Sometimes, perhaps most times, innovations occur where and when we least expect them. We’re accustomed to looking at the automotive industries for incremental innovations on features that make travel more comfortable or loading the trunk easier. We look to companies like Apple and Samsung to bring us revolutionary tech product that whelms us with features. We expect improvements from our data providers as our consumption habits continually increase and create more network demand. The theme with these examples is that we have trained ourselves to look where we expect to look. However, innovations, the really good and memorable ones are the ones that offer something unexpected, often from a company or service provider that we weren’t watching.
Remember a time when we weren’t looking at Apple to bring us an iPod or a smartphone? In fact, at the time, we didn’t know exactly what we were looking at.
We looked to Sony for core innovations that took us from cassette walk-mans to non-skip disc-mans, bass boost and so on. Next thing you know a walk-man has been combined with the convenient digital files popularized by the controversial Napster with storage capacity beyond our wildest imaginations. What would have taken several belt-packs worth of cassette tapes was now all stored in a device that could fit in a wallet!
But while we are trained to expect innovations from tech and automotive industries, there are often surprising advances in storytelling that come from the movie industry. Story is a big discussion in the business and professional development world these days. We recognize that it’s the power of story that influences consumer response, job acquisition and positive brand recognition. However, it’s out of Hollywood where the stories we’ve been influenced, moved or repelled by that we’ve been escaping to for some time. We tend to retreat to these experiences looking to be amused or just distracted from our everyday lives. Though it tends to be a highly repetitive industry that caters to our desire for escapism, it’s easy to identify when innovation occurs as a really impactful story comes along every now and then that grabs the attention of a nation.
Something I’ve referred to as “genre-mashing” is a great source of unexpected innovation that often revolutionizes our entertainment experience and influences a down-pour of story mimicry.
Growing up in the 1980’s I had an abundance of examples of movies to view that took conventional storytelling ideas and combined them with another unrelated story-type to create a new experience that often-had blockbuster results. Michael J Fox had a run of films that were genre-mashes: Teen Wolf which combined the John Hughes teen movie formula with the classic 1930’s/40’s werewolf movie. Back to the Future also took the Hughes inspired teen formula, this time combined with an H.G. Wells (or Doc Brown’s favourite, Jules Verne) inspired time-travel story.
But topping the charts of these 1980s examples (for gross profit in the USA and because it’s my personal favourite) is Ivan Reitman’s 1984 film Ghostbusters. While a dominant genre-mash including comedy, Sci-Fi, even horror; this film also offered solid character development, convincing science and an ensemble cast. The intricacies of the film really brought us something new and unexpected. Harold Ramis and Dan Akroyd combined their penchant for improv comedy with their fascination with science and the occult to provide the viewer with a whole catalogue of technology and terminology: Ecto-plasm, Proton-Packs, Valence Meter, Plasmatometer and so on. With this immersion into a complex yet relatable world, the viewer is entertained but also challenged and left thinking about all of the details that created this absolutely unique and innovative story.
You know an idea is a leap innovation (a “game-changer”) when it brings about a sequel, toy-line, cartoon series, a re-boot and soon to be another reboot; not to mention wildly devoted fandom. This idea clearly sparked something that is meaningfully unique in storytelling. Another great evidence of innovation in Hollywood is when a run of similar stories follow suit. In the early 2000’s Bubba-Ho-Tep, Shaun of the Dead, Zombieland and a plethora of other horror/ comedies swept the box office. Zombieland even featured a well-known cameo sequence with Bill Murray including homage to Ghostbusters.
It’s interesting to look around at the things we know, the things we experience and evaluate what innovations brought that about. Sometimes, it’s the combination of unexpected elements that create a significantly notable outcome.
Individually, we can be intimidated by the prospect of either coming up with new ideas or challenging the ones we interact with each day. However, it’s the unexpected changes and the unlikely combinations that tend to make the greatest impact in our world.