By Andrew Jenkins
In filmmaking there is a term known as “shooting ratio” that refers to the ratio between the amount of footage shot and the amount of footage contained in the final cut. What drives this ratio are the number of shots planned for each scene for maximum coverage and the number of takes allocated per shot.
As a former filmmaker turned strategy consultant, I have been thinking about the value that could be derived from taking a similar approach to strategy development and execution, in terms of an organization’s innovation efforts.
On a shot-by-shot basis, a filmmaker will decide how many takes (a.k.a. attempts or permitted failures) that will be required or anticipated. This is planned ahead so it can be incorporated into the budget. With every additional take, another option becomes available. Many factors can influence the outcome of a film; having options helps to increase the likelihood of a better end-product.
This approach can be applied beyond filmmaking; it does not necessarily have to be restricted to a process where the outcome is a tangible product or thing. It can also apply to service innovation where the outcome is a new experience.
If you ask an Oscar-nominated or winning actor which “take” (1, 2 or 12) it was that ended up being the clip that led to their being considered, you will receive different answers. Some hit the mark within the first one or two takes. Others work their way up incrementally, building to the point where they hit the mark, and, finally, others use each take to try something entirely different in the hopes that at least one will be usable.
This idea is very similar to current trends like rapid prototyping and agile programming with technology, and innovation development where incremental improvements are made through constant iterations and refinements. “Let’s do it again, only different, better, slower, faster.” Teams sprint between milestones rather than run a marathon only to end up at the finish line with an unwanted outcome. By pursuing short-term objectives through “sprints” and reflecting on those achievements once they’ve been reached, organizations can revise their approach and move forward on a new trajectory with a different and likely more highly anticipated outcome.
To some, these activities seem inefficient, bordering on wasteful; but if the outcome met or exceeded expectations, was it still the wrong approach? Designing and budgeting failure into the process is not an innovation indulgence — it’s a hedge or mitigation against failure or a less desirable outcome.
Malcolm Gladwell talks about the concept of 10,000 hours being the amount of time required for someone to develop and hone a skill before becoming an expert. Those 10,000 hours were filled with numerous attempts and failures but, in the end, expertise was the result.
Ultimately, I am suggesting that people, and organizations in a broader sense, be given the opportunity to try a variety of different things and honour their failures in the process, because that is where the greatest learning and potential for successful innovation comes from. However, I am not suggesting that people be allowed to make an unlimited number of attempts either.
I am just asking you to imagine that if Take 6 was the right or best one but you or your organization weren’t allowed to make six attempts at anything, then what a missed opportunity that would be.