Orson Welles: not a self-destructive failure

November 22, 2009

From Dennis Lim’s discussion of the new film “Me and Orson Welles” in the New York Times:

“In grappling with an artist who revolutionized every medium he worked in but spent his final decades as a Hollywood outcast and a pop-culture punch line, Welles’s biographers … differ on whether he was a radical genius who fell victim to a callous and conservative system or a self-destructive failure who squandered his abundant gifts.”

A more persuasive viewpoint is to see that Welles was a typical conceptual innovator, achieving his greatest work at a young age, then declining in accomplishments through the rest of his life.

For more on that insight into Welles, see David Galenson’s article “Age and Creativity” (PDF, 2006) in the Milken Institute Review.


Ingmar Bergman kept changing styles, achieving successes

August 1, 2007

Ingmar BergmanIngmar Bergman (1918 – 2007) was a conceptual innovator who didn’t follow the typical pattern of fading with age. Instead he followed up his youthful breakthroughs with shifts in style that led him to success in later life too.

“Truffaut observed that the nature of [Bergman’s] films changed considerably, constituting a series of distinct periods,” noted David Galenson and Joshua Kotin in a 2005 working paper on conceptual and experimental innovation in film making.

They cited Bergman’s imitation of the style of Kurosawa as a model for “Virgin Spring” at age 41 (in 1959) and of Fellini for “All These Women” at age 46 (in 1964).

He was “the first film-maker to use the cinema as an instrument of sustained philsophical meditation,” said critic Philip Kemp.

Based on Galenson and Kotin’s compilation of critics’ ratings, Bergman’s highest-rated films were from age 39 (“The Seventh Seal” and “Wild Strawberries”) and from age 64 (“Fanny and Alexander”).

Conceptual film makers tend to achieve their greatest successes at a somewhat later age than conceptual innovators in other fields, probably because gaining enough experience to be accepted as a director takes so much time.

In the working paper on 13 directors, conceptual innovators’ first high-rated films were at age 26 (“Citizen Kane, Orson Welles); age 27 (“The Battleship Potemkin,” Sergei Eisenstein); age 32 (“The General,” Buster Keaton); age 40 (“La Dolce Vita,” Federico Fellini); and age 40 (“Birth of a Nation,” D.W. Griffith), in addition to Bergman’s 39.

Gladwell: Health-care system needs Cezanne, not Picasso or Michael Moore

July 10, 2007

Picasso Best-selling author Malcolm Gladwell has a prescription for the United States health-care system that takes a page (well, much more actually) from the works of economist David Galenson. That isn’t surprising, since Gladwell is reportedly working on a Galenson-inspired book about conceptual and experimental innovation.

Gladwell says people such as film maker Michael Moore are wrong about how to fix the health-care mess. Many people are mistakenly hoping for a quick fix derived from a bold breakthrough, such as conceptual innovator Pablo Picasso achieved in the art world, he told the America’s Health Insurance Plans’ Institute 2007 last month in Las Vegas. Instead, Gladwell said, we should pursue step-by-step experiments, like those of experimentally innovative painter Paul Cezanne.

“We are in danger of approaching the healthcare problem like it’s a Picasso problem and not a Cezanne problem,” Gladwell said, according to an account in Healthcare IT News.

“With really complex problems, you can’t start with a grand idea,” he said. “You need a trial-and-error method.”

Gladwell called Moore’s movie “Sicko” and its advocacy of a single-payer universal health care system a Picasso approach.

“I’m waiting for a politician to stand up and say, ‘We don’t need a Picasso to solve our healthcare problem. We need a Cezanne,’” he said.

People’s favorites — Gates, Hazen, cummings

July 9, 2007

Elizabeth HazenAmong the dozens of artists, writers, film makers and inventors whose stories are told on the “Arts of Innovation” Web site, the most popular among Internet searcher are a software mogul, a microbiologist and a poet: (1) Bill Gates, (2) Elizabeth Hazen (pictured) and (3) e e cummings.

The most popular pages are:

The quiz “Are you experimental or conceptual?”;

• The preliminary, still-incomplete discussion of experimental and conceptual film makers;

• The presentation of the basics of experimental and conceptual innovators; and

• The page on e e cummings.

Gladwell book will tackle conceptual / experimental innovation

May 15, 2007

Malcolm GladwellThe next book by “Tipping Point” and “Blink” author Malcolm Gladwell will be about conceptual and experimental innovators, according to David Manaster, CEO of ERE Media Inc.

In a blog post, Manaster says that Gladwell’s “book about ‘high achievers’ … should be published in about eighteen months. (In it, Gladwell) places creative people into a continuum with two approaches to innovation – conceptual and experimental.”
Manaster’s blog, “Hire Calling,” reports on Gladwell’s talk to a recent recruiting-industry conference. Those remarks included many examples of conceptual and experimental innovators — very familiar examples for people who have been following this line of thought:

“Conceptual innovators … are the revolutionaries with bold ideas and strokes of genius – the people who create a something new and different. They are brilliant, but can be inconsistent – some of their bold moves will be genius, and some will miss their mark, and there is no guarantee that they can recreate their original inspiration.”

For example:

  • “Picasso , who painted his most valuable paintings as a young man,” and
  • “Orson Welles, who never surpassed his early masterpiece Citizen Kane.”

“Experimental innovators are relentless. They do not have that flash of brilliance of the conceptual innovator, but they are relentless. An experimental innovator will take an idea and doggedly pursue it, making changes and trying small changes – riffing n the concept until something sticks.” For example:

  • “Paul Cézanne, … Gladwell’s example of this kind of innovator – his most valuable paintings were done later in life, after much experimentation” and
  • “Alfred Hitchcock, whose most famous movies came late in his career, after he had already created dozens of films.”

Fleetwood MacGladwell also discussed conceptual and experimental innovation in the music business, as he did in a lecture last year.

At the conference, Gladwell said, “experimental innovators seem to have an edge – at least in live performances, which is where the real money is. It took Fleetwood Mac 16 albums to come up with Rumours, their most successful album ever. Two of the most successful touring bands in history are The Dave Matthews Band and The Grateful Dead – and according to Gladwell, both are experimental, working over many years to get their formulas down. “

Gladwell also broke new ground with a discussion of innovators on television:

“In TV, the shows on HBO are widely regarded as the most creative and engagingSix Feet Under on television. In an approach that is regarded as atypical for that industry (where a typical show only has a few episodes to gather an audience and become a breakout hit before it is cancelled), Gladwell said that a large part of their success has been because HBO is willing to give new shows enough time to develop and find their groove. Six Feet Under, one of their most critically acclaimed shows, did not reach its creative peak until its third season, even though it did not get a solid following in its entire first season.”

What is the relevance of this to daily life, especially in the workplace?

“In a showing of hands in the audience, it appeared as if most of the people in the room considered themselves to be experimental innovators (myself included). This makes sense to me, because businesses look to deliver products and services they can grow over time, which would seem to favor an incremental, experimental kind of thinking over the conceptual. (Just think of how a company’s financial performance is measured as percent growth rather than the number of new product launches they have done in a quarter.)

“What surprised me was that even in businesses traditionally thought of as ‘creative’ (conceptually innnovative), the experimental innovators seem to be more prominent than one might expect.”

Further, “If employees are no longer loyal, why should companies invest in experimental innovators if they will not see the ROI on those investments? The answer: Retention, retention, retention. “

Disney’s discovery: How to avoid a midlife slump

May 3, 2007

Castles from Disney and OlivierYou might think Walt Disney wasn’t much like painter Andy Warhol, computer whiz Bill Gates, or poet T.S. Eliot, but you’d be wrong.

Each had a similar approach to innovation, a mindset that other people can see in their own careers, or in people around them.

Each also made an early breakthrough in his chosen field, yet the relevance of their style of innovation isn’t limited to being young geniuses. That’s especially true of Disney, who extended his achievements into middle age and beyond, stages of life when young geniuses typically falter.

Some of Disney’s approach to innovation is evident in the new book “Once Upon a Time Walt Disney,” published in conjunction with an exhibit of Disney art that opened last year in Paris and is currently on display in Montreal.


(Image from the book: King Stefan’s castle from “Sleeping Beauty” of 1959 next to a castle scene from Laurence Olivier’s 1944 film “Henry V,” inset, which in turn was inspired by medieval paintings. Courtesy Prestel Publications)

Disney art exhibit is likely in U.S., but not the one in Paris and Montreal

March 22, 2007

Disney exhibition bookThe acclaimed “Once Upon a Time Walt Disney” exhibition that’s currently in Montreal won’t come to the United States, but it’s likely that a similar exhibit of Disney art will, says Lella Smith, director of the Disney Co.’s Animation Research Library.

The current show includes artworks that inspired Disney artists, including masterpieces by Albrecht Durer, William Blake and Gustave Moreau. Smith said those were borrowed from the Louvre Museum in Paris on condition that they would only be on display in two locations — a limit that’s aimed at reducing the possibility that they would be damaged.

The exhibit, organized by Bruno Girveau, curator at the Grand Palais museum in Paris, opened there last fall. It moved to the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts this month and will continue through June 24.

The show draws extensively from the 60 million items in the Animation Research Library in Glendale, Calif.

Fifteen other museums, including the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, contacted the library to see whether they could host the show after it closes in Montreal, Smith said.

Disney sceneIn response to that enthusiasm, “there’s a good possibility that there will be another exhibit,” Smith said. At the request of LACMA, Girveau has agreed to consider assembling a second, similar Disney art show. He will travel to Los Angeles next month to discuss that possibility with LACMA and the animation library, Smith said.

“It’s a wonderful exhibit,” she said. “It’s exciting. We would love to have it here in the Los Angeles/Orange County area, where so many Disney employees live.”

Arranging for public displays of historic Disney art wasn’t encouraged when Michael Eisner led the Disney Co., so “this is very new for us,” Smith said. Chief Executive Robert Iger and Chief Creative Officer John Lasseter want to get the artwork into public view, she said.

Iger attended the opening in Paris and Richard Cook, the chairman of Walt Disney Studios, went to the unveiling in Montreal, she said.

Further in the future, a separate exhibit of Disney art is possible at the New York Museum of Modern Art, Smith said. MOMA expressed interest in organizing its own Disney exhibit, but wouldn’t do so until after it completes an upcoming project with another studio, she said.


DisneyOther Disney-related posts in the “Arts of Innovation” blog:

Disney-related posts from the “Inside Innovation” blog:

Disney-related story from the O.C. Register Web site: