Film Analogy Friday: How can you become an innovator? Don’t talk about Fight Club

Innovation author and consultant Jeffrey Phillips posted a thought provoking piece recently on the different stages of evolution that one must trudge through to create a lasting successful innovation.  The blog post used film to bring life to the subject, and I think helped clarify the complex journey that is innovation.  I was intrigued with the idea humbly offered up one of my favorite films Fight Club to the conversation. To my pleasant surprise, I received the following reply on twitter:

Innovation Twitter

If you haven’t seen the film you may be a little out of the loop on this one.  However, I think many of the themes in the film resonate enough for entrepreneurs and innovators that it bears exploring.

The setting for innovation, a boring office job:

The story in the film revolves around a narrator that we meet describing his hum-drum day-to-day insomniac existence.

“Like everyone else, I had become a slave to the IKEA nesting instinct…  I would flip through catalogs and wonder, “What kind of dining set defines me as a person?” 

2000px-ikea_logo-svgThe narrator lives his life calculating the death-rate statistics of motor vehicle failures, submitting report after report, suffering from sleeplessness driven by having no purpose.

“When you have insomnia, you’re never really asleep…. And you’re never really awake”

Anyone who has read much about the titan innovators of our time know that this is frequently the setting for personal revolution. Stagnation is the sign that one needs to change.  Even in the embrace of modest success (being so close to having the perfect apartment), true innovators know that growth is only comes from disruption. This is best exemplified by the late Steve Jobs’ motto:

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Or, in the rated R version starring Brad Pitt:

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“**** off with your sofa units and strine green stripe patterns, I say never be complete, I say stop being perfect, I say let’s evolve, let the chips fall where they may.”

The disruption; a driven innovator that leads through purpose:

And thus we meet Tyler Durden, the character adorning millions of dorm room walls since the film’s release and also the narrator’s ambitious, animated, and anarchist Jiminy Cricket.  An entrepreneur himself, Tyler leads the narrator and a league of frustrated men to release their modern discontent through bare-knuckle fights in a barroom basement.

Throughout these fight scenes, Tyler peppers his new recruits with divergent and lateral thinking about their lives, inspiring them to seek more than the office jockey existence that society has told them to chase:

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“Man, I see in fight club the strongest and smartest men who’ve ever lived.  I see all this potential, and I see squandering.  God **** it, an entire generation pumping gas, waiting tables, slaves with white collars.  Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy **** we don’t need.  We’re the middle children of history, man. No purpose or place. We have no Great War. No Great Depression.  Our Great War is a spiritual war… our Great Depression is our lives. We’ve all been raised on television to believe that one day we’d all be millionaires, and movie gods, and rock stars. But we won’t. And we’re slowly learning that fact. And we’re very, very pissed off.”

It’s difficult not to compare this mindset with that of an innovator.  For many years, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg encouraged a culture of rejecting the status quo and instead:

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Certainly, this isn’t to the extreme of encouraging self-destruction through violence, but the act of dropping out of Harvard to start a company is clearly rejection of society’s expectations.

First rule of Fight Club:

It is ironic that the best-known line in the movie is:

“The first rule of Fight Club is: you don’t talk about Fight Club.”

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This hints at a “bug” in human nature that can be leveraged to market innovation against much larger and better funded competitors.  Information is anti-fragile, and secrets are some of the best marketing tools out there. In the film, Tyler creates this rule (and a second, repetitive rule) not to prevent people from talking about Fight Club, but to encourage it.

A second lesson provided in the film for inspiring followers can be ported over into any innovation effort.  Understanding the true causes of people’s pains and how best to lead them towards gains is a fundamental skill towards developing innovative value for customers. In Tyler’s case, he can identify the cause of the narrator’s pain and explain how to remove it:

“The things you own end up owning you”

“It’s only after we’ve lost everything that we’re free to do anything.”

Embracing Collaborative Chaos: Project Mayhem

Matrix Networking Virus Network Data ExchangeIn the film, the men in Fight Club become so empowered (through an extreme example of physical discipline) that the startup evolves into a full-fledged enterprise, where a network of collaborating chapters “capable of operating without a central leader” engage in increasingly destructive activities in the vision of Tyler Durden.

“Like a monkey, ready to be shot into space. Space monkey! Ready to sacrifice himself for the greater good.”

Putting the questionable mission aside, the successful creation of a system of independently operating organizations maintaining devotion towards a common goal is downright legendary in the world of innovation.  Imagine a Tyler Durden who, instead of attacking the superficiality of contemporary America, inspired the same effort towards creating the next wave of transportation.

Photo Credit: Oh hi Mr. Musk, what are you doing there?

Tyler is able to continue to inspire action through a constant reminder to the narrator and his followers that time is precious, and that every day not spent disrupting is a day that has been wasted.

“Quit your job. Start a fight. Prove you’re alive. If you don’t claim your humanity you will become a statistic. You have been warned.”


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You met me at a very strange time in my life:

Finally, the film climaxes when we learn that the narrator and Tyler Durden are the same person, and the ability for the narrator to change his life was within him all-along.  The message to innovators:

“This is your life, and it’s ending one minute at a time.”

Lastly, if this is your first time at Collaborative Innovation, you have to innovate!

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