More Than Opinion – Going Deeper

In the wake of the recent conversation on the Responsibilities of Global Citizenship @ The Season Pass, back in August; I was approached, a few weeks ago, by Keith Mahne of Disney Avenue for further, ultimately deeper conversation on Creativity, Responsibility, Creating Experience and How the Hell Did You End Up Doing This Stuff, Anyway…?

Joined by the irrepressible Dusty Sage, these two gents got a little more out of me than I’d expected to share.

There are many paths to Success, Satisfaction and Fulfillment…and myriad definitions of all three. Frankly, when it comes right down to it; it’s all personal. Without personal fulfillment, the rest is empty.

The Success I experience is borne of the response to the work I do from the audiences who experience it, and the Fulfillment I receive is from having touched and moved individuals, en masse, to discover, recover and relive intimate experience…all through my own, creative emotional filters.

The interview speaks for itself (possibly too much!); I’m hoping that some of what is shared herein is new knowledge…I’m sure that some of what is shared will surprise…

It’s all about the Pathway.

Enjoy…and let me hear from you: The Disney Avenue Podcast: Kile Ozier

 

 

You Do Have a Choice

Managing creativity is, in and of itself, a Creative Process. The same input or feedback, depending on the point of view and motivation with which it is given, can serve either to evolve or impede the realization of a concept in development.

Certainly, the work needs to be examined with a critical eye. Step-by-step or measuring point by measuring point, assessment of progress in the context of all possibilities must be made, feedback and direction given. How, however, that input is given can make all the difference in the final result and in the morale of one’s team(s).

The morale of one’s team (must this even be said?) is, fundamentally, what drives productivity, creativity, loyalty, quality and – make no mistake – future business.

In the words of Johnny Mercer, “Accentuate the Positive, Eliminate the Negative…”

The same, experienced eye can see and share feedback and direction in myriad ways, falling into two, easy categories; positive and negative. (I KNOW, right? “Everyone” knows this…)

Why, then…

That same eye can look at facets in development on a project and see:

  • something wrong, or
  • something that can be evolved

The terms in which — the voice in which — feedback is shared will make all the difference in what comes out the other side…what we get back.

Critique, given positively, nurtures good energy, supports open creativity and the flow of ideas, paves the way for good work, done well and quite likely done faster.

It all comes down to us, the managers, directors, producers…pick your label…and how we train ourselves to see things.

You have a choice.

When presented with concept; do you view it with the idea of seeing what is wrong with it, looking for problems and pointing them out, directing the solution with your own specifics from that point of view?

Or.

Do you look, first, for what is great about what you see; seeking to identify and embrace the creativity and inspiration behind it and – through that filter – offer opportunities for those who are doing the creating to resolve what you see, to evolve the concept past, over and around the obstacles you might intuit as being in the pathway…?

Certainly, if something can be done better, it should be. That’s the point of what we do. As I’ve quoted, before, “A man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a Heaven for…?” (Browning)

Simply put; by seeking and inspiring the solutions to possible problems we see from our creative team, already responsible and invested, we can effectively evolve what is already good within the project or concept and the chaff will very likely fall away…simply through the process.

“No. Do it this way…” will result in exactly the opposite; creativity will be squelched, inspiration doused, energy depleted and your project becomes a job.

Tragic.

The Power of Positivity is incontrovertible. It takes as much discipline and self-control as any other, important habit. The rewards for creating and working in such an environment are legion.

Today’s post was inspired by this article on Leadership in Fortune, “…Habits of Highly Emotionally Intelligent People. It’s a quick and insight-sharing read. As long as you’re already here, why not take another moment and check it out. Share it.

Good stuff…imho.

“IMHO” the iBook continues to be a popular and free download for Apple OS and iOS for all devices. Available in iTunes and the iBooks store.

Cannot be Escaped, Must be Faced and Effectively Erased…

Oblique Metaphor

Preparing to depart, tomorrow, for a week of immersion in a culture heretofore completely foreign to me; I have been taking care through these preceding days to carefully examine my Baggage Cart for that insidious passenger: Assumption.

It. Is. Everywhere.

In the run-up to this project, where I will be working through interpreters in multiple contexts, my awareness of Assumption in daily social and professional intercourse has been even further heightened; such that I’m noticing the pervasiveness in everything from dinner conversations to elevator chat.

Listen.

The key to being aware of the presence of Assumption – one’s own and that of colleagues, clients and others – is to Listen.

Listening, acutely, to everyone at the table: hearing what is said and extrapolating what may lie behind it…all the while remaining conscious of and cognizant to the fact of Assumption its ramifications to the course of conversation and the quality of decisions being made.

Yes. I regularly bring this up. That is because Assumption is The One Thing, passively dismissed, that runs rampant and unidentified through most conversations between human beings of every culture; causing subtle misunderstandings that build upon one another and take processes off track without people actually noticing as it does it’s evil work.

It is easiest to see Assumption in what isn’t said, just before what is said.

Read that sentence, again.

To discern that, one’s Listening must be focused on the conversation rather than on the formation of one’s own Next Statement. Truly, almost everything that comes out of our mouths is based on an assumption we make, just prior to speaking.

That assumption may be about a creative process, an approach to the resolution of a previously-encountered problem, even the personal resonance of a “shared” experience.

What do I mean by that?

Few professionals would tell themselves that their methods are “the only way” to accomplish a given task or project. That being said; many a time, I’ve watched as misunderstandings have evolved through the use of “common” terms in conversations referencing disparate experiences. I’ve watched conversations go off-track as underlying misunderstanding proceeds unidentified and people think they are making themselves clear, when the opposite may actually be the case.

A good rule of thumb is, when listening, to ask oneself if one fully comprehends what is being said…or is assumption already at play? Then, clear it up: now.

The Open Probe

To challenge another with “…well, you’re assuming…” or “…aren’t you assuming…” isn’t the most productive nor effectively diplomatic way to address and derail Assumption. Rather, pulling out an old Sales Tool – the “open probe” – can open a doorway to heightened understanding in a matter of moments…

What’s an “open probe”?

  • “Could you say more about that?”
  • “Actually, that’s not clear to me; would you expand on that…?”
  • “You know what; that’s not clear to me… Could you give me an example of what you are talking about? I just want to be sure I get it.”

Contrary to what one might assume; this does not protract the process. Yes, it may slow the meeting, as clarifications are made and appreciation of common-ground communication is uncovered; it will probably both shorten the overall process and lower the overall cost, as well.

imho.

Meanwhile, it is wise to be aware that a question can sound like a Challenge, and to choose language that does not fuel that perception. If one comes from the place of truly wishing to comprehend and appreciate and is confident in that desire to know, in order to move things forward and facilitate understanding; chances are that motive will communicate in tone and word.

Ask questions: don’t assume you know.

Listen for assumptions of others and be sure that what is actually meant by what is being said is understood…by you, by everyone involved.

With assiduous attention to Assumption, one can rule the world.

————-

You’ll be happy to learn that the fantastic and valuable book, “imho,” is still a free download for OS & iOS from the eBook store and iTunes. The basics, the Five Tenets, some pithy anecdotes. Don’t leave yourself out in the cold; download and read it.

Working and Doing Business on Earth: Responsibilities of Global Citizenship

Back in January, in the run-up to Putin’s Winter Olympics in Sochi, I went out on an editorial limb with This Impassioned Post about exploring our responsibilities toward our fellow inhabitants on this planet in the context of the work we do.

This is a conversation I strongly believe we should be having in all our forums; from classroom, office and boardroom to TEA Summit & IAAPA and as part of most every gathering of professionals in our – and every – industry.

The problem is egregious and insidiously complex. There are no easy answers, and not everyone’s answer or level of responsibility will be seen as the same.

Fundamentally, I believe it is up to us, to us and the leadership whom we inspire, to see that the Discussion is Had…irrespective of the disparate approaches to responsibility and resolution.

Human Rights – Women, Children, LGBT, Genocide of any sort – simply needs to be a subject that is present and discussed in order to begin to achieve enlightenment and, I would hope, some ease and resolution. But, we gotta be talking about it.

It April, at the TEA Summit, though we failed to achieve seeing the subject addressed in official forum, the kickass and insightful men of Season Pass podcast sat down with me for a high-energy and in-depth conversation including the topic of Global Citizenship and Responsibility in the context of Human Rights. It is a pretty great ramping up of the conversation, and was released, yesterday.

You can listen to it HERE; and I urge you to do that.

Screen Shot 2014-08-02 at 1.25.10 PM

I think pretty much everyone who reads this will agree that Human Rights is an ever-present and rapidly escalating issue, here on the planet. I don’t know that there is a country that is exemplary on Human Rights…besides maybe Canada…and I doubt that there will be widespread agreement on a course of action.

What I hope to see Agreed is the need for active discourse, and this is a call for that.

We are responsible for the quality of Life on this Planet; what we breathe and eat and drink, who is allowed to participate in the management of their own lives (um, everyone…), who has the right to decide how we live and who we love (um, no one…).

These are industries with work all over the Planet; we have access to people at every level or caste in virtually every country in the world.

How might we best handle this responsibility?

Listen. Decide. Act.

IMHO.

And hey, subscribe to The Season Pass! These guys deliver a GREAT show…even when they’re not interviewing me…

A Word, from Adele Nazeem, to the Wary/Wise

Part III of our “…To The Wise” Triptych

…To those currently at the top of their game.

Wanna stay there?

Well then; in the words of Adele Nazeem*, “Let it Go!”

We’ve talked about the New Kids appreciating how much experience yet remains after graduation in order to season and weather them into the amazing Creative and Technical resources they are going to be; we’ve addressed the danger to our industries in bestowing lofty titles to the unseasoned and the damage that represents to quality of product delivered by these industries as well as to the crimps and obstacles that puts into the aforementioned developmental pathways of the New and NextGen.

So, part three of this set is for us Old Guys; those who’ve been around and working for a while and aren’t in any way ready to leave…and who may feel just a tad threatened by the Whippersnapper Brigade. All those irritating, bright eyes and fresh, unwrinkled skin and ability to pick up any digital device and just freaking use it…

Buncha know it all’s…

Except; they’re not know-it-alls…more to the point, they’re want-to-know-it-alls…

In Illustration: A Personal Anecdote of a Key and ultimately Pivotal Moment in my own, Professional Life that enlightened me to the fact that ageism can just as often be in the mind of the Older than that of the Younger…

After the Crash of ’08 and returning to NYC in ’09, in Survival Mode, I ended up being brought on as a Specialist @ Apple SoHo. Entering the store on my first evening, which happened to be an all-store meeting; my already-low spirits plummeted. I was clearly the oldest person in the place by at least a factor of two, and for the most part very nearly three.

So, it had some to this. A grey-haired old guy amongst this Ocean of Youth. At that moment I felt that I may as well have become a Walmart Greeter, I felt so immediately irrelevant.

But. I. Was. Wrong.

Grey is just another hair color; and the dynamic on the floor is collaborative, organic, supportive teamwork; playing to everyone’s strengths and interests. The level of curiosity emanating from pretty much everyone in the place as to what others bring to the proverbial table is a powerful force; giving me the opportunity to call forth and apply my own tenets of Experience Creation in the creation of my own experience at Apple…and everywhere.

The most salient of the five being Exploration of Assumption.

I’d assumed a lot about how I’d fit.

What I learned was how curious and willing to explore, how intrigued and hungry to learn were all these nimble minds with which I was now surrounded. How could anyone not be open to learning, with the myriad, disparate minds in Collective?

The population consisted of everyone from the Ohio fratboy to the Arizona Cheerleader, the blue-haired Dancer from Denver to the toughass dyke from Brooklyn, the Irish lass from Boston, the nerdy music guy from Houston, the German, the Dutch, the Theatre geek, the Beauty Queen, the Singer, the writer, the former nurse, the marine, the never-even-thought-about-the-closet Downtown boy, the jock…all on the level playing field of technology… Sharing and teaching all at once on the level playing field of technology and teaching.

Historically, I’ve always tended to pick out YPP’s (Young People of Potential) on my teams and give them more than they might think they can handle, though what I know they can; tossing them in with me as safety net, giving them opportunity to discover what’s possible.

I now seek and embrace every opportunity to be around, to teach and enlighten, mentor and guide younger men and women, especially students, because

  • a) they are so hungry to learn and apply what they know and
  • b) one cannot help but Learn Right Back!

So, back to our conversation and context:

New and NextGen in our workplaces and on our workforces are a huge opportunity for all concerned. They want to learn from you, from us.

At the same time, no one wants to look stupid: and, this is Key…

Remember; on the one hand, these YPP’s come with a fresh body of knowledge from whatever institution or experience brought them to your company or context. They know a lot…of what they’ve been taught. They also know they haven’t actually done anything, yet; put anything in the field. That being said; they don’t want to look clueless to you.

So don’t let ‘em feel clueless.

Allow that these kids (sorry, guys; you’re still “kids” to us…) actually do Know Stuff.

Offer to show ‘em how you do something, and remember to ask them how they might do it. See what they know, appreciate what they know, share what you know and – lo and behold – more times than not a better approach can evolve from the combination of the two.

The more welcoming we are, the more willing to show curiosity and the less afraid to look stupid will be the YPP’s; and that is the portal to developing and mentoring new talent and skill.

Fear is what stands in the way of any progress, anywhere. Our fear of what the kids might represent with respect to our own futures; their fear of screwing up and blowing their First, Big Shot at doing something.

They don’t want your job…not today. They want it, someday (probably sooner than is reasonable, but Youth is Youth – whattaya gonna do?). We don’t want them to not enter the workforce, do we?

We want them to join the team; and we certainly want them qualified to create things…Experiences of which we have not yet even conceived as we prepare to depart.

[And, btw kids; for us veterans, “leaving the work force” is not merely the “equivalent of dying” …it is the same thing, and will very likely happen at the same time. Most of us will work ’til the day we die. You are the same. Get that: we get it.]

The way I see it; we have an opportunity to impart what we know and have learned through doing the work together; to evolve our own processes and enhance our creativity by partnering in mentorship with YPPs.

The YPPs, on the other hand, have the opportunity to Learn From the Best while the best are still around.

That, and as they become executives, these kids’ll be in positions to hire us all for those wonderful, Consulting Fees we see, just beyond the horizon; justifiably inflated by our Evolved Relevance in an industry that is rapidly evolving in it’s own right.

[And: just a hint in that area… Probably best not to boast of being technologically deficient. That’s not really seen as an asset, anymore, and - in case you missed it, up above - these are the guy’s who’ll be hiring us, at some point. Best you be able to operate your iPhone without cursing, know how to create a pdf, be facile with digital conferencing technology and just get over your fear and frustration with the pace of technology.]

Avoid troglodickery (look it up ); have these kids teach you how to work your technology. Just sayin’.

So, as we encounter the New, we can embrace and welcome, evolve alongside and remain relevant far longer in collaborative partnership borne of mentoring.

The suggestion is to let go of any resentment and fear; embrace the YPPs and allow them the freedom to be themselves with you. Everyone will win.

 

*(if you don’t know who this is, get Googling… )

 

“IMHO,” the iBook on the basics of Creating Compelling Experience with Emotional Connection, is a free download from iTunes and iBooks and readable across the spectrum of OS and iOS.

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.

——-

“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

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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!