PARTNERWORLD - Redford talks creativity, collaboration

FRAMINGHAM (03/03/2004) - "Be aware that the only thing that really succeeds is change."

Legendary actor, director and entrepreneur Robert Redford Tuesday closed his remarks to an audience of IBM Corp. business partners with these words, encouraging them to think creatively, take risks and champion new ideas.

Redford spoke to a crowd of 5,400 technology vendors, resellers and distributors at IBM's PartnerWorld event going on this week in Las Vegas. He singled out the support that IBM and its partners give to small and midsize companies, and recalled his early efforts to grow Sundance Institute, a nonprofit organization devoted to independent filmmaking.

Redford said he had no choice but to start small when he created Sundance Institute in 1981. "Independent films were a dead market," Redford said. "There was no support for it."

To attract attention to the Institute's film festival, Redford said he deliberately chose an inconvenient location, Park City, Utah. After several years the festival began to gain real traction in 1990, after spawning its first commercially successful film, "Sex, Lies, And Videotape." After that, the merchants started to come, followed by the celebrities, fashion folks and paparazzi, Redford said.

Sundance's slow start is typical; new ideas are always a challenge, Redford said. "Seldom does anybody vote for a new idea. You have to push it out there," Redford said. Risk, too, is inevitable. "I can't imagine anything growing or anything advancing without risk," he said.

IBM and its partners' support for small and midsize businesses - a threatened species in today's world of corporate mergers and acquisitions - is extremely important, Redford said. Consolidating markets take away options and diversity, he said. If instead of combining, companies could stay independent and branch out through partnerships, "then I think you're keeping alive the ability to be flexible," Redford said.

Similarly, technology played a role in keeping open consumers' film options, he said. In particular, the availability of cable television and video services in the late 1970s and 80s, and the advent of the Internet and digitization of film over the last several years, have made many more films available to the public, Redford said

Redford said this democratization of entertainment creates more opportunities for artists and consumers. "I have very strong feelings about the power and importance of diversity," he said.

On the flip side, there is such a thing as too many options, Redford cautioned. "The competition for attention-getting is going to increase" among filmmakers, he said. "The technology, in my mind, has to figure out a way to counter that."

On the subject of partnerships, Redford said it's all about finding partners who understand and agree with the vision of the creator, and have the skills needed to execute an idea. "Partnerships are extremely important, just like friendships are."

In addition, partners need to be aware of the market forces and the operating climate that exists outside of the creative envelope. "You can't live in a cocoon with a new idea," Redford said.

Redford said he has tried in his life to inject creativity more and more into business, and he encouraged the IBM-aligned audience to do the same. Stay loose and place creativity at the forefront when you do anything. Remember business isn't only about economics: "The world wasn't created by an accountant," Redford said.

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