Why Existing Leaders Don't Innovate

I recently saw an interesting indie film that was first released in 2011. The film received positive reviews from critics, including Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times, who gave the film 3 ½ stars out of four, and ultimately grossed about $2 milli

on worldwide. Not a big hit. The film is called Another Earth.

It is pitched as a science fiction/drama movie, but it’s very light on the science fiction and heavy on the drama. The story focuses on a young woman ex-con, who and after being released from prison for a fatal DUI accident, wants to put her past behind her and apply for passage on a shuttle to a newly discovered alternate Earth within our solar system. There is also a lot of back story about who she killed in the DUI accident and the relationship she ultimately builds with the lone survivor. But the real key event in the movie that I think has relevance within HR and leadership in general is the content of the contest entry the main character begins writing in order to win her a spot on the first shuttle to the alternate Earth.

When You Got Nothin To Lose

Below is the beginning of her entry…

“When early explorers first set out West across the Atlantic, most people thought the world was flat. Most people thought if you sailed far enough west, you would drop off a plane into nothing. Those vessels sailing out into the unknown, they weren”t carrying noblemen or aristocrats, artists or merchants. They were crewed by people living on the edge of life: the madmen, orphans, ex-convicts, outcasts like myself. As a felon, I”m an unlikely candidate for most things. But perhaps not for this. Perhaps I am the most likely.”

Boy, he has she got that nailed. Every movie I’ve ever seen about explorers, finding new lands, all had included crews that were the bottom castes of society. These were the people that had nothing to lose and everything to gain. These were the people who thought rules were for everyone else and merely guidelines for themselves.

In other words, these are the people, who on first blush, you probably don’t want in your company.

Leading and Being In Front are 2 Wildly Different Things

Sure, there are many Executives within your company that lead big teams and have big jobs who might advance innovations. But they only do so as long as they can keep one foot firmly planted on the shore of what they currently do while reaching to create something that is easily connected to that comfort zone. That”s what incremental improvement looks like. Crossing rivers – not oceans.

But true, eye-popping innovation may just come from those that are willing to not see the destination, AND not keep one foot on the shore behind them.

True, groundbreaking, disruptive innovation may just come from those that have nothing to lose. It may be that team of people you should consider are mad, are orphans in your organization, ex-convicts – or at least someone on performance improvement, outcasts “cuz they don”t like company birthday celebrations. If you can find them and find a leader who can let go of shore you”ve really got something.

Before you RIF that misfit – see if you can use them on a special innovation voyage. One with no chance of success, no destination picked out – only a general direction of “go west” until you hit something good.”

Are you that innovative? Can you make that call? Or do you always need to be able to see the shore behind you to be comfortable?

FOT Background Check

Paul Hebert
Paul Hebert is the Senior Director of Solutions Architecture at Creative Group Inc and a writer, speaker and consultant. Paul focuses on influencing behaviors and driving business results through employees, channel partners and consumers. Over the course of his career, Paul has worked closely with clients to design influence, marketing, motivation, incentive, loyalty, recognition and reward programs to increase effectiveness and reduce costs. Paul is a recognized authority on incentives and performance motivation. Want to know what’s going to motivate your people to perform at their best and impact the bottom line? Want to know whether your service award program really means anything at all? Curious what psychological principles drive sales behavior? Paul’s your guy… unless you fervently bow down to Maslow. Check out his personal blog at "What Is Paul Thinking?" when you're tired of his FOT rants.


  1. Adam Z. says:

    WOW…so true. Very well said. I’ll try my best to say what’s on my mind in a few sentences w/o dragging. I work for a small (2 man broker shop). New to the business. They sell, or should I say service…or should I say, I don’t know what the hell they do…shuffle paper to the left and right. This is what residual income can do to the brain…lazy and dumb. They have about 1,500 IFP clients and about 100 small groups (less than 50). How they have stayed in biz for 25+ yrs is beyond my comprehension…and to think all this from yellow pages, virtually no employees and just dumb luck.

    I’ve learned more on my own research in 6 weeks than they have in 30 years. They’re oblivious to the train wreck that’s headed their way. Yes, I’m an outsider…yes, I worked in the mortgage biz for 18 yrs…started from on own and built a biz to 50 employees and yes, I went to prison for 3 yrs for securities fraud. Even though I had no idea of what the hell I was doing was wrong, never the less, my bad…I accept responsibility. Moving fwd. I’m an entrepreneur, bang it out, just do it guy. I obviously am much more apt to dot my i’s and cross my t’s now.

    I’ve come to realize this company and all others out there who want to remain in the past (transaction based vs. consultative, zero structure & systems, good ‘ol boy, let’s go golfing, and “oh premiums went up, let’s look at raising your deductibles” are OVER.

    So, yes…I fit the “True, groundbreaking, disruptive innovator guy who’s an ex-convict outcast”. I “have nothing to lose”… I told the owners they should fire themselves, sell the biz or put me in charge and give me carte blanche to bring ’em to the 21st century. I’m doing my best I can in working with 60+ yrs of age guys who are like snails and have zero concept of reinvesting $ back into their biz, their relationships, tech platforms, strategic alliances, human capital, etc. Reality, ignorance is not bliss….it got me 3 yrs and it’s gonna put 1,000’s of these mickey mouse brokers in bk court. I’m trying my best for us not to be one of ’em.

    thanks for allowing me to rant…

  2. Hi Paul,

    You make a great point about the disconnect and conflict between comfort zones and the need of disruptive eye-popping innovation to come from not seeing the shore. The big “how to” is how to create a climate/environment within an organization and within the individuals of the organization where they can move out of a space of personal “safe keeping” i.e. feel safe enough to take their foot off the shore, and into a place where their mental energy is free to put put toward new thinking and inventing. There is so much talent, expertise, and creative potential within every organization, that in addition to harnessing the potential of those who have nothing to loose, there is great value in enabling all to be innovative thinkers willing to share their ideas. This,we have found, can be achieved by setting up organizational & individual rules of engagement that lower the need for “safe keeping” and shift the energy into innovative thinking & action. Then it becomes a question of selecting new, intriguing and not yet feasible ideas, keeping them alive, and developing them out.

    Paul D. Roberts – Synecticsworld

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