Out of all the keynote talks here at the Information on Demand conference, it was former Walt Disney Company CEO Michael Eisner's speech that I was most looking forward to, and he certainly didn't disappoint.
After opening with a funny and self-deprecating comment about the conference theme "Take Back Control": "Or, how not to lose control in the first place"...Mr. Eisner used the simple concept of a box as the orchestrating concept for his talk.
The box being the simple container, the size of which must expand or contract enough to reflect the opportunity for the idea that fills it...and the practical fiscal reality required to keep the box from outgrowing either the idea or the budget! (Eisner was certainly adept at shaping Disney's own box, growing its revenues from $1.7B in 1984 to more than $30B when he handed over the reigns a couple of years ago.)
But what's past is not necessarily what's present.
Eisner went on to comment that what will be most key to filling the box successfully in the 21st Century is an amalgamation of technology, innovation, and creativity.
But, he indicated, creativity must always be combined with a healthy dose of micromanagement. Not the overbearing, get-out-of-my face kind, mind you, but rather the kind that delivers results and effective oversight of all the George Seurat pointillist details that make up the millions of dots involved in running any complex, modern enterprise.
By way of example, Eisner explained a situation for the movie "Outrageous Fortune," where, when a set the creative team wanted to build just wasn't in the budget, he pushed that team to create an hilarious scene where Shelly Long begged her parents for $5,000 in their NY apartment building's foyer over the intercom.
As he went on to explain, "A successful brand (Disney) is the gift that keeps on giving and is more than the sum of its dots."
Sometimes those dots were more obvious by their failure to appear, as when Eisner and crew opted not to include casinos in Disney's cruise ship business, even after research indicated it was a mandatory for success in the cruise business.
"We had to say no to something that we felt would be damaging to our brand."
The Disney cruise line business sailed on to great success sans casinos, with Eisner concluding that "Creativity can Trump even slot machines when it comes to ROI."
Huge chuckle from the audience on that one.
Ultimately, though, it wasn't just creativity that prevails. It's also a willingness to allow people in the organization to fail.
In a nod to his IBM-leaning audience, Eisner cited IBM founder Thomas Watson on the subject of failure: "The way to accelerate your success is to double your failure rate."
"An intelligent stumble is nothing to be afraid of," said Eisner. "Otherwise, you encourage mediocrity. One bad dot cannot ruin the painting."
Eisney used the example of his own internal "Gong Show," where ideas good and bad were proffered in internal Disney brainstorming meetings, from one of which emerged the idea for "The Little Mermaid."
As to the future, Eisney spoke glowingly about the opportunity Tom Friedman's "flattening" of the planet (via the Internet) presented to creative people around the globe.
"The world has become a single dot," he explained, with time, money, and language removed as key barriers, and one where anyone with a video camera and a computer can make a movie.
Creativity now becomes the only meaningful variable. The filmmaker in Africa can reach out to the producer in Santa Monica.
Yet Eisner believes we'll still need filters, both the wisdom-of-crowdish ones that come in the masses voting with their computer mice, as well as the Simons, Randies, and Paulas of the world, those "experts" who help us winnow down the list of the next big stars.
Eisner called it the "American Idolization" of the Internet.
But ultimately, it was the more widespread effect this phenomena that seemed most profound. "It's hard to imagine any industry that won't be impacted by this trend."
Indeed, some would argue it already has.
So think outside your box, make sure it's the right size, make sure you have plenty of dots to fill the box, and learn how to micromanage it intelligently.
And finally, dance with all the creativity you can muster.
You do all that, and your dot could become a star...just so long as it doesn't get stuck in its own box!