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How The Tribeca Film Festival Became Religious About Innovation ... And Pope Francis Became an Economist

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At the fifth anniversary of the Tribeca Disruptive Innovation Awards on Friday, April 25th, we will honor the Sputnik satellite as a major disruptive innovation that shook the world. We will also honor Olympic high jumper Dick Fosbury, who caused a storm in the 1968 Olympics by winning a gold medal and setting the world record all by jumping over the bar backwards. Other honorees include: Rick Rubin and Kanye West, who used the cheaper, lower quality Roland TR 808 Drum Machine to define and help popularize hip-hop; Dr. Francis Collins and the National Institutes of Health, whose information is now open source; Regina Dugan, the former head of Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) that spawned the internet in response to Sputnik; Sesame Workshop; JC Curleigh and the culture laden Levi's Brand blue jeans; Adam Braun, New York Times bestselling author and the Founder of Pencils of Promise; Warby Parker & VisionSpring; GoldieBlox; AIDS activist Mary Fisher; the Red Bull Music Academy; the 10-year-old creator of the Menurkey Asher Weintraub; among many others.

One of our perhaps unexpected honorees is Pope Francis, who will be selected as the recipient of the Adam Smith Prize presented at the Awards by the Harvard Business Review. Hey! Wasn't Adam Smith an economist? The Pope's Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium will also be named as The Disruptive Innovation Awards' Book of the Year. Since his historic utterance of five words, "Who am I to judge?" he continues to capture attention and admiration across the globe from Catholics and non-Catholics alike. In our view, the Pope has the potential to be one of the most epic innovators in history. After all, not even Shakira has 1.2 billion followers. His commentaries on the state of capitalism reflect a deep understanding of not only Adam Smith's The Wealth of Nations, but also of Smith's magnum opus -- his morality-infused The Theory of Moral Sentiments -- that somehow escapes the attention or even awareness of most capitalists. But hopefully not any longer.

Tribeca? Innovation? Disruption? What's that all about? And how did it all begin? It started out almost sounding like a bad joke: "a Professor, a Rabbi and an Entrepreneur walk into a bar..." Well, actually it was the faculty dining room at the Harvard Business School in the summer of 2007, when an eighth generation rabbi (Irwin Kula ) and a serial entrepreneur (Craig Hatkoff), were about to have lunch with the celebrated Harvard Professor Clayton M. Christensen, the father of disruptive innovation theory. Christensen's theory changed the landscape of innovation across the globe in 1997 when he published the The Innovator's Dilemma.

In short, disruptive innovation theory suggests that when industry leaders make better and more powerful products (that outstrip the consumer's ability to even use the features) two guys in garage typically come along and put the industry leaders out of business ... and often pretty quickly. Christensen discovered a paradox: cheaper, more accessible products and services that are "good enough to get a job done" will reach new consumers and markets, and disrupt rather than sustain existing business models.

Both of our lives were changed forever during our lunch with Christensen and, in turn, disruptive innovation theory took a new twist: we asked whether he thought his theory could be applied to religion and spirituality? As it turns out Christensen is an Elder for the Mormon Church and this question piqued his interest considerably. By the end of lunch, the three of us had all agreed to sponsor a commitment for the Clinton Global Initiative to explore these questions.

By 2009, we co-founded the Disruptor Foundation, a small, private non-profit that would simply house our modest activities -- Christensen would jokingly refer to this as his advanced research and application arm.

Craig also happens to be a co-founder of the Tribeca Film Festival that had become known for breaking new ground and taking substantial risks. In addition to traditional filmmaking, Tribeca had already become a cauldron of creativity and innovation in story-telling, digital and social media and interactivity. So why not create an award show to highlight disruptive innovation?

On April, 29, 2010 during the 9th annual Tribeca Film Festival, a new event was unceremoniously launched in the 65-seat screening room at Tribeca: The Tribeca Disruptive Innovation Awards. Christensen agreed to be the first lifetime honoree. Other honorees included Ashton Kutcher; Jared Cohen, the State Department's Twitter Kid; Jack Dorsey, who gave one of his first demonstrations of a new product called Square; Gregg Breinberg and the PS22 Chorus; Eric S. Raymond, who penned the open source manifesto The Cathedral and the Bazaar; and Alfred Taubman, creator of the modern mall, whose concept of "threshold resistance" has become an essential lens in predicting successful innovation.

Over the years, other notable honorees have included Twyla Tharp, Eric Schmidt, David Brooks, Bre Pettis of MakerBot, Norma Kamali, the City of Manchester, Psy, Jimmy Wales and others.

Curating our honorees is no easy task. The process is driven in large measure by those whose achievements best help tell the story of innovation, including great story-telling plus a liberal dose of metaphor, with an eye for highlighting the often-messy intersection between culture and technology. When technology and culture clash we have seen throughout history how it can impede much needed social progress in the societal domains. To better understand and predict successful innovation, in Christensen's words: "We will need to crawl up inside and see what makes people tick." For after all isn't that what a film festival is all about?