Robert Redford’s Sundance enterprise includes a cable channel, a DVD/video line, a retail catalog, a resort, and its focal point—a nonprofit institute that is part artists’ colony, part R&D lab and producer of the annual Sundance Film Festival. Redford’s dedication to innovation in filmmaking has not only spawned and nurtured an expanding independent film industry, it’s also proven amazingly successful in a field where so many projects and products fail. Thirty-five percent of projects developed in the Sundance Filmmakers Lab and 85% of its Theater Lab projects make it to production, and the brand has come to be synonymous with independent filmmaking.
Central to Redford’s philosophy is that growth is not an accounting practice but a creative process—and not just in the film industry, but in any business. “Do you think the earth was created by an accountant?” asks Redford. “No! The earth was created by the combustion of a creative explosion. Fire and chaos are what started everything. Then order came on top of that.” And while many businesses pay lip service to the importance of innovation, Redford says for the most part it’s “coming out of paper and air. The signs are everywhere. The collapsing of certain corporate structures, the mergers, the consolidation that was supposed to beef up profit are clearly, by and large, not working.” To incorporate innovation into the daily operation of an enterprise, Redford says you must expose people to a variety of conflicting perspectives and don’t hesitate to hire for raw ideas. Employ short-term mentors and force innovators to make the most of their own resources. Allow for experimentation, mistakes and dead-ends. Don’t respond slavishly to market research. Periodically switch environments. And if you’re the boss, give generously to the innovators in your company of your time and attention.