My husband took me to the movies recently to see Tomorrowland. I had no idea what this movie was about prior to walking into the theater, and while I was entertained the entire time, I walked out feeling a bit confused on what I just saw and why I was feeling like I wouldn’t recommend it to my friends.
Now realize I’m not at all a movie critic, just an everyday person that enjoys a range of genres running the gamut from the occasional chick-flick, to comedy, action, adventure, mystery, and science fiction (although I have to admit I do not care for westerns or horror filmsJ). But as I stepped back and thought about the movie through the lens of an innovator, I felt there were some powerful themes and/or messages to take away from the film.
Setting the Stage
So where were you in 1964? I realize that some of you were probably not even born yet! I was a young girl living in Irvington NY which is situated on the Hudson River about 30 minutes from the city by train. That year, as winter began to turn to spring, I remember riding my bike near the river and having the wits scared out of me as I saw a humongous Tyrannosaurus rex come out of nowhere and stare down at me. It was the largest beast I had ever seen face-to-face! Of course, this was way before Jurassic Park and I was never in any actual danger. It was, in fact, one of the many life-sized dinosaur statues being barged down the Hudson River for the Dinoland exhibit at the 1964 World’s Fair being held in Flushing Meadows Corona Park in Queens. That’s definitely a childhood memory I will never forget!
The 1964 World’s Fair is also the opening scene to the movie. It was a celebration of mankind. Hundreds of unique pavilions radiated from the Unisphere, a giant world globe, representing foreign lands, technology, transportation and government (think of it as a precursor to Disney’s EPCOT). Visitors from all over the world came together, embracing the space age, technology and all the wonders the future could hold with marvels like monorails, muscle cars like the Ford Mustang, jetpacks, the debut of color TV and the picturephone, a scale model of the future Twin Towers buildings (construction started 2 years later), and dishwashers that were going to take care of themselves.
Negativity – the Sad Reality of Today’s World
It was heart-warming to see the excitement and enthusiasm of Frank, the young boy in the movie that had created his jet pack and brought it to the World’s Fair to enter the Inventor’s Contest. The fun and enthusiasm of dreaming up an idea, prototyping it, and seeing it actually work or somehow positively change the world is exactly how most innovators think and feel about their work. Unfortunately, in the movie, his enthusiasm gets broken down by the negativity of other people and the world around him. He too begins to fall into a world of complacency and conformity where he stops seeing the possibilities and believes that nothing can be changed.
Attitude is Everything
Fast-forward to another scene in the movie. A teen girl named Casey doesn’t accept the doom and gloom of the impending climate catastrophe talked about by her teachers, and instead poses the question “Can we fix it?” (which, of course, never gets answered). I believe Casey’s outlook is directly related to her home environment. Her dad works for NASA, so he definitely has an innovator’s mindset and believes in possibilities and a bright future. In fact, in the movie this is his dialogue with Casey, “You have two wolves, one representing darkness and despair, the other light and hope. Which one lives? The one you feed.”
How true this actually is. We’ve heard this throughout the ages, even in this Henry Ford quote.
“Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t – you’re right.”
Attitude is everything. That’s what separates innovators from everyone else. Innovators buck conventional thinking, the groupthink, which is really not thinking for yourself at all. We rise above the negativity and self-doubts and actually get excited about ideas. How many times have you been in a brainstorming session and an idea came up, and several others said “we tried that before and it didn’t work” or you heard the words “Yes, but.” Those words need to be challenged more and not taken as gospel.
You see, when you hear the word “before” that means at another time, with different circumstances, and different variables in affect at the time – different retailers and distributors, different social dynamics, different attitudes and different consumer trends. The past should be questioned and analyzed to better understand the failure or set-backs and find the key insights that can act as springboards for success.
Casey challenged the negativity of the situation. She was even able to bring Frank “back” into the land of hope and possibilities – seeing that together they had a chance to change the bleak future that stood before them. Innovators know how important collaboration is to stay motivated and how powerful it is to tap into the knowledge and experience of others so we can think (and dream) even bigger.
Hope for the Future
So how do I feel about the movie now? Let’s face it, it’s Hollywood and so much of the movie is only for sheer entertainment value, but I feel the message is powerful and meaningful in an age where more and more people aren’t thinking for themselves and are falling into the trap of conformity, negativity, and cynicism about our future as a country and in the world.
Tomorrowland is about the possibilities of positive change. And we as innovators must never assume that history is going to repeat itself, nor that the future is already written. The future is what we make it.
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