Pioneer: “(v) To open up an area or prepare the way. (v) To take the lead or initiative in. (v) To open up and explore a new area”. There is much talk in marketing about innovation isn’t there? And yes, it’s a concept I do have a passion for. But do you know a marketer who does not describe themselves as innovative? Its like trying to find a programmer who does not like Star Wars. And speaking of Star Wars, where did George Lucas get his ideas from for all those amazing special effects? More of that later..
Technically of course, innovation is about the commercial delivery of a new idea or process. According to Wikipedia: ” it is a change in the thought process for doing something or ‘new stuff that is made useful.’ I like to see it as the making real. In a previous role as a Partnership Manager, where I was tasked with both building (and sometimes un-tangling ourselves from…) multi-million dollar print management contracts I was told that my job was to ‘pioneer’. To my boss this meant cutting through red tape, trying to cut costs and suggest new kinds of deals – that others could then ‘copy and paste’. They expected me to take a few risks, try things that were different and work around the side of business rather than in the middle of it. And then report back with maps showing where the gold mines and monsters were. However my boss had a great warning. ” Sales Directors love hard working farmers, who just keep getting the cash in. The Head of IT loves the ‘homesteaders’ – planning and building the beautifully designed, steady future. As a Marketer though – I want Pioneers. I want you to find the areas we’ll all be working in later. I need you to clear the path so we can do business in new areas” . If Innovation is about ‘making it real’. Pioneering is about ‘finding the new way of doing things.This sounded great. I had always fancied myself as a bit of a Lawrence of Arabia type, exploring unknown areas. But my boss gave me a painful truth too. ” But if you want to be a marketing Pioneer remember – everyone loves stabbing the Pioneers in the back”. ‘
Over the years this has come to mean more to me. Pioneering – is what I like and admire. When it works: its fantastic. You open up the new and report back on exciting opportunities – that you have uncovered, that others can then move quickly into and exploit with a bit more confidence and likely more expertise than you. However, a Pioneer is the first to get the knives in the back. From the new customers or partners you’re trying to engage. Or more likely, from the people ‘back at the ranch’ who will just love to see the Pioneer come back a failure. ” Ah, see I told you there was not going to work”. And sometimes the cynics are right. But I think the great artists and the great marketers, from Selfridge to Dyson and from Leland to Jobs – were Pioneers. Innovation is just the mechanical doing bit. They went and explored new areas and new ‘ways of doing’. Not just new products and engineering innovation: but different markets, different supply chains, different ways to sell, different ways to manufacture. And to keep my own spark alive, I love to see and hear about real Pioneers and recently I was lucky enough to see the Ray Harryhousen exhibition at the London Film Museum. Who he? Ray Harryhousen is the writer, director, animator and model maker who is generally regarded as the godfather of modern cinematic special effects and inventor of ‘Dynomation’. His first movie was Mighty Joe Young made in 1949. Remember the fighting skeletons in the 1963 classic ‘Jason And The Argonauts‘? All made by hand by Ray Harryhousen. Took four and a half months of dedication to make 4 minutes of cinema magic. The iconic effects that gave your childhood Pegasus, Medusa and famous bronze giant Talos – were all the work of one man. The opening of his recent exhibition in London was attended by Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, John Landis and Peter Jackson. Not bad eh? They were there because without the ground breaking work of Harryhousen, learning how to do special effects without the benefits of computers and sophisticated tools – there would be no ET, no Star Wars no Lord of The Rings. Learning his life story demonstrated to me what a real Pioneer has to be. Firstly, he was driven from an early age to learn as much as he could. He knew he had to develop a craft and dedicated himself to art and animation after seeing King Kong. He kept learning new techniques and trying them over and over again. Splicing film, stop-frame animation and making by hand his incredible steel framed models coated in latex, that are now cast in bronze in limited editions and sold for thousands to collectors around the world. And like a real Pioneer- he got plenty of knives in the back too. When ‘Jason And The Argonauts’ didn’t make an immediate return – he was dropped by Hollywood. The film went on to become a cult classic and technical masterpiece earning millions in television and video rights and so years later he was back in the fold. As a real pioneer, his thirst for knowing his subject was incredible. He learnt about ancient myths and legends to create fantastical creatures and he slept in the studio so he could keep the precious models at the right temperature overnight to avoid discolouration. Watching the movies recently I still got the thrill I received when I first saw them as ten-year old – seeing skeletons sword fight and Medusa hissing. But now – I can see these movies in a different light too. They’re an incredible example of pioneering and dedication to a craft that is astounding when you consider most were made before the invention of the digital watch, let alone digital editing. And they’re an incredible example of true Pioneering from an amazing artist.