I attended two seemingly unrelated events things this week: I saw the new Star Trek movie and I attended the MIT CIO Conference in Cambridge. At the conference, Tom Malone, who is the Director of the MIT Center for Collective Intelligence (think about how much they must have just on that campus) was talking about what it takes to be a successful business. He said it takes more than solving a math problem, it's about being innovative and creative and using the collective intelligence of the organization as well as well as a crowd of people interested in contributing.
That got me thinking about the Star Trek movie where after all Spock represents solving math problems and Kirk represents creativity and innovation. Neither would be as successful without the other and the same goes for business. You need your Spock side to develop the underlying technology you sell, but you need Kirk to make it into a product people want. Business could actually learn a lot by watching the Star Trek movie.
Tension Between Fear and Innovation
Another common theme at the conference was the persistent tension between fear and innovation. Successful companies find a way to innovate, often through experimentation. Unsuccessful ones let fear hold them back. At a key moment in the film, Spock wants to take the conventional route and Kirk wants to try something different. While experimenting was certainly no guarantee of success, doing nothing would surely have guaranteed failure, and business is often paralyzed by fear of failure.
According to Eric Brynjolfsson, director at the MIT Center for Digital Business, successful businesses have three qualities:
* The willingness to experiment
* A method for measuring success
* A way to scale the experiment to the organization at large
He said that companies need to have a way to try things and they need to be prepared for some of their ideas to fail. Kirk is always willing to try things even in the face of possible failure.
It Takes A Team
The wisdom of the crowd is one of the core tenets of Web 2.0, that collectively we can come up with ideas and be more innovative than we are likely to be on our own. For an organization, that means listening to customers, but it also means assembling a team with various talents and abilities. A good CEO knows no matter how smart, he or she may be, you need good people around you.
Kirk certainly understood this in the Star Trek movie. He found Uhura, Scottie, Chekov, Sulu and Bones. They might have been thrown together as people often are in organizations, but they found a way to become a team. Spock and Kirk had lots of tension, which could have threatened the entire organization, but they found a way to make it work.
Ultimately, companies that succeed have lots of these same elements. There is a competitive spirit that sometimes spills over into rancor, but if harnessed can take the best employees have to offer and drive innovation and success. Experimenting, learning, listening, team building; these are the pillars of successful organizations and they are the pillars of the Star Ship Enterprise. Who knew the Star Trek movie was a business case?