When I was a kid, I would sometimes clean up the house after my mother went to sleep. It’s not that I was doing her a favor—I just couldn’t stand the mess. My parents had gotten divorced, and disorder unsettled me. As if a tidy apartment would put my life back in order.
As I’ve grown, I’ve learned to appreciate messiness—not in housekeeping, but in life. Things rarely go as planned, and that’s just the way it is. Rolling with the changes will often take you to a better place than you could have predicted.
At Fast Company, we write often about successful shifts in business. Last issue we extolled Steve Jobs for how he evolved over time. In my series of articles about Generation Flux, I’ve tried to highlight models for dynamic change.
In this issue, you’ll find that we’ve emphasized a different aspect of change—its gritty messiness. Our feature well offers four compelling stories involving daunting, ambitious and intriguing projects, each of which was, at certain points, a mess.
Marissa Mayer’s effort to remake Yahoo has had ups and downs, as Harry McCracken reports—yet a strong strategy has emerged out of that confusion. HBO’s dynamic attempt to dethrone Netflix and claim the mantle of streaming video king sounds almost elegant in the words of CEO Richard Plepler, but as Nicole LaPorte shows, the road to the launch of HBO Now has had lots of bumps. And there’s plenty of chaos in the transition 30-year-old CEO Sam Altman is attempting at Y Combinator, which he hopes will become a virtual factory of world-changing startups.
The most fully evolved portrait of the essential messiness of innovation is senior writer Austin Carr’s epic saga of Disney World’s five-year, nearly $1 billion digital upgrade, called MyMagic+. The initiative, which required completely refitting that 25,000-acre megalopolis in central Florida, included intense infighting and not a small amount of denial on the parts of top executives about the project’s limitations, fallout, and inefficiency. But for all that disarray, the project also succeeded in reversing declining customer satisfaction, helping propel Disney Parks to 20% profit gains in its most recent quarter—and Disney Parks chief Tom Staggs to COO of the whole company (and rumored heir to CEO Bob Iger).
None of these articles are the versions these subjects would prefer. Disney, for instance, might want us to emphasize “the collaboration,” as Staggs puts it to Carr, rather than the infighting. But that would do Disney, and all of you, a disservice. Meaningful change is never easy. Most often, it only comes after tortured conflicts and excruciating decisions. Only when we embrace the idea that messiness is to be accepted, even cheered, will we be ready to tackle our own impossible tasks.