The Original Five

KO’s Five Tenets for the Creation of Compelling Experience

Two years in, and after presenting a brief presentation on Creating Compelling Experience at TEA’s SATE Education Day @ Ferrari World and another Master Class on the same subject at Dubai’s EMDI Institute, last week; I’m thinking this might be an appropriate juncture at which to reiterate the foundational tools of the work we do as I define and apply them.

These five Tenets (processes, steps, practices…tools) are the core of everything I do. Applied to differing degrees and at different times, often several times at throughout work on the same project, these techniques are the methodology through which I create Theatrical Experiences, Immersive Messaging Campaigns and Launches. It is with these tools I create Spectacle of Substance and successfully make emotional connection and shared intimate experience in audiences of any size.

These work, and they apply to virtually any Experience we seek to create; theatrical, show, parade, spectacle, dark ride…

I presented these when I first launched this blog, two years ago, and have not lain them out again, since. Thus, today’s edited reprint to refresh the Basics; as the audience for this site has grown as the conversation has continued.

You may already do these things and call them by other names. This is what I call ‘em. I share them in the spirit of supporting our universal commitment to audience experience. It is these components that help make vision reality.

Exploration of Assumption

Liberation of Preconception

Comfortable Disorientation

Successive Revelation

Subliminal Engagement


Exploration of Assumption

In my experience – probably in that of most all of us – Assumption can be found at the root of virtually all misunderstanding. The insidious thing about Assumption is that it is stealthy, pretty much ever-present and most often goes completely unidentified and unrecognized; thus calls for diligence.

It sounds and seems a simple and obvious maxim, yet the pervasiveness and profound effects can be easily missed until too late.

Assumption shows up, everywhere. Far more often than not, it can go unidentified while affecting nuance and substance or creative undertaking…holding us back from what is truly possible in the creation of something compelling.

From a simple difference between, for instance, the color of Blue envisioned by a Director when speaking of a set piece or lighting effect and the Blue that is heard by the Designer to whom he is speaking to greater, deeper and far more disparate differences that can grow from undetected Assumption; each and all of which can slow production, create unnecessary conflict between creatives, upset a producer (and we can’t have THAT!) contribute to cost overruns and – of the utmost importance – affect the resonance of the Experience that is ultimately created and produced.

Far from being a one-time practice or Moment in the course of development; This is, for me, a tool and practice appropriately and productively applied throughout any creative, collaborative process.

From inception:

▪What is the audience assuming when entering the theatre or space?

▪What am I assuming about that audience…and their assumptions, for that matter…?

▪How might I be limiting myself and the spectrum of explorable possibility?

▪What are other, subtle and subtextual or blatant options in the writing / reading of this script…

▪What are the possibilities inherent in a particular venue, theatre or space?

And here’s a thing to remember; sometimes discovered Assumption called for being circumvented or overcome, and at other times it carries the potential for leverage and enhancement to the Experience.

Assumption isn’t bad, as long as it’s recognized. Unrecognized and unappreciated, it can undermine. Awareness of it is always of value.

Throughout any process, from concept development through pre- and production – even through the run of a show or experience – pulling out the “What am I assuming” tool, examining the product or show and examining my own, ongoing decision-making has seldom failed to offer additional insight. Sometimes the smallest realization can be revelatory, and can change the tone of what is being created.

Liberation of Preconception

Preconception springs eternal; from the mounting of a production in a venue, theatre or location with which an audience is already familiar to telling a story the audience is inclined to think they already know…people think they know all the stories and how each is told.

Let ‘em think that…until they are in your control. Once under your influence; then, turn the proverbial tables. Sometimes this can be as simple as turning a room around and entering through an unforeseen doorway, entering a theatre through the stage door and across the stage, even seating on the stage with the performance coming from various parts of the auditorium.

The thing about Preconception is that it’s a Conversation, going on inside the head of an audience member, reassuring that s/he is, indeed, on top of this thing. It is a Conversation that can obstruct the story we are seeking to tell. This audience member believes s/he knows what’s going to happen and what’s next and what follows that…and within seconds of an experience launching, each member of the audience can be rapt in their own, individual reveries and not even paying attention to what you have produced.

Find ways to circumvent that preconception and communicate to the audience that they don’t know what’s going to happen…this’ll give an edge to your work and an intrigue to your Experience.

More on this in greater detail, here:

Comfortable Disorientation

At the core of my Five Tenets is this one, which would be my favorite were I to pick just one. In order of importance, it’s probably the most important; though, as with anything woven or interrelated, these all depend on the presence and exercise of the other four in order to be most fully effective.

Labeling the technique Comfortable Disorientation pretty much articulates, in those two words, the quality that I believe underlies the success achieved when the spectrum of these tenets are applied to best effect and the audience members or guests temporarily forget everything outside the Experience to find themselves fully immersed; given over to your control. Feeling safe in not knowing what’s next…

And, that’s the key; Feeling safe in not knowing what’s next.

To create, at one fell swoop, in one instant, both a sense of disorientation and the sense of being safe and taken care-of on the part of your audience: comfort without complacency. To virtually pull the rug from beneath them while assuring them of the presence of the safety net… Effectively executed, this technique results in an immediate, deeper level of trust on the part of the audience and an intangible yet greater willingness to suspend disbelief; to further quiet the left brain and allow us to wrangle their right lobes and take them further into fantasy, reverie, even camaraderie…

Once they know they don’t know; and know that they’re “safe” – the guests become more completely ours for the journey we host… The camaraderie comes from the fact that each individual is experiencing the instant dissolution of preconception and the concomitant reassurance that something possibly better and certainly more  interesting may await, and all are sharing this unique, yin/yang at precisely the same moment, in the same time and place.

This creates an immediate, deeper connection amongst the audience; as no longer is the experience simply a shared one, it is unique and happening only here, only now, only to us.

Theme parks strive for this all the time, often with what I call the Venice Effect; bringing guests through a queue that is often labyrinthine, usually feels a bit cramped — limited sightlines, low ceilings — to then be suddenly released into a space that seems vast by comparison.

This might be accomplished through a move so simple as that of bringing an audience into a theatre or venue via backstage, perhaps starting in an alley with no hint at the ultimate destination space, so there is no Preconception (we’ve Liberated them from that!). They’re backstage before they realize it’s an actual Backstage, then walking across the stage and into the auditorium in the same moment that they actually appreciate where they are… They then have the opportunity to see said auditorium or space, of which they may have a previous experience, from an entirely different perspective.

Disorientation. Comfort.

It’s different, every time and for every client or story to be told; it takes application of the previous two Tenets to get to the point of discovering how to Comfortably Disorient. I offer that it’s well worth the work…

Surprise sans Startle, Awe without Shock, Comfortable Disorientation.

More on this, here:

Successive Revelation

Don’t give it all away at once.

Similar to the nurturing of any relationship; one doesn’t want to pour it all out on the first date and risk overwhelm. Too much information, up front, can completely overload the audience early and virtually numb them to further sensation, empathy or inspiration; leaving them inured to subtlety and nuance as the Story or Experience unfolds.

They depart “blown away,” though quite likely not moved as deeply or impressed as compellingly as they might otherwise be, had a lighter hand been used.

I offer that we shape the arc of storytelling such that we share a little, create some curiosity, share a little bit more, pay off a bit of curiosity, share some more and with each, successive revelation ramp up the level of intimacy…enhance the depth of the Experience.

With this tool, audiences become more and more comfortable; gradually letting down their guard and giving themselves over to the experience through which we plan to lead them.

Sort of like cooking a lobster, I suppose! That virtual water gradually warms, their defenses dissolve and their emotions become mine to “devour” by manipulation. <evil laugh>

A well-crafted Experience can unfold through a number of such experiences, each and all created to reveal a piece of story, the answer to a previously-posed question, the solution to a practical riddle or dilemma; building on what has come before as the journey from curtain-up to curtain call continues.

I used to call this, “Gasp and Grasp” from the physical intake of breath as people recognize or appreciate the tidbit being revealed, compelling a subsequent, virtual “reaching-out” for the next morsel of story. Effective use of this technique engages the audience and creates a dynamic whereby they are in a subtle, constant cycle of anticipation and reward…and primed for maximum appreciation should there be an emotional or celebratory final Moment.

What I seek is to create experience that awaits my guests upon awakening, the following morning…for images and feelings to continue to wash and swirl within them as they kiss their partners Good Morning, remembering, feeling again, a bit about what they experienced, the evening before…

Don’t give it all away, at once.


Subliminal Engagement

Inviting the audience to participate in the creation of their own experience.

The adept constructing of an experience in such a way as to subliminally engage those immersed in it can make for an intimate and quite personal experience for each member of the audience, irrespective of theatre or audience size.

What is Subliminal Engagement?

Another way to put it is “to make the audience do some of the work.” Create an experience that is in some ways incomplete…leaving it to each audience member to “complete” for oneself. The set, a song, a word or conclusion…

Rather than hand it all to them, rather than to fully articulate each thing in any dimension, hint; lead them to something but don’t take them all the way… Allow for the journey or journeys to be completed in the imaginations of the audience members.

With finesse, something almost magical can happen. One can offer each person in the audience the discovery or rediscovery of something intensely personal. What ramps up the resonance, the intensity of the experience is that most every member of the audience can experience this personal epiphany at virtually the exact, same moment; offering a theatre-wide, palpable, almost physical rush that renders the experience exponentially more powerful.

The most universally-appreciated example of this would be Julie Taymor’s costume designs for “The Lion King.” These costumes evoke jungle animals rather than attempt to fully articulate them. Ergo, what happens in the mind of each audience member is the recognition of a hyena, a zebra, a gazelle…

Important to the personalization of the Experience; not just any hyena or zebra is perceived, however. Rather, each person recognizes a specific, individual personal experience of “zebra” – the animal that s/he knows or first saw or experienced.

It is a “shared, intimate experience;” exceptionally personal, the power of which cannot be overstated despite the virtual nature of it. Subliminal Engagement.

There is a sublime exultation that effervesces within each of us as we watch, engage and create the very experiences that we are appreciating and enjoying…in a sense, we are discovering.

I believe what gives this its power and effectiveness is the lushness or completeness of what is articulated in our minds, rendering what is missing that much more dissonant – and by that dissonance, that absence, calling forth more colorful and complete imagery and experience from the imagination.

There are myriad ways of creating experience that elicit Subliminal Engagement: observe, examine, invent, adopt…create.


And, with that, this concludes the re-introductory overview of my Five Tenets for the Creation of Compelling Experience.

Thanks for reading and, for some of you in this instance, re-reading.


PS: The eBook, “IMHO” remains a free download from iTunes and the eBook Store…

“A man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a Heaven for?”

-Robert Browning

Does This Theme Park Make Me Look Fat?

Model of Dubailand

Model of Dubailand

What is our responsibility to our industry and our colleagues?

When encountering a poorly-realized vision, a project or Experience that falls far short of Promise (and Promotional Materials); is it our duty to call out the disparity, the shortcomings, the failure? Or, is it our responsibility to protect the feelings of our colleagues who may have worked on said project and say nothing?

Is that fair to our audience?

Is there integrity in sweeping poor execution under the virtual rug and leaving our audience to believe what they read in Official Communications?

In some parts of the world – places where audiences are relatively unsophisticated and (as yet) unaware of what is possible; what heights, intensities, excitement and compelling qualities of immersion can be created -  companies might be able to get away with substandard work, under delivering, failed vision.

Do we simply allow these audiences to assume they are seeing The Best That is Possible; convincing themselves that they are experiencing what they think they are experiencing?

Will such audiences come to realize, down the line, that they were sold a Bill of Goods? Will they realize this on arrival and entry to a park or attraction that is far less than described?


In 2003, after having read industry-published reviews of the amazing things going on in Dubai – of fantastic, themed installations in shopping malls and plans for massive theme parks to be built – I came to Dubai to take a look. What I found were sad, lackluster installations of refurbished carnival and FEC rides and games installed in relatively poorly-lit corners of the new shopping malls that had opened…with standards of construction that would never have passed muster in other parts of the world, and with levels of experience that would have consigned the installations to relatively quick financial failure in countries with more sophisticated audiences.

This is what was being described in the trades as “groundbreaking”?

What sprung to mind was the scourge of carpetbaggers and snake oil salesmen from America’s Old West (not a theme park; rather, an era <g>). First worlders had evidently come to the UAE and sold these used and outdated pieces to anxious and well-funded local entrepreneurs; misrepresenting the state of the art and offloading an inventory of leftovers.

[Note: Ski Dubai was only then being built: some things did get better, thereafter…]

As I explored, I kept thinking that, at some point, someone was going to catch on and whomever followed these unscrupulous vendors was going to pay the price. Some day…

But why would our trades publish these misleading articles? Through what sense of loyalty does this make sense? Shouldn’t we be calling out these people and companies and labeling what is being propagated as what it is, actually? Would not such integrity ultimately serve our audiences, support future entrepreneurs, vendors, colleagues in developing and selling quality product and experience?

Such an approach, of course, would not be without its rancorous side-effects. More on that, later…


This stuff can happen in the US, as well.

I remember going to an Industry Preview of Disney’s California Adventure, back before ground was broken on the project; watching an exuberantly-delivered presentation on the plans for the park and thinking, “…there’s not much, there…” But nobody (including me) said anything.

After the presentation, at subsequent, industry gatherings, those of us who’d seen that or one of the parallel presentations were all sort of muttering amongst ourselves, sotto voce, that the programming seemed spartan, almost lackluster and incomplete. Un-Disney.

Then the advance press came out; all gushy and energetic. What presentation did these writers see that we did not? Did these journalists truly believe what they were writing, did they write so favorably in order to cultivate favor with the Powers That Be @ Disney?

Did they not foresee that audiences would probably not embrace this incomplete property?

Then, previews began and, sure enough, the word got out. Fail. Attendance fell far below projection, word on the street was dismal and years of corrective measures followed until DCA evolved into the fantastic park it is, today.

Why did none of the writers of the day call this out when presented with the plans for the park? Is our responsibility to make our colleagues feel good, or push for as close to perfection as possible?


Most of us have likely been involved in projects for which we are responsible that – through any number of Unfortunate Events (and misguided Client Interference) – ended-up far from what was envisioned. I’ve certainly had my own creative vision corrupted in grand and public fashion, once or twice.

Battles lost, image scarred, much disappointment (and fear of never working, again…)

When the criticism rains down, it is painful to hear…but it’s not personal. Facts are facts. The Experience manifested is the Experience experienced. This is where a thickened skin is worthwhile; the negative review is not of any one individual’s work, rather it is of what was built and delivered.

If it ain’t good, it ain’t good. To leave the impression that what exists in such instances is acceptable is absent integrity and dismissive to our audiences. IMHO.

I know of no one in these industries who deliberately sets out to do poor work. (Notwithstanding whoever sold those FEC rides to the UAE in the early ’00’s.)


Recently, after a visit to an iconic attraction, the publicity for which describes an Experience far better than the Experience the place actually delivers, I wrote of my opinion.

An acquaintance of mine, a colleague in the industry, took great umbrage at this deed. He had worked long and hard on creating this place (though he has never actually been to see it, completed) and thought my negative review “inappropriate.”

Hence, my inspiration for this piece.

The installation in question is a place for which, anecdotally and throughout the industry, the recounted experiences of scores (if not hundreds) of professionals articulate the same experiences of shortfall and failure. In the industry, it is no secret that this installation has had (and is aggressively addressing) significant problems.

Is saying nothing tantamount to endorsement? Is it not our responsibility, industry-wide, to acknowledge our missteps; thus strengthening our individual and collective credibility when we do endorse?

I get that this is not an easy question to answer or issue to resolve. The risks of speaking truth to client power are many:

  • no further work from that client
  • no further work in that country
  • angry colleagues who take comments personally
  • being stoned, tarred and feathered and given Pariah status in a relatively small industry

The Pollyanna in me wants to think that we can objectively critique the projects in which we and our colleagues are involved and actually find  and acknowledge agreement where such agreement exists. I believe we owe this to the public, the paying public for whom we create promised magic and thrill.

As for me, I’m a lousy poker player, anyway. I learned, long ago, that I may as well be candid; for when I withhold my opinion or POV, my voice and face betray me. Therefore, I am candid and pretty much withhold nothing.

People who work for me, with me, for whom I work learn that I say what I mean and can be depended upon to be completely candid. One always knows where I stand on pretty much anything. Respectful and clear; though not always easy to hear.

There are scores of repeat teammates and clients who embrace and welcome the candor and alacrity with which one can work on or with my teams. There are, as well, those one-time clients or teammates who are uncomfortable with that approach. So be it.

As individuals and as an industry, should we not simply be willing to tell the truth as we see it?

IMHO: we owe this to one another, to our work, to our clients and to our audiences.


HEY; have you downloaded the eBook, yet? It’s still free from iTunes or the iBook store. “IMHO”

Shine a Light on Your Assets

Off Angel Island - final day in SF

Off Angel Island – final day in SF

New clients may come to you or your company, based on your reputation. They will stay with you and, more importantly, return to you based on the experience that was had in working with you. That means that it will be the personal experience had with the people on your team that will bring them back.

Business is Personal. We’ve said it before, and it cannot be overstated.

Knowing this; the wisest approach to the development of client relationships is keeping in mind the fact that longevity with the client will be a direct result of the work delivered and the people delivering that work.

So, set them up to succeed.

Show off all your people; give your client the opportunity to know who and why each person is on your team, to be impressed at the wealth of skill, talent and experience you have accumulated and make available to your clients…

Don’t hide them behind a screen of corporate anonymity.

When we bring a new talent onto a team, we take care and effort to introduce that person to the rest of the team along with the qualities, traits, talents and accomplishments that brought that person on board.

Rather than a simple, “This is Tom, our new Art Director…” we augment that introduction with, “…you gotta spend time with this guy; he’s done amazing stuff. He publishes his own cartoon strip, writes and performs music, surfs like a demon and has cured cancer, twice! Get to know him and welcome him to our team.”

This serves two, primary purposes.

  • One: this gives the rest of the team a context within which to get to know the new person, to ask questions and discover mutual interests. In other words, to Launch the Bonding…it makes this New Guy or Gal more of a person from the start.
  • Two: this also serves to render the rest of the team conversant in the qualifications of that individual; what unique things that person brings to the table to augment the team.

Each team member should be able to authentically and enthusiastically give testimony as to the uniqueness of each of the rest of the team.

Which brings us to why this same practice is something we ought do when bringing or sending a team into a project or client.

Sending or bringing along a team under the banner of your company is one thing; impressive at the outset but with an effect that ultimately dissipates and even disappears if your people aren’t introduced as highly valuable in the right of each one. Blow your clients away at the quality of the team you have gathered for this project; impress them at your acumen for finding and hiring good people and let your client know what makes each so fantastic.

These are the people who, working with you, for you or under your banner, make you look good. Capitalize on that.

F’rinstance; rather than, “This is Sheila, the Project Coordinator for your project…” Perhaps, “Client, meet Sheila; she has a few years of producing live television under her belt, has worked in China and Australia and kicked some *ss in the process. She is one of the most organized people I’ve ever found and we’re lucky to have her. She’ll be Project Coordinator on your project…at least, until we promote her…”

This approach will give your client more confidence in work, opinion or suggestion that comes from Sheila. It will engender trust in her and in your entire team.

This approach will unfailingly communicate to your team that they are trusted.

Further, as work is delivered, as components and projects come online, credit those who actually do the work. Let your client know who wrote the script, who drew the schematic, who created the amazing artwork, who discovered the wrong bolt was specified for the rocket launcher. Credit your people and you will look even better; tuck that individual contribution behind the impersonal banner of the company in some digest or unattributed document and nobody gains…

…and the opportunity is missed for acknowledgement, morale boosting and a deepening of the personal relationship.

If you present and treat your teams as no more than a roster of titles, they will be seen as no more than that; virtually interchangeable. Give them context, give them credibility, empower them to act in your stead when you are not available and this will only grow your reputation for astuteness and clarity.



“IMHO” the handy eBook on methodologies and techniques for the creation of compelling experience is a free download for Apple iOS and OS from iTunes or the iBook store.

Successful Succession


Ferenc Nagy Performing @ Global Village, Dubai

A Good Leader, a responsible Leader, plans for what is to follow.

S/he never assumes longevity, the Good Leader; remaining proactively aware that one’s tenure on any project or in any company will always come to a close…oftimes foreseen, though not uncommonly and sometimes disastrously ill-timed.

One of the key – if not the crucial – responsibilities of Leadership is the preparation for one’s untimely departure. Focused foresight and planning are integral parts of upholding one’s responsibility as Leader.

Don’t be responsible for leaving teams, projects, companies rudderless. Not for a moment.

This is why many companies do not allow more than one or a very few executives to travel together; the risk of losing vast amounts of institutional and operational knowledge is simply too great.

It is not only the large company that calls for the planning of one’s exit. The fact is that any team needs to be prepared with succession plans for principal losses; most especially, that of the Leader.

How to prepare one’s team? Simple stuff…

Share information. We’ve written before in this space about the value of sharing information; of the resultant empowerment of one’s team and individual investment in the project or goal. Implemented from the start and maintained on a continuous basis; the ongoing sharing of information as a project evolves is key to the successful stepping up of a temporary surrogate or permanent replacement.

Keeping one’s team informed, involving the team in the decision-making process – seeking input and informed opinion – prepares the entire body for the departure of any one individual. …AND, as has been covered previously and will no doubt be covered, again; maintaining engagement of all team members ramps up personal investment in the project or company and tends to result in a far tighter and responsive team and exponentially better result.

When the departing individual is the erstwhile leader, the confidence and value of s/he who follows, knowing the how’s and why’s of the courses of action taken and decisions previously made cannot be overstated. Shared Knowledge is Power; secrets undermine.

Don’t risk a departure or absence that leaves your team(s) adrift; this is a fundamental betrayal of the trust placed in Leadership. Plan for departure from the first day, without leaving it to the last minute; as there may not be such a “last minute” for the building and activation of such a plan.

Share relationships. Even if one is the primary point of contact with the client or executive on the job; even if one is the virtual fulcrum for the program, plan or operation; the simple and expansive practice of including one or two select members of the team to participate or simply “audit” meetings, sit in on calls, FaceTime or Skype sessions reaps rewards in myriad ways.

What Myriad Ways?:

  • Knowledge of nuance.
  • Exposure and concomitant credibility as competent leaders in and of themselves; to the client, certainly, but as much to empower these team members, themselves.
  • These Includeds become Lieutenants; when things get crazy and one’s Clone is otherwise occupied, the deployment of the Empowered Surrogate can be essential to success.
  • Will engender trust in one’s entire team by the client as well as mutual trust within the team in stepping up and moving forward when any member departs.
  • Not doing this undermines everything. Information unshared is, again, a virtual land mine.

Giving exposure, credibility and respect to one’s teammates or lieutenants exposes the Good Leader as what s/he is, brings fresh perspective into these meetings and conversations and will engender respect and authority for these individuals who may need to stand-in for the Leader at any time.

These very people, in the leader’s absence, will need to be clear on the history of the relationship or project to be able to operate with ease and comfort in your stead and to be conversant in the evolution of the project and relationship…to Deliver.

Be aware of who is on the Team. Especially in an industry wherein freelancers and consultants move from project to project, company to company, country to country year after year; guard against viewing individual members as defined by the job done or task being filled at the moment.

I see this a lot in the part of the world where I am working, now. Management tends to view individuals as the jobs each are filling, with no thought or curiosity as to what resource or potential these men and women might represent. Not only is this dismissive to the body of work, skills and talents likely represented by the individuals on the teams; it is a hugely expensive shortsightedness on the part of Leadership.

Respect for a staffing plan may be honorable, strict adherence to it may be foolhardy.

As projects evolve and the myriad unpredictable or unforeseen obstacles and opportunities arise, knowledge of the above mentioned background, experience and potential on one’s team can make the addressing of same a matter of moments or hours rather than days, weeks and months.

Don’t assume, don’t pigeonhole. (Besides: pigeonholing is fowl.)

Share your knowledge: Mentor. Teach. Share. Ask. Involve.

This does not mean Lecture, Pontificate, Order and Berate. Rather, it means open up and be willing to learn at every juncture, throughout the process of the work.

The time and money saved, the powerful increase in morale, the increased productivity and responsiveness of one’s team and the possibility of spectacular realization of goal, well above and beyond original vision is worth it.

One of my favorite anecdotes from my own history is the time, two decades ago, when my Production Team were wrestling with a dilemma within our imminent show. This was a spectacle with over 12,000 participants in an iconic structure in New York City. Very public; very big; only one shot at success. These were not “closed” meetings, as I believe anyone who wants to know how things are going should be welcome…one never knows.

From the back of the room, during a pensive lull in our conversation, came the voice of one of the the crusty ol’ “union guys,” a driver on the project. “Well…” he says, “..back in 1975 we had the same problem with [name of show and Diva redacted!]. What WE did was…” and he gave us our solution.

One never knows.

Trust your people.

Know your people.


The free ebook for iPad, iOS and OS, “IMHO” is available for download from the iTunes Store. Check it out; galleries, methodologies, techniques for creating compelling experience are all contained, therein. Full refund if you find nothing useful.

This Post…Isn’t So Much Fun

Sochi is upon us.

By now, it is no secret from the world that aggressive persecution of Gay and Lesbian citizens of that country is virtually sanctioned and not-so-subtly encouraged by the Putin government. Gangs of thugs, often joined by or even made up of Russian Police, lure, ambush, torment and torture random men and women suspected of being gay.

The LGBT population of the US and the West has been aware of what is taking place in Russia and has been calling for official action about this for several months. Only recently has the US mainstream media been reporting and shining light on these egregious violations of basic, human rights and with that finally brought what is happening to the awareness of the mainstream.

In recent weeks, numerous world leaders have announced plans to not be attending the Games in Sochi; sending lesser officials, if anyone at all, to represent their respective countries.

Our own President is not attending, and has appointed a number of Gay and Lesbian athletes as part of the US Official Delegation. These “snubs,” while offering a token bit of tarnish to Putin’s Shining Victory of hosting the Olympics, will ultimately be lost in the spectacle and excitement of the Games, themselves.

When push comes to shove, I don’t know that President Putin will care over-much that a few Presidents and Prime Ministers didn’t show up at his party. After all, he will have hosted the Olympics: how many people get to do that?

It remains a win for him.

Early on, there was a brief call for moving the Games to Vancouver; the site of the 2010 Winter Olympics. The Mayor of Vancouver announced, to very little coverage, that Vancouver was ready to host; to no avail. It didn’t catch momentum, imho, because our press was looking the other way in an oblique attempt to suppress the growing violence against a segment of the Russian populace and (again, imho) protect their huge, already-sunk investment in the Sochi Olympics.

With an unaware public and resulting vocal support, it seems the financial interests of those already invested in the Sochi Olympics remaining in Sochi prevailed and the Games remain in Russia.

This, while our global brothers and sisters continue to be threatened and hurt. Their allies, our allies in support of human rights for all, are in virtually as much danger; as to even voice support for LGBT rights in Russia is cause for persecution.

As the Olympics approach, the silent sponsors of those Games – global corporations the likes of McDonalds and Coca-Cola – are coming under fire in social and niche media (if one could call LGBT and liberal publications “niche”). McDonald’s #CheersToSochi Twitter campaign has been globally co-opted in protest of that company’s funding of the Sochi Olympics and concomitant silence on the issue.

Other institutions have declared moratoria on the selling of these Olympic Sponsors’ products during the Sochi Games in recognition of the exhibited cowardice and spinelessness exhibited by these profit-makers.

As business people, as creatives, as professionals of integrity…indeed, simply as human beings inhabiting the same planet; what is our responsibility to these fellow humans?

A few weeks ago, I wrote about speaking truth to power in the context of shooting-straight with one’s client.

This is about speaking truth to power in a far larger context and with far greater risk.

To be fair and objective (though not to imply that “fair and objective” is how the world works), Russia has never been a shining example of treating all people with dignity and showing a commitment to Basic Human Rights for all. I don’t know what were the politics behind granting the Olympics to Sochi; though, I can only imagine how the iconically-corrupt IOC was seduced into this concession. The dogged refusal of that body to address the issue, early on, speaks volumes.

If the Olympics can be held in China, the drop isn’t that much lower for them to be held in Russia…the Russia of a few years ago.

With that, the introduction of this legislation and rapidly growing, government sanctioned and encouraged hate crimes that have come along with it have effectively blindsided those involved in the mounting of these games. At least, a case can be made for that point of view.

Were the Olympics to be held in North Korea, would the contractors and subcontractors refuse to bid? Would they…would we…stand against bringing revenue into a regime with such an egregious human rights record?

I would like to think that my colleagues in themed entertainment and spectacle would refuse to support such a regime.

What, then, when the context changes, midstream?

Do we put down our tools and walk? Do we take a stand? Is there a stand to take, short of reneging on a contract? Is reneging on said contract tantamount to Civil Disobedience?

…and what do we owe our brethren?

I want the Olympic competition to continue; I believe we should preserve and protect the opportunity for which our elite, young athletes have worked their entire lives. With that, I also believe that, in essence, a loud, proud and effective act of support for the persecuted is vital to Integrity.

What if the ceremony producers, the suppliers of the seats for the stadium, all those involved in ceremony and support for things not directly linked to the competition just put down their tools? Is there another way to actually support the Competition without supporting Russia and President Putin?

Is money more important that Human Rights?

I have friends and colleagues currently at work on the Olympics in Sochi, and I have strongly mixed feelings about that. Whether to participate or continue to participate in the mounting of these Olympics is a personal decision on most levels; is it not also a professional obligation, worthy of serious consideration?

Some months ago, I was invited to present on a panel in Russia on my methodologies for the creation of spectacle and compelling experience. In accepting the invitation, I asked the organizers what was their position on the persecution of Russian LGBT citizens by the Putin regime. The invitation was immediately withdrawn.

I do know that I’d walk away from a project in Russia, the moment I learned of what is taking place there.

While I know that’s easy for me to say, given that I am not on a job, there; I also know from my own history that it wouldn’t be the first time I’d refused a project in lieu of keeping my integrity. I cannot deliver if I don’t believe in what I am doing; a lesson learned long ago.

That’s one reason I’m not rich.

At such times, is it not appropriate for the “non-political” individual, corporation or organization to step up and take a strong stand?

What of IAAPA…the TEA…entertainment, hospitality, sports and spectacle associations, worldwide: should not a stand be taken? Is silence under cover of “not political” tantamount to acquiescence?

As originally stated by ACT-UP, Silence = Death.

If not one’s own death, that of others.

Are we not all, ultimately, responsible for the well-being of others on this planet? How can we comfortably build and execute this monument to freedom in a country that has chosen to target a part of it’s population for persecution and destruction? How close to genocide is what Russia is doing?

This is a difficult question to construct or ask; far more difficult to answer. I think, though, that it is a question due to be asked and answers explored.


“IMHO” the eBook for iOS and OS remains available for free download from the iTunes Library. It contains the first 20 posts of this blog, incorporating discussions of KO’s Five Tenets for Creation of Experience along with applications and examples of those methodologies. Try it with a full, money-back guarantee.

Speaking Truth to Power: Risk, Reward, Responsibility

Speaking Truth to Power…be that Power a Government Head or Client Company Principal: it’s part of the job.

Just how much a part of the job is up to the individual – each of us, consultant or employee. If one’s job entails advice and direction; every step away from the hard truths is a step away from one’s integrity.

Creating art and experience is not a card game; though, some make it so.

In order to collaborate most effectively, to yield the best possible product, one must be committed to candor, sharing information, supplying one’s team with all the tools and knowledge possible in order for each to be effective at the job. As autonomous individuals and as collaborative teams our people must be prepared with every bit of information in order to make the best and most appropriate judgment calls, should it fall to them at a critical moment.

This is simple Leadership.

Empowering one’s team and employees as well as being completely candid with one’s Clients or hierarchical superiors is critical to success of business or project.

Sharing information – opinions and experience – from all sides not only contributes to the quality of the overall body of knowledge on a given team; it empowers all individuals to appreciate the entire context of a project or strategy rather than finding themselves limited to an arbitrarily constructed, myopic perspective.

Such empowerment can lead to the pre-emptive discovery of answers – solutions to problems that may arise – well before the actual need presents itself.

As important, if not even more so, is complete candor with one’s client or higher-ups. This is where things can get dicey and inordinately complex; as one’s personal responsibilities extend beyond simply feeding and clothing oneself and into the care and feeding of families and families of employees there are sometimes “safer” decisions made that do not serve a given project.


The responsibilities in the face of said Dilemma remain: we are obligated to share our full perspective, the entire truth, with our Clients. This is often a risk; though, a risk that can be mitigated with diplomacy and nuanced presentation.

Seriously, how many of us have been presented, time and again, with a client who thinks s/he knows more than s/he does about a given project or vision and how to best realize it;  continually making decisions that actually undermine the potential success of the project? (That’s rhetorical; I pretty much already know this answer…)

Our job – as Creatives, Directors, Consultants – is to tell the Awful Truth.

In so many words. The Truth:

  • cannot be hinted-at
  • cannot be alluded-to
  • cannot be subliminally understood

It Must Be Spoken. Clearly.

The Customer is not necessarily “always right;” though, being the One Holding the Purse, the Customer can insist on things being done the way s/he wants.

Methodologically, the most effective way to present strong, opposing views on in/appropriate courses of action is to have an operational, professional and personal history of candor; such that the client isn’t shocked at one’s sudden directness.

Cultivate and nurture a reputation for laying things out clearly, with respect but holding nothing back and chances are what you say will be heard.

It may not be embraced or followed, but it will likely be heard.

Looking the client in the eye and saying something such as, “…look. It’s your project, and I will do whatever you decide you want to do with it. However, I am honor-bound to share with you my considered opinion that if you do go down this path you are considering, you stand a very good chance of losing your entire investment. I strongly urge you to think about this before moving ahead and, if moving ahead on this course is your ultimate decision, I will see to it that you are as protected as possible. But, I think you’ll lose your shirt.”

Don’t sugar-coat it.

In this business, as in many businesses, people hear what they want to hear. Thus, we are bound to tell a stark and clear truth so that it is heard. Shying away from that responsibility has contributed to world-famous (and not so famous) failures…fo evah!

If it isn’t actually, clearly, incontrovertibly said; it will not be heard. AND, you may end up being blamed for the failure, ultimately.

True, there are some Deciders who simply don’t want to hear it; some who will want you excised from the mix as they don’t want to be made to face the truth. You want to work for someone like that?

A Note: if you happen to be new to this business and out of school less than ten years, you might want to tread with a lighter step. While you may be a prescient, virtual genius with remarkable insight (to your mother! <g>), a good suggestion would be to be sure you have a few years of observation, experience and learning under your belt before you lay down such absolutes. Just sayin’…  Not that you can’t raise the question, seek out allies on your team to help articulate your concerns and POV; just be sure you have the experience to back up your opinion when you give it. Being somewhat circumspect about this will serve you well.

That being said; if you feel strongly, say so. If not to the Power that Is; then to your Powers that Be.

Less than the absolute and clear truth, offering any ambiguity at all, undermines the truth we are called-upon to communicate. Ya gotta lay it out and place it in the hands of the Decider…with the full grasp of your point of view…that is what we are paid for, that is our responsibility.

Embrace it adeptly, and the risks will be minimal. Accepting those risks is up to you. As I cite, above; eschewing those risks moves one away from full integrity. Evaluating the course best taken is a personal choice.

If it were easy, everyone would actually be doing it.

Happy New Year.


My eBook, “imho” is still free! For iPad and OS, downloadable from the iTunes store or the Apple Book Store. Containing the basic tenets, techniques and methodologies for the creation of emotionally engaging, compelling experience; I offer a full refund if you find it not of significant value.

Rationale for Racism?

A plethora of projects is taking shape across the globe just now; from multiple, massive theme park projects in a number of countries to Expo Milano 2015 and Dubai 2020, to Olympics and Paralympics and World Cups and myriad, smaller creative production projects and one-off shows of spectacular scale.


As the globe grows smaller and brands become global; as the professionals who develop, create and build themed experiences become a massive, global body; as the ubiquity of the internet melds standards, practices and methodologies into a greater body of knowledge, long-held assumptions about doing business in parts of the world other than our own are up for re-evaluation.

Some time back, I was consulting as Creative Director on a live show component of a larger property outside the US. Inspired by such shows as Universal Japan’s  “Gift of Angels” nighttime spectacle – weaving projection mapping on the façade of an iconic building with live actors performing at various points on that façade – the client passionately envisioned this project’s own, several-story, iconic façade as the “stage” for the centerpiece, signature, nighttime spectacle.

BTW: these are examples of projection mapping…

3d-projection-mapping_2 projmap1

While it was unlikely that the project could support projection mapping, there was plenty of money for exceptional, architectural stage lighting and, as the façade was as ornate, rococo and balcony-heavy as the Paris Opera House, it offered significant opportunity to create small performance spaces all over the vertical “stage.”

Beyond that, the story being told and the legacy of the culture represented depended heavily on live performance for foundational authenticity.

What I was virtually stunned to encounter was a Producer and Technical Director – in fact, an entire production team – who adamantly rejected the concept; instead, there was an aggressive insistence for HD / LED video screens in those spaces in place of actual performers.

This is in a part of the world where technology is of significantly greater expense than live performers; thus, it wasn’t a budget issue.

The rationale for the resistance to live performers on the outdoor façade was that the approach would require safety rigging for the performers, and (to paraphrase), “…in that part of the world, after a year or two, operators will just ignore the rigging and put the performers at risk.” This was, then, the rationale for developing a show that was, by definition, less than the vision of the client.

Gobsmacked, was I.

There is so much wrong with that statement, imho, that I can’t begin to articulate… Wait; yes, I can.

Remember ”Exploration of Assumption” ? Let’s explore some of the Assumptions I perceive, here:

  • No similar project, actually, had ever been produced in that part of the world; thus, no direct legacy of ball-dropping in the ongoing operation of such a production existed.
  • Such a knee-jerk reaction seems to me dismissive of the client’s vision, intelligence and professionalism.
  • What is the Assumption, here, that drives this point of view? Is it that the people with whom we are working can’t comprehend the critical importance of performer safety; thus will cease paying attention to it as time passes? (Seriously?)
  • There is a quality assumption, here, as well; this being that projected actors in any way equate to the visceral, virtually pheromonal effects of live performance before a live audience.
  • While there are some great shows on this planet with actors projected onto walls, water screens and buildings; none have the emotionally connective, “that could be me” impact of a live performer, up there.

So here’s The Thing; the simple fact that someone is from another part of the world no longer lends itself to demographic, cultural or national generalizations, especially in the professional context. Just as was discussed in this space back in August, the cross-generational assumptions around digital communications and netiquette, one cannot justifiably assume a lesser level of professionalism, acuity, attention to detail or any other thing, simply due to the racial and cultural makeup of a given team or principal.

So, from one Global Professional to Another; let’s watch out for this.

Even were there a history of lackadaisical inattention to detail or commitment to upkeep on a property or show; I dare say that this [perceived] disparity no longer exists…certainly not in any way broadly assume-able. People in Show and Production are interned, apprenticed, educated and initiated out of standard-setting centers, all over the world. Themed entertainment and theatre are no longer relegated to Disney, Universal and Broadway…

…and people can read, view video, listen to lectures and aggressively study the work of the best without having to travel to Disneyland or Manhattan. To assume that today’s executives and operators aren’t committed to longevity of product is, to my mind, unfair, dismissive, disrespectful, a little bit ignorant…and a little bit racist.

Besides, they have you, there to advise, mentor and teach. Is it not our obligation to share information, fully communicate and expect commitment to the best?

“A man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for…?”

Robert Browning said it and I have often quoted it as my mantra of creating experience. Always shoot for the stars and find ways to create the most amazing thing…accepting less only when it is clear that all options have been exhausted. That is my responsibility as Creative Director, Director, Producer or any combination thereof.

From where I sit, a decades-old legacy of shortfall is no reason to reject the option of going the full distance in realization of vision. Such a legacy can inform one’s process and, if trepidatious, one should address that directly with the client. Share your fears with the client; opening and offering the opportunity for said client to allay any fears by expressing awareness of that same legacy and determination to not fall victim to what may have been standard, years before. Share the knowledge and watch it be embraced. Surprise yourself when discovering that perhaps your client may even be ahead of you, on this.

If you don’t ask, you won’t know: if you ask and they didn’t know; they know, now!

It’s a new generation, we are all global citizens. Assume equal commitment to quality and then be sure all terms are defined.


Up front.

My sense is that more positive reassurance will come from such a process, along with deepened mutual respect and understanding…and a far stronger working relationship; one based on trust and actual understanding rather than on assumption and the acting thereon.

Assuming a client or staff in another country won’t meet one’s own standard of production is, imho and as I inferred above, just a tad racist. While that may have been appreciably rationalized (note I did not say justified) a decade or two ago; I don’t believe it carries even that shaky foundation, any longer.

Yes, there are some parts of the world where the definition of “deadline” is a little more fluid than we may be used to, there are places where bureaucracy and corruption protract timelines and expand expenditure…and, yes, there are charlatans in every country – including the US – who are only in it for short-term gain and bail. This, I do not contest.

That being said, I believe that the great majority of people and companies who undertake to create experience that will draw audiences and make money believe, in their heart of hearts, that they want to create the best, and they want it to last. Few plan to fail.

I believe it is our responsibility to support the Dream and inform the process; proactively enlightening as we collaborate and being open to our own enlightenment as we do so.


“imho” the book for iPad and MacOS is still free (and always will be) – containing the first 20 chapters of this blog, it contains all the fundamentals discussed and referenced in subsequent posts. Download it and let me know what you think. Thank you.

Do NOT “Proceed”…

Camels on the beach of Oman

Camels on the beach of Oman

’Tis the Season, the invitations have begun to arrive and there, prominently printed, is that dastardly phrase, “…proceeds go to…”

I had thought I’d write about this before the beginning of the Season, but put it off, and now I’m reminded at how irritating this word, “proceeds” is to me. Frankly, I find the word intentionally misleading and lacking in integrity.

Years ago, more than 30 of them, when founding Friends of Oscar (now Academy of Friends) in San Francisco, it was the predominance of that word that inspired me to find a way to guarantee that 100% of the ticket price would go to the beneficiary charities. At that time, in better financial times, the event could be 100% underwritten such that the guarantee could be made.

Times have, indeed, changed, and it’s much more difficult, now, to attempt to make such a guarantee. Unfortunately, the use of this Word Without Honor continues to proliferate; and I believe it sheds a bad light on otherwise noble causes.

Seriously. Let’s say you just paid $100.00 for a ticket to an event, ostensibly for Charity. What is the difference between:

  • 100% of the proceeds will go to feed the homeless
  • 50% of the proceeds will go to feed the homeless
  • 25% of the proceeds will go to feed the homeless
  • a portion of the proceeds….
  • et cetera?


All of those statements can mean anything the producer wants them to mean.

The dictionary in this computer says that “proceeds” is “money obtained from an event or activity.”

“Proceeds” is disrespectful of and frankly insulting to your audience. Just what comprises “proceeds”? Profit? A percentage of the profit? Whatever’s left over after every entity, vendor and individual involved has taken their cut; or just what, exactly?

So, Producers of Events, out there; find another word. A word that actually means something. As the word, “proceeds,” is an essentially meaningless word, invented by some producer to give the impression that s/he is doing more than is, perhaps, reality.

Most people, in my occasional and informal surveys, assume it means…

  • “um, profit?”
  • “I dunno, everything after expenses?” “Which expenses, exactly…?” “Oh, I see your point…”

And so it goes; the impression of the word is of something noble. Upon examination, however, and with a little thought, people come to the realization that “proceeds” has no real and concrete meaning, thus can be used to mean anything.

In the name of simple Integrity, simply tell your audience what you mean; be clear as to just how much of the purchase price is going to the beneficiary of a given event or sale.

It’s simple respect. It will be respected. The candor will be rewarded, as you’re telling your audience that you can be trusted.

And, frankly, people will appreciate it. If what you are selling or charging is of value, allow the customer to know to exactly what level s/he is supporting the chosen recipient. Even if it is only $5.00 of the price of a $50.00 book, that’s still $5.00 more than would otherwise support that charity were the book not bought. If you are comfortable with that, if the buyer or patron is comfortable with that, all is good.

I’m a strong proponent of clarity and transparency. People appreciate transparency. And, if customers don’t come, that’s good information for the seller.

If, on the other hand, one is trepidatious about sharing the precise amount per purchase being donated; that might be an opportunity for re-evaluation. Using the truth in seeking charitable donations is doing business with full integrity.

Frankly, when I receive an invitation and see anything along the lines of

“…proceeds will go to…”

It goes, all right; directly into the trash.

IMHO, someone is hiding something when that word is used.

Find a better word: tell the truth.

Happy Thanksgiving and Caveat Emptor.

My eBook, “imho” for iPad and now OSX is still free, worth every penny and still available for download from Apple’s eBook store and iTunes. Read the reviews; read the book!

What’s the Story on Mobility?



Words that are tossed around by vast numbers of people across myriad industries and, in that, being diluted and misused…

  • The Architect discusses the “story” of the building, “…what story are we telling…?”
  • The Theme Park designer talks about the “story” of the envisioned installation, “…what is the “story” of this park…?”
  • Every video game has a “story” of sorts; from battlefield to full-on alternate universe, with characters that live and die, love and lose, sink or Sim.
  • The Attorney asks the client, “…what’s your Story?” (well, that’s more on point, actually; I’m sure there is no dearth of compelling fiction created and shared within lawyer-client relationships!).

Reasonable case can be made for all of the above-articulated uses of the word, “story,” and more. In the above examples, perhaps more accurate words might be “experience,” “conceit,” “context,” … “theme.”

What do we want those in the Thing we are creating to sense, feel, see or experience?

…and when do we get down to Real Storytelling?

…and, what IS Real Storytelling?

In the context of this conversation, I’m splitting the definition of Storytelling into two sorts; the Emotionally Compelling and the Viscerally Engaging…and there is a very fluid line between the two.


A few decades ago, many professional storytellers, from moviemakers to themed entertainment producers and creatives, got all excited about the MTV generation (then GenX, then Y, and so on…) perceived as having “short attention spans.”

The response was to try to address that with shorter stories, shorter scenes or beats within stories, no lingering on visuals, cutting the absolute bejeezus out of narratives, scene-by-scene and, in almost a panic mode, often pretty much taking the mystique out of the unfolding of a story.

What was being missed was the nuance that it wasn’t (and isn’t) that attention spans were short. It was that the opportunity to engage audience with a Good Story was short, but that were a story compellingly-introduced and well-told, young audiences in any context will stay for the full arc.

With the ubiquitous demands on the attention spans of this demographic, these kids simply gave less time to an opportunity for engagement. Once engaged, however…

The people panicking weren’t aware of the hours that kids were spending on early graphic adventure games such as “Myst,” where things actually moved quite slowly, mysteries were discovered and solved and the story very gradually revealed itself. Being not of That Demographic, they were not aware of the vast amounts of time being spent online, to and through the advent of RPG’s (Role Playing Games) such as “Dungeons & Dragons” and the subsequent evolution to the plethora of disparately-themed and played MUD’s (Multiple User Domains) to the super-sophisticated platforms that are far beyond my own ability and available time, now.

They simply did not know. As a result, there was a spate of knee-jerk creative production that resulted in rampant falling short of expectation.

Then, “Lord of the Rings” and “Harry Potter” happened – three-hour movies and 700 page books that teen boys would carry through airports with their skateboards. Suddenly, the fact of longer attention spans was public.

These stories told that engaged from the start and kept the reader / watcher enthralled, throughout. It wasn’t attention spans that were short, it was (and is) the amount of time in which we, as Creators of Experience, have to grab and hold the attention.

This is a critical nuance. Keeps us on our toes.

Is there a lesson, here…?

The Mobile Device

It’s here to stay; undeniably.

Can it be a part of an immersive experience? Yes.

Can it effectively augment the telling of a story? This answer is quite so simple.

Last year, I shared in this space my technique for successfully impelling an audience to put down their mobile devices in order to receive a theatrically-presented story. Presented in four, intense, ten-minute acts, the subject and the manner in which it was presented “trained” or convinced the audience that it was worthwhile to pay full attention to the story as it was being told. So, people are wean-able from their mobile devices.

This is that post:

[Note: I love technology and am an early adopter, though a “digital immigrant,” having been around since before the first IBM Selectric typewriter…something of which many of you have never heard.

I teach, between gigs, at the Apple Store and fully embrace the wonders of mobile technology, cloud technology, AR (that’s Augmented Reality for those in Certain Demographics) and all the great possibility that comes with this rapidly evolving technology.

That being said; I offer that one must be circumspect as to what and which sorts of experiences into which one attempts to insert the Second Screen.]

As mobile technology has evolved, though; again and again, flags are waved to make storytelling “interactive” by including a second screen in the Experience. Imho, this is misguided fervor.

As a storytelling device; in many ways, digital and mobile technology is unparalleled in creating certain experience. eBooks can be enhanced with video, kinetic graphics and gifs, photo galleries and myriad interactive possibilities; creating deeply immersive experiences, all contained on that screen.

This is one screen; one focus.

Even the New York Times has found elegant ways to augment the story with mixed media and print:

My friend, Dave Cobb ( ), one of the most iConnected people in the industry, is a passionate advocate of integration of mobile devices into entertainment experience…especially theme parks. I agree with him.

As he pointed out in a recent conversation; adding a layer or layers of AR to a theme park environment can significantly enhance the experience of, most especially, the repeat visitor. It offers even more opportunity for personalization of experience as well as the possibility of adding unique features and discoveries with each, subsequent visit. Fantastic.

Museums, historical sites, any number of study or exploratory or enlightening experiences can be greatly enhanced with mobile technology.

Yet, here is the nuance…

As cited above, mobile devices are fantastic at creating or augmenting experience. As a storytelling device, this technology is uniquely flexible and offers ways to tell a story from multiple perspectives and with varied media, all on the one screen. Most cool.

However, bringing that device into another storytelling context immediately dilutes the reception of the story, thus its effectiveness in engaging and moving one, emotionally.

Boiled down (and possibly over-simplified); this is a difference between the exciting, visceral experience with the mobile device versus the emotionally compelling experience of being “told” a story as a passive receiver.

Storytelling, in the purest and most wonderful form, is a gift to the receiver. The receiver, the audience, does nothing but receive and experience. Our job is to create that storytelling experience in as lush and evocative a way as to render our audience rapt.

People being told a story use virtually only the right side of the brain. Once a second screen is added to the experience; analysis and decision-making enter the picture, the left brain is engaged and the possibility and depth of potential emotional engagement is immediately sidelined.

imho, of course. But this is Human Physiology, neuroscience.

Most articulately put by Jonathan Gottschall in Fast Company, recently; he outlines the nature of storytelling. This is Required Reading for anyone wanting to appreciate the value of true storytelling.

He makes the case for the protection of actual storytelling experience from the intrusion of “interactivity.” Well worth it:!

I mentioned a Lesson, above, and it goes back again to Tenet Number One; Exploration of Assumption. What are we assuming when we respond / react to something we do not understand? The abbreviated Moment of Opportunity to capture the attention of young audiences had been interpreted to mean that they couldn’t pay attention for longer periods of time. Nuance overlooked. Wrong answer.

Simply; when seeking to embrace the incorporation of new technology and techniques into storytelling, perhaps take time to evaluate just what sort of story we are seeking to express. Is it game-like? Is about strategy? By all means, bring in the screens.

Is it about a narrative arc, do we want to engage, move, have our audience thinking quietly about the experience – the story – for some time, afterward? Then perhaps not distracting from that story is a more effective approach. Subliminally engage the audience in experiencing the story; though with one focus.

Pick a screen, any screen…or stage, or stadium. Just be sure the method of your storytelling supports the story you wish to tell… Nothing is absolute; but some things just work.

( More on Subliminal Engagement: )

Thanks for reading.

BTW: If you happen to like a pretty fantastic, science fiction / fantasy world story; my longtime friend, David Erickson, has just published his first novel, White Fist & Two Dogs. I am unabashedly plugging it, here. Dave has done so much for me, as a good friend, and I’ve read his book and had a blast, doing so. Just sayin’; take a look and make your own decision.

Meanwhile, my eBook, “imho” for iPad and now OSX is still free and still available for download from Apple’s eBook store and iTunes.

“Nothing!” … and an Unexpected Lesson


Just over a week ago, immediately prior to my departure for this current sojourn in Dubai, I received a surprise and pretty fantastic gift; unexpected in the context of a conversation with my good friend and former protégé, Keith. 

As an aside; to call Keith a “former protégé is almost misleading. If anything, he was such for perhaps two months; as I knew when I taught with him at Apple that he was made for this business. A sense borne out when I recruited him as my Production Manager for an event in San Francisco; a business, a way of working, a context to which he took as does the proverbial Duck to Water. He is now, barely a year later, Assistant Director of Entertainment at one of the two highest-ranked water parks in the world.

He’s a natural.

Anyway, for the past few months he’d been working on the debut of a brand-new, character, diver and acrobat driven water show. It had premiered the day before, and I was excited to learn how it went.

Thus, to the SKYPE!

“So? How’d it go?”

“Well,” he said, “…the show opened yesterday, and guess what I did…”

“I don’t know; tell me! Took notes? What…?”

He looked me right in the eye as a big smile grew on his face and he said, “Nothing!”

A huge laugh erupted from me. He was referring to my Assertion – as cited in this space some months ago – that a Good Producer has nothing to do on Show Day. If the Producer is running around, putting out fires and settling last minute issues, s/he’s hired the wrong people, led the team poorly and isn’t prepared for the job.

Show Day, for the good producer, should be one of calm; standing and watching the work of the team and the effective results of the meticulous planning leading up to Show Day.

(Barring “Acts of God” emergencies, of course.)

Keith takes that philosophy to heart and illustrates this philosophy in the most practical of ways. He had nothing to do on Show Day. Fantastic.

I’m honored and flattered to witness it.




So, yes; I’m in Dubai for the foreseeable future on a massive project.

One of the things I like so much about working in this part of the world is the disparity of nationalities and cultures on pretty much any team of professionals one might encounter. On this team I have joined, already, are English, Dutch, German, Indian, Pakistani, South African, a couple of Americans and myriad more. Together, in a culture alien to us all, as we work to deliver unsurpassable product to this client and culture.

I appreciate my ability to be sensitive to the disparate cultures around me and keep the faux pas at a minimum with positive relationships built and nurtured with relative ease. I say that, as during my most recent departure from SFO, I was brought up short as I realized I’d overlooked something very close to home.

There is a guy at SFO whom I have not liked for years. He’s always at the entry to the TSA queue and is a stickler for one’s carry-on fitting into that ridiculous metal display that asserts to determine whether or not said carry-on will fit in the overhead compartment. Sometimes, one can slip by him if the bag is carried deceptively or it’s busy. But he will NOT allow the too-large bag to pass.

I haven’t been liking this guy; not since my first encounter with him, years ago.

When I interact with him, I keep it sweet, swift and professional; but inside I’ve judged him a jerk. He’s an older gentleman, Chinese, with a thickish accent; which doesn’t make it any easier to communicate when he’s saying “no.” Irascible and, in my opinion and experience, not the most pleasant person.


This most recent time I encountered him, I was still out in the queue at the check-in counter, well before Security. Right as I got to the ticket counter, up marched one of The Entitled (you know the type; hotshot guys for whom No Rules Apply…) with this man in tow. Barging up to the Agent adjacent to me, he launched into a diatribe about this man’s incompetence in his refusal to allow Mr. Entitled’s (massive) rolling carry-on past the barrier.

Mr. Entitled was loud, brash, pushy and dismissive of this man-whom-I’ve-been-judging; and his carry-on was BIG. He was berating the man in the third person, telling the agent of all the times he’s had his bag on board with him…and who does this guy think he is, telling him any different.

I didn’t feel like watching, so went on to Security and – about four minutes later – this gentleman walked past us in the queue to his regular place at the head of the rope and stanchion, the physical entry to the TSA queue.

Slowly, he bent over and picked up his gloves; then stared out at…I don’t know what he saw, actually. He stared in the direction of we in the queue, but sort of through us, over our heads or beyond where we were standing…

…And, in that moment, what I saw broke my heart. What I now saw was a man from another culture, deeply dedicated to his job. Dedicated to…and Proud of it. Suddenly, I re-appreciated his own, inherent, Cultural Roots; he comes from a culture where Rules are almost more than Rules, where Rules and Order are Respected…and they do apply. I saw that all he was doing – all he had ever been doing – had been seeing that the rules are followed.

He had simply been doing a job he is grateful to have and proud to do.

I saw him hurt and perhaps shamed to have had his competence questioned. I have no idea the outcome of the altercation at the ticket counter; all I saw was the starkly visual, personal result of the insult.

The wound I perceived in his eyes made me ashamed of all the times I had thought ill of him.

He looked out at the airport, turned, picked up his jacket and put it under his arm and left the area. Head down.

I realized in that moment that I’d short-circuited one of my most valued personal and professional qualities by Assuming and Compartmentalizing.

Empathy, cross- and inter-cultural sensitivity are of my best qualities. I’m good at making my way in alien cultures; appreciating my own sensitivities, they serve me well in my work…especially here, in Dubai.

When in Dubai, though, it’s easy to remember to remain culturally sensitive, as one is constantly surrounded with reminders through accents, clothing, skin color and mannerisms. It was right there, at home, that I’d overlooked the very clues I seek when I’m aware.

We should always strive to be Aware. And beware the pitfalls of familiarity that lead to any assumptions; erroneous or otherwise.

Exploration of Assumption is the first Tenet of my Big Five for the creation of compelling experience. Exploring – being aware of – one’s own assumptions is a valuable tool in all situations, then, not simply the Important Ones.

So, here’s the lesson for all of us; certainly for me: practice at home what we practice in the field. Assume nothing; and watch for one’s own assumptions in every aspect of daily life, in personal and professional interactions.

Be and remain sensitive to others, and guard against judgement on the basis of anything from facial expression to uniform.

I now believe that that man has never sought to be unpleasant or difficult, he doesn’t even see it that way; he has simply been striving to do his job the best way he understands it as it needs to be done.

It’s not up to me to judge him, nor to like or dislike his style. Rather, I’m offered the opportunity to simply accept that it is what it is. The man’s been there for years; someone must appreciate and approve of the way he does his job.

People around us, throughout our personal and professional lives, all have backstories and histories of which we know nothing. So much we might tend to take personally, or take-onboard in frustration, might very easily spring from reasonable sources or rationale outside our own experience.

We just never know.

My suggestion is to accept it and move on, in situations such as this one. In our ongoing professional lives, then; when someone isn’t responding as we might prefer, perhaps it’s a healthy modus operandi to call to mind that such lessons, and just work with what we have.



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