect day in this ideal future. Keep the details and ideas from your note taking that strike a balance between aspiration and what you think can be achieved with some hard work, tough choices and focus.

Step 3 Share: Share this vision with your colleagues. Use it as a catalyst for inspiration  and as a way to ignite a high-quality, challenging conversation. Do they share your vision? Does it excite them? What could they add to this picture? And, most importantly, what do you need to do together to make it a reality?

This exercise can kick off a strategy development process to highlight the main areas that need attention. Or, it can be a way to creatively consolidate  your thinking in a more down-to-earth and accessible way after you’ve created a strategy and objectives.

A wise man once said: “”We think in generalities, but live in detail”. Writing a vision bridges the gap between the generalities of “strategy development” (dismissed by the disaffected as “corporate bullshit”) and the vital, detailed leadership conversation about how to win the hearts and minds of customers.

Copyright © 2013 Greg Orme All Rights Reserved