SPECIAL EDITION: Missed Opportunities in Glasgow

For those intending to create spectacle for a living…

…Those interested in and inspired by the prospect of creating Spectacle to engage and move crowds would be well-advised to study yesterday’s Commonwealth Games Opening Ceremonies in Glasgow…

Not, however, as exemplary concept execution.

Rather, as egregious example of missed opportunities, dropped balls and what would seem to be poorly thought through approaches to storytelling and pageantry.

The full ceremony on YouTube, here.

At the outset, it must be acknowledged that the simple presentation of the athletes is a powerful and moving component of such Ceremony, in and of itself. Beyond that, these Ceremonies had Moments, here and there; momentary tableaux of beauty and near-compelling breadth. These moments, though, were few and far between.

IMHO, the producers and creatives responsible for this Ceremony have let down their audience(s), significantly; leaving it to the audience to infuse the experience with more substance than was actually there out of excitement at the fact of the phenomenon and their own patriotism and sportsmanship.

Having more than three years to plan this Spectacle, it could have been done so much better…without spending an extra dime. What was missing is:

  • thought,
  • creativity,
  • heart,
  • energy,
  • a sense of connection with a live audience and
  • the focus on the experience in the stadium…and, it would seem…
  • rehearsal.

Last one, first. 

A powerful and exciting in-stadium experience, well shot, will translate to the remote audience. This Ceremony, especially at the outset, leaned heavily on pre-produced and inauthentic media; draining energy from the stadium and giving the audience at home no sense of spectacle.

The point of being in a stadium for a Spectacle is to be where the spectacle is happening. Presenting video after video disengages the audience; or, at best, doesn’t engage them as fully or as personally.

In fact, throughout the Ceremony, it seemed that most of the money had been spent on media, animation and graphics when – for my money – just a fraction of that spent on rehearsal halls and staging might well have made for an exponentially-more-compelling Experience. The result was a relatively energy-free, intended-extravaganza that ultimately failed to fully engage.

Even the Hosts were speaking to the Cameras.

Being present in the stadium is the only opportunity for the audience to be immersed in the Experience. When what is delivered in the stadium is designed for close-ups to be telecast to the remote audience – as was a basic mistake of Danny Boyle’s London Ceremonies – everyone is shortchanged…especially the people in the seats.

Some specifics:

In the Positives; the flag entrance was very cool. Nicely done. For the most part, the Put Children First (see below) live segments were solid (though the onscreen talent could have made an appearance in the stadium at the culmination), the international chorus was pretty fantastic and the musical talent was superb.

Beyond that, though…

The very first speaker, Ewan McGregor (love the guy!), wasn’t even in the stadium and was pre-recorded. That entire set-up would have been far more compelling were he to have been live and present. Throughout his moments, he would introduce by video, another video. Lifeless. Not exciting.

Despite John Barrowman’s efforts to infuse energy into the opening number, that segment was focus-free and scattered; launching the evening with little foundation or gravity. Just a moment of pageantry to settle the audience and create a feeling of portent could have made all the difference; followed by something similar to what was attempted as a light-hearted “tour” of Scotland; it’s history, culture and place in the world.

The Scottish Regiment might have been better and more effectively placed, right up front; setting the stage with Legacy and Portent, making a powerful, emotional connection at the very outset without a word being spoken.

Starting the show with one person in the stands is derivative of televised awards shows and dismisses the presence and priority of the Live Audience. This is fine at the Oscars, which is a televised event with a live audience versus such Ceremonial Spectacle, which is a Live Event that is being televised.

Nuance.

So many slow and sloppy walk-ons of principals and performers. Wherefore?

So much ragged choreography. In three years, even volunteers can be rehearsed and deliver crisply.

(And god bless ‘em all for their visible and infectious enthusiasm, passion and commitment; many a show of mine has been carried by volunteer talent, onstage and backstage; I deeply appreciate and respect them all.)

The massive field stage pretty much won the battle for attention in the first segments.

So much space, so few people on it. With successive segments on that field, the space underscored the sparseness and looked underproduced and under cast.

Further exacerbating this effect was the poor choice of a “wooden” stage. The blandness of that surface offers no contrast with whatever is to populate that stage; thus what is on stage cannot be effectively articulated with the lighting…a technique that can effectively “hide” the vast empty space(s) and keep audience focus on the points of action. This is especially pertinent to the small groups that were running around the surface.

Too, a contrasting surface would have greatly enhanced the beauty of the “500 miles” ballet; giving it more drama. As it was, it just looked naked. What lighting effects there were was distracting and diffuse.

Alongside the field stage, the vastly underused Main Stage that stretched the entire length of the field, backed by the massively distracting video screen, served to underscore the relative small physical size of the performers as well as their numbers. Rather than supporting the onstage or on-field performers with these features, the screens and stages effectively fought with and overpowered the live performers…until the addition of iMag on the big screen was finally used with Rod Stewart, et al.

Speaking of Nuance: Rod Stewart…

  • Truly needs no introduction; his voice and presence would have been a most effective and more exciting “introduction,” and
  • He might have been better used only once, after the Procession. Using him twice dilutes both Moments.

Back to the field-long screen. This could have been used for far greater effect than to have been filled with all those expensive and often seemingly meaningless graphics.

  • It could have been used interactively; such that the performers and the screen worked in tandem, collaborating for effect far greater than the sum…
  • Rather than compete with the Processional with it’s big, colorful, distracting animations; perhaps successive and kinetic picture-in-picture images that paralleled the athletes proceeding across the field would have kept focus on the athletes and enhanced the intimacy.
  • Using the relatively tiny, up-high screens for iMag pulled attention from the field and the main stage. Not a good call, imho.

The processional was sloppy and slow. 75 minutes for 6500 athletes is too long. This is where that fantastically-long stage down the side of the field could have been put to great use; introducing each team, shoulder to shoulder and marching them onto the field.

We do know from experience that, with this “Broadway” technique, over 11,000 athletes can be brought onto the field in Procession in about 45 minutes with great, sustained excitement, pageantry and dramatic energy.

Another Missed Opportunity.

TelePrompTer. Next to and hidden by the onstage monitors? Susan Boyle? Just asking.

Put Children First. Nice segment and undertone with the potential to be very exciting; though the ball was dropped. How great it would have been, as we’d been set up for this Big Moment throughout the first part of the show, to see the numbers rocket upwards as the entire world SMS’d their donations to UNICEF. Instead, it was Everybody Do This and On To the Next Thing with no follow-through.

Left hanging, we were.

The cameras were a little out of control. During key moments of the program, when actually paying attention to the speaker was probably of the most importance (for The Queen, perhaps; and Malaysia…), cameras were roaming the crowds, seeking Candids, which inspired the athletes to watch out for themselves appearing on the iMag screens and wave to them…

This probably would have been a good time to not do that.

The baton. What happened to the baton journey? All that pre-produced footage of the seaplane arriving in Glasgow, the staging of the baton exiting the plane and the ten-second Pyro Thing as the Baton began the final leg of the journey to the stadium…then, nothing until it showed up in the Stadium on the main stage.

Another incomplete thought, another broken narrative. Why not just save all that video for the introduction of the baton to the stadium and forego what became the throw-away Riverside Moment? It didn’t serve to move the evening forward; rather, it served to break it up with no payoff.

Was there a rehearsal for the opening of the baton? Her Majesty seemed UnAmused.

To be fair (and I always strive to be so); by the end, the stage(s) were full, the audience and athletes where happy. In such events, the very fact of them happening generally mitigates many failings of the production. Pride in the athletes, nationalism, just the exuberance of all that Youth can come together to create an Evening of Fond Memories.

My point is that were it more fully thought-through, with consideration for the audience and engaging use of the venue; the experience would have been profoundly more resonant, compelling and viscerally memorable.

The Five Tenets, “The Original Five” would have been effectively applied to this project. In fact, I am inspired to build a Master Class around the video of this ceremony. There is a lot to be learned from it, IMHO.

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“IMHO” remains available from iTunes and the Apple eBookstore for iOS and OS. Incorporating the basics and examples of application for the Five Tenets of Creating Compelling Experience, it is a free download.

A Word to the OtherWise

We’ve all seen it, we’ve been there…

Gathered around a conference table, being briefed by a young, prodigious hotshot at the screen; a little too smug than is warranted by actual experience, speaking with sophomoric certainty of things that may not be quite so Definite and, as s/he speaks, revealing a vast absence of experience to back up the brains and talent so proudly on display.

The guy next to you says, sotto voce, “…that kid’s never actually installed a project in the field…”

The “kid’s” in over her head, the audience is disdainful and distracted by the evident disparity between Position and Experience on display at the head of the room. The young presenter isn’t even aware of the effect s/he’s having on the audience…as s/he’s likely unaware of just how much s/he doesn’t know…of how much experience s/he doesn’t actually have. While thinking s/he’s connecting and enlightening, directing and Impressing; what’s actually taking place is a dilution, a falling far short of the implied respect that was in place before the presentation began.

A passion for the work, entry into the Best School(s), studying with the Iconic Men and Women who Created an Industry, Interning with Disney Imagineering then hired into a popular, sexy Concept Development, Creative or Production company and, finally, plopped right into a high-visibility role with the lofty title of Creative Director or Senior Producer…

…with no, real experience to back it up…

…isn’t enough.

So. Who’s at fault, here?

———————————

We received a lot of feedback from our last post, A Word to the Wise, suggesting the focus be turned onto those who employ and present these prodigious young people in roles for which they are not ready; bestowing lofty titles and vast responsibilities to the eminently unprepared and inexperienced.

———————————

I am not a “you gotta pay your dues” guy.

Talented, groundbreaking individuals have been and continue to enter these industries from all quarters for decades; enhancing all our products with the disparate backgrounds and perspectives brought to the mix.

No. Not everyone must start in the proverbial Mailroom. Not by a longshot.

I am a fervent believer in recognizing nascent Talent and offering challenge after opportunity after challenge to refine and season said Talent and launch a successful career. I keep my eye out for Brilliant Youth because it fulfills me…and hey: I want these kids to hire me as they Mogul-upwards…

That being said; it is imperative that Talent be seasoned…that young skill be honed in the realities of the field and trench. Without the practical knowledge of seeing and experiencing one’s actual relationship with and to reality, appreciating one’s effect and effectiveness in communicating with others, building teams and projects, managing, motivating, problem-solving on the fly, balancing cultures from corporate to corporeal … one is simply a collection of untested skill and theory.

Don’t do this to these young people; don’t do this to your industries!

Giving a false sense of accomplishment to otherwise brilliant individuals sets them up for failure and crippling, confusing disappointment, down the line. These bright-eyed young people enter an industry for which they’ve hankered and lusted for years; now, they need guidance and mentoring as they learn to Fly; a sage, safety net.

This also costs the industry money, across the board. Inexperience in key positions threatens to lessen the quality of initial result, protract the problem-solving process, likely call for re-do, retrofit and redesign…and it undeniably, insidiously and sometimes irrevocably undermines the quality of camaraderie and teamwork that is imperative for us all to do our best work.

Title Inflation

Offering a young person, fresh out of school, the position of Creative Director or Producer or Leader at any level smacks of Title Inflation. Are these people being paid, concomitant with that level of executive with fifteen or twenty years’ successful experience; or, is the title being used as bait and in lieu of actually paying the salary of a seasoned professional who can mentor this raw material into the valuable and worthwhile talent, worthy of the (hopefully) big salaries they will (or may) someday pull down?

A few months ago, presenting a workshop to an about-to-graduate group of graduate students at The EMDI Institute of Media & Communication in Dubai, I was struck by the number of these men and women who were about to leave school and planned to open their own businesses. It was only as they kept asking about getting clients and navigating the gig market that it dawned on me that they all planned to jump right in as business owners.

While I embraced the entrepreneurial spirit of this multinational group; I took immediate pause and turned the conversation to the reality of learning the craft. No amount of book, study, practical exam and internship prepares one for actually doing the work. Don’t be responsible for this misconception.

What followed was a long and, to many in the room, frustrating conversation about the imperative need for and value of working for someone else, first. Of learning every detail of what a production job entails, from making sure there’s a place to park the generator for nighttime construction lights to securing and placing water for the Talent. The “grunt” work is key to the success of the project, and a good leader needs to be familiar with what it takes to make every detail materialize properly.

That means working for someone else.

One may graduate at the head of the class and leave school with the brightest, shiniest toolbox and the greatest, most creative or organized (or both) brain on the planet. S/he’s still not ready to run the show, or even lead a team.

Give these people a workbench beside the best you can recruit. Allow them the opportunity to watch the woman on the right and the man on the left assail the unique, daily problems of the formless, shapeless work we do and learn reflexive dexterity, to practice practical, unstructured problem-solving not manufactured in the vacuum of a classroom.

And, Ladies and Gentlemen, pay for the Leadership needed and that should be sought to lead and develop these Next Generations of brilliant artists and creators and producers and businesspeople who will take our industries where no being has yet gone.

Don’t saddle the industry with the Brilliant Unprepared. Don’t needlessly risk incomprehensible disenchantment when, given leadership roles bestowed too early, these valuable neophytes find themselves ineffective, not respected, not followed. We all – new, veterans, clients – deserve better.

Paying with titles undermines us all. This shortchanges our clients, dismisses actual experience and implies that School is Enough.

School is just the beginning.

imho.

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“IMHO” the ebook, remains a free download from the eBookstore and on iTunes. Check it out.

A Word to the Wise

Over the past decade, I’ve had the privilege of meeting, speaking with, encouraging, (hopefully) inspiring and generally mixing with a number of brilliant, talented, inspiring (to me) and committed young people at institutions in the US and the Emirates where I’ve worked, lectured and conducted workshops as well as through my work with the Themed Entertainment Association’s (TEA) NextGen program in the US.

These people are entering the work force at the perfect Moment; it is a time in our industries wherein the Old Guard and the Current Guard are actively aware of the importance of bringing youth in and developing their talents and skills now, while we’re all still active in the Force and are around to share our own experience and expertise anecdotally and in practical settings as situations arise in the course of development and production.

It’s fantastic. Good people are being recruited and swept up, given great responsibility on good projects and brought to Burbank and Orlando or sent to sites around the world.

The portent is virtually palpable.

A Word to the Wise, Guys.

I’m seeing titles being bestowed such as “Creative Director,” “Lead Creative,” “Head Writer” and any number of high-ish level monikers suddenly appearing on business cards and email signatures (and FB posts). Great stuff; Congratulations…

But.

(…and I may not need to say any of this…)

These are titles that indicate years of experience that you simply do not have…yet.

It’s fantastic that you’ve landed this title at so young an age and so fresh on the job. Take care, though, to appreciate that you’ve been in a vacuum of academia for the past several years. Use this opportunity to continue to learn, and be careful of thinking that, if you have the title, you are done learning.

We are never done learning.

This is an opportunity to be embraced and of which the most must be made; just keep in mind that to truly fulfill the role of Head of Anything, a lot of miles must be clocked, a lot of limbs must be ventured onto, a LOT of risks must be taken, limits discovered and overcome, obstacles surmounted, histories learned and absorbed.

I hope I don’t sound like some “…well, in my day…” grandpa; as I heartily applaud the opportunities being presented you and truly envy the (R)evolution that is germinating, just now, with your collective futures.

Simply put; I’m cautioning y’all to not get Cocky.

Remember that one must keep learning in order to be and remain relevant. When one stops learning, one immediately becomes irrelevant; and you are far too young and far too smart and far too cute to become irrelevant so soon.

So, don’t.

Look around, there are plenty of Cocky Young Guys (of all sexes) in this industry; watch and see how they actually relate to their audiences in the boardrooms and presentation theaters. Observe how their peers regard them when they are not looking. Don’t be that. That stuff shows up in the product.

Guard against complacency and smugness. These are Ugly things.

Remember that, even in positions of Leadership, one is surrounded with experience one may not readily see.

  • So, seek it out.
  • Mine it.
  • Ask for it.
  • Only offer The Last Word when you’ve heard all the rest.
  • Listen and hear.

Don’t let this fantastic opportunity go to your head. Take it to Heart.

Grab every opportunity with which you will be presented in these new roles to learn, learn, learn.

Do not be afraid to Ask Advice…ever.

Trust me on this, the more you ask for advice and opinion from those above and below you, the more respect you will garner and the more you will learn; the more loyal you will find your team becomes; the better will be your toolbox and the better will be your product.

Fear not being seen as not knowing; fear being seen as pretending to know. (Those guys are the worst!)

That’s it; that’s all.

I’m proud of those of you whom I know and have watched leave school and head for working with the Big Boys. You whom I know are brilliant and inspire me. I learn from you (See? Never stop learning!). My sense is that the number of you “kids” whom I know is just the smallest part of a great population of Next Generation Creatives and Producers flowing into these industries. This is exciting and heartening.

Just please strive to be a Leader by whom you would want to be lead.

imho.

“IMHO” the eBook is a free download from iTunes. Take advantage of it.

Listen…with intent to HEAR

IMG_3089

Some years ago, at the end of my first gig in Dubai, one of the well-seasoned Production Coordinators pulled me aside in front of her team at the wrap lunch prior to my departure and said to me,

“…you know, we get a lot of Consultants around here (meaning, I believe, “older white guys with grey hair”); but you are different. You know what sets you apart?

You Listen…”

I appreciated that acknowledgement at the time, and wrote about it; though, in my heart of hearts, I really did not think that Listening could be so unusual. After all; the value of listening before opening one’s mouth is no mystery…or so I surmised.

I make it a habit to strive to be sure that everyone in a given meeting has spoken before I weigh in; if for no other reason than to know the Lay of the Land, to have a sense of everyone’s perspective, to gain a sense of who may feel invested, have a strong opinion and may not feel heard. It’s a great way to suss out the interpersonal dynamic and glean the “energy history” of a project or team.

If I’m the guy running the meeting, it’s easy to be sure to hear from everyone. If I’m asked a question that relates to the purview of another; I first turn to that person for history and point of view. Everyone comes out of such a meeting better informed and a stronger team; even if they don’t know it, at the time.

This is just good. empowering (to the team), enlightening (to the leaders) management practice.

After First Contact, I make it a point to follow up, especially with the lower levels of management and staff, or with those with hands-on responsibility; asking their opinions on the meeting and what may have been missed or overlooked. These conversations virtually always pay off in knowledge and relationships for the run of the project…and beyond.

People need to be Heard.

Knowing one has been or is being heard immediately relaxes the “Inbound Portals” of the psyche, and the individual begins to hear better and more effectively, contribute more productively, feel truly a part of a given team.

And, as Leader or member of the team; one never knows what one is likely to learn by simply HEARING.

Then, last week, as I was saying my goodbyes to a number of the professionals in the company to whom I have been consulting; I heard it, again.

  • “You know, for an American…”
  • “I gotta say one thing about you…”
  • “I sure wish more Consultants were like you…
  • “So many of these guys come in and think they know everything and just start throwing their opinions around as though they are some sort of unquestionable treasure…”

And, you know what; they’re right. Over the past few years, as I’ve watched Consultants “parachute” into foreign situations with the idea that they are going to “straighten things out,” I have come to appreciate why “Consultants” so often have a bad name and are received with suspicion by the rank and file.

It’s the White Knight Syndrome.

The Consultants in Question regularly (but not always, I grant you) come sweeping in, surrounded by Fairy Dust and Special Effects and launch right into Solution Mode.

Allow me to paraphrase;

  • “Well, here’s what’s wrong…”
  • “That’s not the way to do it…”
  • “Do it THIS Way…”
  • “Over at D*sney, where I used to hang out with J*e as we built X Famous Project…”

(NOTE: By now, pretty much everyone has worked for the Big Boys at some point or other, so the names of Those Two Companies and the Principals Thereof, dropped like hailstones in a Kansas Storm, only impress the inexperienced and the occasional Money Guy. It does one no favors with the rank and file nor others on your team. Learn Discretion. Frankly, it’ll mean more when your impressive relationships are discovered obliquely than when names are shoehorned into conversation. If you have such awe-inspiring relationships, that fact’ll show up at the best time for it, surprise everyone and earn you even more respect for having been discreet. Your mom should have taught you this. Meanwhile, STFU about who you know in daily conversation.)

Back to our regular programming:

Rarely have I witnessed a conversation with a Star Consultant open with questions about How We Got Here, What is the History of the Project, What was the original Vision, How was the Decision Made to Do This…? I’m sure they happen, though through experience as sure that they don’t happen as often as they might. All too often the SC seems intent on making a mark on the project at the soonest possible moment.

Mistake.

Even the Lone Ranger would ask a Lady if she needed help before he’d just ride in and grab her. Well, most of the time; but you get my point.

Bigger than that, too, is what I see as a practical (and condescending) assumption that “…the Natives just don’t get it…” because they are not smart…rather than the more likely possibility that something cultural may be in the way.

People think in different ways in different parts of the world; not everything can be readily translated into Western Ways of thinking…or even understood by Western Thinkers. Some things simply must be embraced and worked-with rather than dismissed as “wrong.”

I see a lot of Condescension and Dismissal among Consultants, and I don’t know if it is realized just how much of that is so clearly seen and experienced by the Clients. It ain’t all that discreet, actually. Our value come in what we have learned and what we know and how we impart that information in a way that can be used. Our respect must be authentic.

I used the euphemism of “parachuting” into a situation, before. A parachutist spends no small amount of time in studying the lay of the actual land before leaping out of the plane. S/he has a firm grasp of what’s solid, where the roads are, which bridges are intact or burned and as much appreciation of the Language Spoken as might be possible before jumping in to solve a problem.

I don’t see the Army of Western Consultants doing that; not as a Best Practice. (Again, I do know some who do, and do well; these are Heroes.) I’ve simply been surprised at the otherwise-intelligent people who don’t study the host culture and its ways of communicating and doing business as something to embrace and learn rather than something to “fix.” Most often, it can’t be “fixed.” Nor need it be.

Here’s the Thing: it’s easy to impress the Money Guys – the CEO’s, the CFO’s, most of the C Levels – with pedigree from the highest levels of experience from the Western Leaders in Theme Parks. But to really affect the flow of a project, to have positive effect on the team, process and result, one must KNOW ONE’S AUDIENCE (or, in this case, team) and be respected by that audience.

The Western Way isn’t the Only Way. Nor is the Disney or Universal Way the only way…any of the Disney or Universal ways…there are myriad “western” ways…many of which have roots in the East. Open up!

As with Salt, I suppose.

Salt is, like, the best thing to ever happen to food (right?!). But, too much Salt, or only Salt, will yield something inedible, unworkable. Perhaps our Western approach is the Salt we bring to themed entertainment. And, just as there is no One Salt, there is no One, Western Way to do things. Different of us bring different backgrounds, skills and talents to the table and create differently-applicable solutions for the projects we address.

Judiciously and effectively applied, the Western POV can yield the best possible result or contribute to it; but one cannot dismiss the host culture(s).

Time and again, though, I’ve witnessed Consulting companies and individuals view and treat clients with barely-concealed condescension because of the way things are done in a host culture, because of what is expected. That’s not productive.

What is productive is Listening. Listening with eyes and ears. Listening with Respect. Watching the body language of the team members at every level. Openness toward being shown how best one can help a project happen, a vision become realized.

Recently, I watched a strong business relationship crumble, 100% from simply not listening and hearing. The principal of the consulting firm suddenly quit, after nearly 20 years with that company and after having been the primary conduit for communications between the Consulting Firm and the Client company since inception of the business relationship. This shot the relationship off balance and caused much alarm within the Client company; with worries that he was going to their competition.

He assured them that he was not going to the competition. He went to the competition. It caused further frustration and unrest in the Client company.

Unfortunately; this intense consternation that manifested on behalf of the client was met with stonewalling on the part of the Consulting firm. The importance of building and maintaining (or rebuilding triage) of personal business relationships didn’t seem to have the same level of importance for the two parties.

When a man thinks he’s drowning, that is not the time to withhold that floating log from him and tell him he needs a Life Jacket in order to be properly rescued. That is the time to let him grab the goddam log and allow him to catch his breath….then sell him a Life Jacket.

The client, with the disappearance of the One Person with whom they’d been dealing, began making some demands that were outside the scope of work for the Consulting firm. (To me, this looked like flailing for some sense of control.) The consulting firm resisted, demurred, cited scope, agreed to things but did not do them…did everything but make it clear that the Client was being heard. (The client was not being Heard.) And did it all, long distance.

The relationship continued to degrade to the point where it was anyone’s guess whether the firm would quit before it got fired; the edge of the cliff was imminent. Then, it came.

All of which could have been avoided – tension and repercussions alleviated – with one visit by the CEO of the Consulting Firm to the CEO of the Client. But there was no budging.

Face-to-face is almost always the answer; if one wants to preserve a relationship.

These days, face-to-face is easier than ever, with Skype and FaceTime. And if the stakes are that of a strong and profitable Business Relationship; my advice is to get on that plane and share a table…especially with cultures not of the West.

Face-to-Face; listening and hearing, learning and teaching. It’s only scary when it’s avoided.

The eschewing of that action, the failure to simply Face things and work them out, says everything to your troubled client about priority and respect…perhaps not what you want to say… Whether or not that is the message sought to be conveyed, that is what is communicated.

Where am I going with this?

When building or maintaining a relationship of any kind – especially with or in another country – remember that You Don’t Know Everything. You may know a helluva lot about what you do in the places you’ve done it; but you don’t know everything you need to know to do it, somewhere where you have not done it, before. Be ready to learn as you teach.

(<Ahem> Tenet #1: Exploration of Assumption)

Remember you are being invited to come to this other place, into this other house, to join this other team because you have been successful on similar things in the past. The requirement is not that you are to show up with the answers, the theory is that you will know how to find the way in what is always an unique situation and confluence of circumstance and fact.

In fact, thinking one is showing up with the answers is just being arrogant and letting down the client.

So before Solutions are Offered:

  • Ask Questions
  • With Respect
  • Ask Advice
  • Build the team
  • Ask more questions
  • Curb the Ego. You are there because you are good. No need to remind anyone.
  • NO project is cookie-cutter; not from barn to barn, stage to stage, park to park and certainly not from country to country.
  • Strive to balance teaching with learning for you and the team, and discover how happy and productive becomes your team and environment.

IMHO: You’ll likely be pleased with the result.

“IMHO” the eBook is a free download from iTunes; containing Kile Ozier’s basic tenets for Creation of Compelling Experience. Free. Really. Go for it.

LEADERSHIP IS emPOWERment

Assumption

The morale of your team is your responsibility; 100%.

Be it project or production team, theatrical company, small or large business or corporation. This is the one place where Trickle Down is most acutely accurate: it all comes from the Top.

We are making magic for our audiences; creating experiences that tell stories, engage and compel, draw people in and open their hearts and imaginations, taking them to another place, another world, where physics are irrelevant and magic is possible, where Imagination rules.

(If the above strikes you as crazy, then you are definitely in the wrong business…)

So, unless the mission of your team is strictly Strindberg, a workplace without lightness, levity and laughter will quite simply undermine the vision – and diminish the effectiveness of your product or production – in both subtle and tangible ways.

As Leaders, it is our responsibility to see to it that everyone on our teams enjoys the work s/he is doing; that the late nights and weekends that inevitably become the rule rather than the exception are embraced out of enthusiasm, passion and commitment, not through obligation or fear.

We want Energy; positive and upbeat. We want action; proactive and productive. We want an atmosphere of buoyant, confident exploration and innovative problem solving.

You want an amazing product? Nurture a strong sense of camaraderie and Team. That must come from Leadership. That is Leadership.

It saddens me when I encounter a “Creative” workplace that is quiet and somber; where people are afraid to venture their opinions for fear of reprisal or retribution, or simply being ignored. I see this more than I’d like, and I believe I can see the result in lackluster work from environments such as this.

Yes: this is a business. Show Business.

Note that the first word is “show” – it isn’t “the business of show” – and Show is the most important component. Show comes from passion, creativity, commitment, vision and drive. The better our show, the better our business. The better our Show, the more the Marketing Department has to sell, the better word of mouth, the more repeat business, the more kids will come away with eyes alight…and this latter is at the heart of what we are lucky enough to be doing for a living.

Do we not want our audiences to Love It? Then, we’d better be Loving the Process by which we get there.

Simply put: if laughter is not regularly heard in your workplace, something’s wrong. If people walk around with brows knit and eyes downcast; y’all gots trouble.

How to address this?

Simple.

Know and acknowledge your people. Let them know that you and they are on the Same Team; and that you are aware that the Captain of the Team does not score all the points.

It is imperative that the leader know the members of the team as more than simply the offices they fill or titles each holds. These people come to the team for a reason, a personal reason, and it is the mandate of the Leader to know from whence the passion of each member arises.

Passion for our work is vital.

A leader who does not know the names of every team member and what brings that person to this job is letting down all stakeholders in a given project, mission or job…and that includes the audience with which you are hoping to fill your seats and queues.

Know your people, your team. Know who they are; what inspires and impassions them.

Meet their eyes as you pass in the hallway and never forsake the opportunity to simply say “hello.” (I don’t really have to tell you this, do I?)

Creative and otherwise, human beings need to know they are seen and heard. If you want the best from your team, they must feel valued, acknowledged and welcome to contribute, even outside an official realm of responsibility.

As Leader, one must take most seriously the responsibility of seeing each person on your team and of being open and creating the opportunity to Hear them. Truly, one never knows where the next good idea, the most creative solution, the best potential for growth and ROI will originate.

Be sure to know everyone on your team. There is brilliance, there, that you very well may not yet know. Brilliance, value and inspiration.

Nurture it.

That’s our job. We are lucky to have it. Embrace the opportunity to be inspired by your teams as you seek to inspire them. ‘Tis a rare and wonderful opportunity, and will yield results in the hundredfold.

IMHO

 

BTW: The eBook, “IMHO” is a free download from the iTunes and iBooks store…it contains discussions and explanations of the methodologies and applications of same for the creation of compelling experiences applicable to all storytelling approaches. Feel free: it’s free!

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: http://imho.kileozier.com/?p=42

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: http://imho.kileozier.com/?p=47

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.

More: http://imho.kileozier.com/?p=63

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.

More: http://imho.kileozier.com/?p=87

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.

KO

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.

 

“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

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.

imho.

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.

“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.