Ottawa businessman to explore leadership in documentary debut

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When his six-figure contract as a management consultant with the federal government ended more than two years ago, Satheesh Gopalan made a choice many people might consider foolhardy.

Satheesh Gopalan is the creator of Innovation: Where Creativity and Technology Meet.

By David Sali

Armed with two master’s degrees and a raft of experience, he could have easily found another lucrative consulting gig. Instead, Mr. Gopalan did something completely different: he made a movie.

The resulting documentary, Innovation: Where Creativity and Technology Meet, debuts in Ottawa this weekend. It cost Mr. Gopalan more than $100,000 out of his own pocket, plus a couple of years of lost salary.

He has no idea if the film will ever earn a dime. And he has absolutely no regrets.

“I never felt I made a mistake,” says Mr. Gopalan. “You set an ideal and stick with it. If it is making you feel good, then it is right. That’s the courage we have to grab. This is the message I want to tell people.”

In Innovation, Mr. Gopalan looks at how technology is rapidly changing the way we live, and how some of the world’s top business minds have made innovative notions a reality.

The transition from management consultant to documentary director isn’t something that happens every day, but Mr. Gopalan has harboured dreams of making his own movie since he was a teenager in India.

“I wanted to make a film at the age of 17,” he explains. “I joined with a group of friends and tried to do a film and it didn’t work out.”

The idea for Innovation really took root about four years ago, when Mr. Gopalan, searching for deeper “purpose and meaning” in his life, took a psychology-based business course at New York’s Columbia University called “Creativity and Personal Mastery.” He noticed a large number of his fellow students were high-powered executives.

“These people talk about leadership from an intersection of psychology and business,” he says. “That’s what I was attracted to. There are many people looking for meaning and purpose in life. It doesn’t matter what position they are in.”

Through that course and another business psychology program he took at the University of Pennsylvania, he met entrepreneurs and world-renowned leadership thinkers such as Tony Hsieh, CEO of online shoe and clothing shop zappos.com, and Chip Conley, head of the Joie de Vivre chain of boutique hotels.

Putting into practice a key lesson he learned in those classes “when you are going to do something, always go to the masters” he decided to tap into the wisdom of these and dozens more of the world’s most innovative business minds by interviewing them and producing a documentary.

Mr. Gopalan says what makes great business leaders special is their willingness to embrace and even celebrate change and the constant uncertainty it creates.

“Change is not a scary word,” he says. “Change is inevitable. Constant change is a synonym for growth.”

One of the film’s other important lessons, he says, is revealed in his interview with Phil Libin, CEO of Evernote, one of the world’s fastest-growing cloud-based companies. Mr. Libin told him even the best ideas are worthless if they’re not executed properly.

“Creativity is just the idea part,” says Mr. Gopalan. “Innovation is the execution part. You cannot just think about an idea and do nothing. That has no value. At the same time, if you can only execute (plans), then you are just a servant.”

Innovation: Where Creativity and Technology Meet makes its world premiere at the Kailash Mital Theatre at Carleton University’s Southam Hall on Sunday at 3 p.m. For more information, go to innovationmovie.com.

Organizations: Columbia University, University of Pennsylvania, Kailash Mital Theatre Carleton University

Geographic location: Ottawa, India, New York

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  • P.Karthikeyan
    February 06, 2014 - 03:35

    This article compliments the art and the artist in apt words.Wish all success for the documentary.In the meanwhile can we know what is the feedback?

  • Rama Nair
    January 18, 2014 - 09:49

    Brave and wise man, I am sure this a gateway to a very successful career in film making that will keep your creativity engaged and life happier. All the best.