Innovation Blog

Making New Things Out of Old Ones: A Proven Route to Successful Innovation

By Shlomo Maital

Travolta, Newton-John,   GREASE  (1978)

Today’s Global New York Times has a great story about how Hollywood (hide-bound industry that is usually dinosaur-slow  to innovate its business model) is finally acting to innovate movie theaters, just before they all become obsolete and disappear. (“Hollywood encourages noisemaking at theaters”,  July 13, 2010, by Brooks Barnes, p. 16).

For instance, a hit 1978 movie Grease has been rereleased.  It is a sing-along version.  Subtitles show the lyrics, and viewers are encouraged to sing along and make noise in other ways.  Audiences are invited to come in costumes. (Remind you of sports events, like the Mondiale, where the crowd paints its face and wears bizarre costumes?).

The head of Paramount, Adam Goodman, says, “the goal is to create a true event… how do you get groups of young people going to the movies and having a great time?”  In other words, create a true experience, as Joe Pine and James Gilmour advise in their Strategic Horizons consultancy.

Unknowingly, Goodman is using the framework of Peter Drucker, who helps us challenge unspoken key assumptions (e.g., audiences at a movie must be absolutely silent, to make noise is rude).

Why did it take movie theaters so long to innovate?  Hard to say.  The Rocky Horror Picture Show moviegoers for years have created precisely this kind of noisy crowd-involved event, making a bad movie into a huge cash cow for years.  Finally, the multiplex chains get it!  They are using the Rocky model….  but years after Rocky fans were showing them the way.

A great approach to innovation is to take old stuff and renew it, by changing how it is offered.   The time to do this is BEFORE the old stuff becomes obsolete and money-losing, not AFTER.  But better late than never.   Never fall into the trap of thinking that everything has to be brand new.    Start with old things.  Remember, old beloved things have a powerful nostalgia effect that is priceless — build on it, keep the core, renew the periphery, and create a winning old-new innovation.

In writing about his vision of a Jewish state, Theodore Herzl wrote a little book called Alt-Neue Land  (“Old-New Land”).   Write your own book, old-new land, about innovating old products.  If you can find creative ways to link new things with old offerings, you can innovate in places where others fail even to consider.