“Predator” is a 1987 science fiction action film directed by John McTiernan (his first studio film) and starring Arnold Schwarzenegger as the leader of an elite paramilitary rescue team on a mission to save hostages in guerrilla-held territory in a Central American rainforest. The team encounter the deadly Predator, a technologically advanced alien who stalks and hunts them down for sport.
The franchise went on to be a huge success due in no small part to the iconic Predator character, one which turned out very different than its inauspicious beginnings. Unbeknownst to many, the original Predator was played by “The Muscles from Brussels”, the martial-artist-cum-aspiring-actor, Jean-Claude Van Damme.
Van Damme became quickly disenchanted with his role in the film. He jumped at the role with the understanding that he would have the opportunity to demonstrate his martial arts abilities to the world by fighting against the mighty Schwarzenegger. He gradually realised his role would be that of a glorified stuntman as he would don an alien costume for the entire movie. Diva? Maybe. But before you cast judgement, you need to understand the rest of the story.
Perhaps it was a language barrier or perhaps he didn’t pay attention because he was so eager to land a role amidst an all-star cast, but it soon became apparent that Van Damme had not been properly briefed on his role in the movie. For those who know the movie, there is a special effect where Predator can cloak himself and blend in with the jungle background. To achieve this effect, the actor (Jean Claude) needed to wear a red version of the suit and computers would do the rest (much like a green screen today). When Van Damme wore this red version of the suit, he understood it to be the actual alien costume and was utterly disgusted. Have a look for yourself below and you would hardly blame him.
Apart from Van Damme’s displeasure with the role, the director had a real problem with the suit and who could blame him. See for yourself below.
Van Damme was eventually released from the movie and replaced by Kevin Peter Hall. The producers recast the role with the 7′ 3″ tall Hall so that the Predator could more convincingly dominate the film’s human characters with its greater size. A key element to the success was the new suit, which made a (ahem) monstrous difference.
Thanks to monster creator Stan Winston, we got the iconic figure we know today and the movie was a huge success. A key element of the success was the dissatisfaction with the original suit by director John McTiernan. He refused to accept the poor execution of a good strategy.
So, what has this got to do with Innovation and Change Initiatives?
Burning Budget on Buy-In
“The budget is not just a collection of numbers, but an expression of our values and aspirations.” – Jack Lew (Former United States Secretary of the Treasury)
You can be damn sure that director John McTiernan encountered stiff opposition when he protested that the suit was not good enough and even more when he jettisoned Van Damme and more still when he enlisted the brilliance of monster creator Stan Winston. However, credit where credit is due, a hat tip to those who opened the purse strings to fund McTiernan’s request (demands).
In change initiatives and innovation efforts, this is often not the case.
In my work as an innovation adviser, time and time again, I see that most of the budget to fund important initiatives is burned on buy-in. The change makers who run such programmes work so hard in “priming” the organisation for change that by the time it comes to the moment of truth, their budget is depleted. Now, call me suspicious, but I often believe this is because the organisation doe not really want change.
In other cases, the catalysts for change must spend disproportionate chunks of their budget on consultants (like me) to align their colleagues and help them see the need for change. While this is an important step, it is only the warm up for the big event.
In other cases, when consultants are enlisted by the senior leadership teams, they hire consultants as an insurance policy. Just in case the strategy does not work out, the finger is easy to point at those who “told us what to do”.
Worse still, are “Innovation Theatre” initiatives, which, mea culpa, I have directed in previous roles. As a previous Head of Innovation, I believed they were a runway towards meaningful change, only to realise those in (so-called) leadership positions had no intention of extending the runway. In fact, as soon as we got traction, they tore up the runway.
The consultation, the strategy and the sign off are all important parts of the process, but the real change only happens when the rubber hits the road. If you spend all your budget on the script, the expert opinions and the cast and skimp on the execution you fall prey to what I call “The Predator Effect”. Execution without strategy is better than strategy without execution. We learn from execution, what works and equally, if not more valid, what doesn’t work.
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