One Emmy Award, 472 Winners!

Do you ever wince at those slightly awkward moments when joint winners at the Academy, Emmy, or Tony Awards struggle to accommodate each other during their acceptance speeches? Although long time friends Matt Damon and Ben Affleck energetically handled that task while accepting the 1998 Oscar for Good Will Hunting, others have stumbled and stuttered their way through their comments; some have even been cut off from their microphones by impatient event directors.

At the recent Emmy Awards, though, the joint winners for Creative Achievement in Interactive Media – Fiction wisely declined to take the stage simultaneously. In fact, such an event may have threatened the structural integrity of the stage itself, considering that 472 individuals jointly collaborated during the process of creating their film entry!

Interestingly, most of the 472 contributors never attended a single planning meeting or discussed their activities with each other. Nevertheless, they jointly produced one of the most creative films the television industry has ever seen, one that will likely serve as a prototype for many other innovative development projects in the future.

Remaking A Classic

How did these 472 individuals work together? What did they create? The tale of their project began with an interactive media technologist named Casey Pugh, who decided to divide the entire original 1977 Star Wars film into a collection of fifteen second film clips. Then, using the internet, he invited movie fans around the world to reinterpret and then re-film up to three of these segments.

Who was eligible to recreate these segments? Any one, any where, who claimed to be a fan of the original film could do so. What guidelines were established regarding the form of each re-filmed segment? None whatsoever! Some contributors directed amateur actors to re-enact scenes; others prepared animated film clips or filmed hand puppets and stop-motion action figures.

When two or more contributors made different versions of the same segment, participants used the internet to vote for their preferred choice. At the end of this collaborative process, the 472 preferred segments were uploaded in sequence to create a remade film.

Film critics have often criticized the lack of originality that detracts from the audience experience when viewing remakes of classic movies. Casey Pugh, though, utilized the internet to develop a breathtakingly original film remake.

The Future of Innovation

The internet has often been lauded for its capacity for bringing people together from around the world to collaborate on creative projects. Firms as uniquely different as Microsoft and Nestle have placed numerous research and development sites across the globe, hoping that individuals from extremely different backgrounds will find ways to contribute their diverse perspectives towards joint projects, resulting in truly innovative solutions.

Organizational behavior researchers have long demonstrated the power of diversity through exercises such as the Desert Survival Game, an activity that asks participants from different backgrounds to imagine that they have experienced a plane crash. The group of role-playing survivors are then asked to reach consensus on a limited set of supplies that they agree to carry across the desert in search of civilization.

On the one hand, these researchers have proven that people from diverse backgrounds will usually make more effective decisions if they reach out to each other and work together. The Star Wars project was a good example of such an approach, one that led to a more innovative outcome than could be imagined via any other process.

But is there is a risk that, by encouraging group collaboration, team leaders may inadvertently crush individual diversity under the force of peer pressure? Under such circumstances, is it possible that internet based collaborative practices may actually stifle innovation?

The Echo Chamber Effect

Media critics have often complained of the tendency of like-minded professionals to reinforce their commonly shared attitudes and preferences by living in the same neighborhoods, working at the same companies, and traveling to the same vacation destinations. According to these critics, conservative news organizations thus grow more conservative each year, while liberal ones grow more liberal.

This condition is called the echo chamber effect; it may actually serve to inhibit (and not enhance) innovation in an internet milieu. After all, when contributors to projects like Pugh’s Star Wars Uncut observe each other’s efforts while engaging in their individual project activities, they may eventually coalesce around a single consensus technique and cease searching for alternative approaches.

It’s possible, of course, that the internet itself provides ideal levels of social presence for collaborators in diverse global locations, i.e. sufficient connections to support such creative activities, but not enough to create any echo chamber effects. It’s alternatively possible, though, that the internet may provide an effective venue for some (but not all) creative activities, thus making it necessary for project directors to fully understand the benefits and limitations of such technologies before relying on them as enablers of innovation.