Why New World Filmmakers Must Understand the Difference Between Strategy and Innovation

In a June 29th, 2012 blogpost digital media consultant Greg Satell outlines the differences between strategy ("a coherent and substantiated logic for making one set of choices rather than another") and innovation ("[U]nlike strategy, [innovation] is about possibility, not direction. It involves a lot of fumbling around, chasing wrong ideas down blind alleys, experimenting and trying things out. The trick is that you fail quickly and cheaply, then move onto the next idea. Eventually you’ll get to something that works. If you can survive you can thrive.")

The word "innovation" comes from the Latin "innovare," meaning "to change."

In general, innovators do something different - rather than doing the same thing better.

In the New World of digital production and circulation, filmmakers can try to do the same thing Hollywood and TV networks have been doing for decades using the new tools (but that's NOT innovation).

Or a true innovator can accept the possibility of failure and try to develop a new way of telling a story, or a new way of circulating a story, online.

Failure is part of innovation.

As Greg Satell observes, "Edison tried and failed thousands of times to invent the lightbulb before he got it right, then he sold a bunch and made a mint."

Many film educators and media executives are afraid of innovation. They want a strategy. And they abhor failure.

But innovation can't proceed according to a fixed strategy.

Yes, innovators formulate plans. They are not operating in a vacuum. And they need ideas that will guide their process of innovation. Often innovators organize their exploration by applying existing ideas in new ways - or by taking an idea from another field and applying that idea to a new technology or area of thought: As Greg Satell observes, "Darwin borrowed from geology and economics... and Google transformed a practice from the academic world into a new approach to searching online."

Innovators (and filmmakers seeking to innovate) need organizing principles that they can experiment with. The starting point for innovation is often a supposition or proposed explanation made on the basis of limited evidence as a starting point for further investigation - what scientists call a "hypothesis."

But, notice, a hypothesis is not a fixed strategy. A hypothesis is an idea about how things might work that can be supported (or refuted) through experimentation or observation.

Like scientists, online filmmaking innovators must constantly test and pivot in response to new data.

Strategy is based on ideas that have already been substantiated. It's something management imposes so that business can be conducted in a practiced way - following proven steps to reach a goal.

Innovation is not strategy. The risks of innovation are extreme. But innovation is the way new ideas become the strategies of the future.

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