Thursday, March 11, 2010

The World of Innovators by Michael Sansolo

Joining us today is Michael Sansolo, co-author of The Big Picture: Essential Business Lessons from the Movies. We'll review this title tomorrow, but for today, Michael is going to be talking about a subject near and dear to my heart--innovation. As someone who has been accused of trying to "fix things that ain't broke", when I came across this topic in The Big Picture, I just knew I wanted the authors to address it.

"The World of Innovators" by Michael Sansolo

Finding the road less taken is rarely the problem in business. There are countless people with good ideas, countless new directions out there to be considered.

Rather, the problem is how often these groundbreaking ideas or individuals are ignored or beaten back into submission. And for individuals and companies, the big question is how to create a climate where the new idea can be properly considered and evaluated.

In The Big Picture: Essential Business Lessons from the Movies, co-author Kevin Coupe and I examine a wide range of business lessons that can be gleaned and easily shared from many popular movies. Not surprisingly, the topic of breakthrough ideas comes up time and again. It’s presented artfully in Tucker: The Man and His Dream, a dramatic telling of a real life innovator who was beaten down by the forces of convention.

We find it in the delightful children’s movie Babe, as we watch a little pig defy conventional rules to become a champion sheepdog of all things.

And most tellingly we find it in Amadeus, a fictionalized tale of Mozart’s trials and tribulations in Vienna.

Mozart, as even the most casual music fan knows, was a boy genius whose music is familiar to virtually all of us. But in Amadeus, we watch Mozart struggle to bring his new ideas for melody, opera, and more to the stage while the forces of convention do everything possible to thwart his innovations.

Although Vienna is a wonderfully musical city, Mozart tries to elevate the level of performance. He brings innovation in hopes of making the music better. Yet time and again he runs into rules set up to thwart him. Even his small attempts to build financial stability are undermined, dropping the genius composer into depression and early death.

The movie gives the innovators out there a great lesson, too. Mozart’s ideas are clearly wonderful, but for the elite of Vienna, they are uncomfortable. The composer never takes the time to build a base of support or to educate his audience. Instead he plows forward, insisting he knows best. Yes, the elites could have listened better, but Mozart shares some of the blame in his failure.

He has an enemy in his rival Antonio Salieri, who uses considerable skill to convince the court that Mozart is the lesser of the two composers. Mozart never learns how to engage powerful allies to accept his innovation.

The business lesson from Amadeus is laid clear for us again and again. Too often in business, great ideas and innovations struggle against the forces of convention. So the road less taken remains untaken or, worse yet, the innovator moves in an entirely different direction.

One stunning business example comes from the roots of Walmart, now the largest company in the United States. In the 1960s, Walmart founder Sam Walton was a store manager for Ben Franklin stores. He had a plan to create a new type of store and gleefully presented that plan to his company. In short, he was told to go back to work.

Walton gambled instead, leaving Ben Franklin and opening his first Walmart. Some 50 years later we know how that battle worked out. Had Ben Franklin management been open to the radical idea and the road less taken, today it might be the company in every town in America. The business world is littered with such stories of chances not taken and innovation unseen. The stories range from the record company that passed on the young Beatles to the computer giant IBM passing on the chance to buy out a young Bill Gates and his fledgling software company called Microsoft.

Not every new idea is a great one; not every innovation becomes the next Walmart or Microsoft. But occasionally those ideas come up, and great companies know when to listen and when to travel the road less taken.

With wonderful style and soaring music, Amadeus reminds us of the challenges of being an innovator…and the sadness that befalls the world around them when the road less taken is left abandoned.

Michael Sansolo has traveled around the world one supermarket at a time, yet stopped to climb the Sydney Harbour Bridge, the Great Wall of China, and Pikes Peak. A native New Yorker, Sansolo is a consultant and frequent speaker for the food retail industry, and is a contributing editor and weekly columnist for, a daily newsletter on the retail industry.

Sansolo was the senior vice president of the Food Marketing Institute and was editor-in-chief of Progressive Grocer magazine.

Sansolo, his family, and his very annoying beagle live in the suburbs of Washington, DC.

For more information on the book and its authors, visit You can also find Kevin online at and Michael at

Movies are magical. They can release us from the stress of everyday life. But movies also contain valuable lessons to improve the way we do business.

In their entertaining new book, The Big Picture: Essential Business Lessons From the Movies, authors Kevin Coupe and Michael Sansolo show how to use the stories in movies to solve problems in business. From The Godfather to Tootsie, from The Wedding Singer to Babe, the authors use more than sixty of their favorite movies to teach important lessons about branding, customer service, leadership, planning, ethics, and innovation.

Readers learn how to use stories from the movies to communicate clearly with employees, clients, and customers.

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