Speaking Truth to Power: Risk, Reward, Responsibility

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

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

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

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

This is simple Leadership.

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

In so many words. The Truth:

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

It Must Be Spoken. Clearly.

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

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

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

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

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

Don’t sugar-coat it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy New Year.


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

Rationale for Racism?

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


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

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

BTW: these are examples of projection mapping…

3d-projection-mapping_2 projmap1

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

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

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

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

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

Gobsmacked, was I.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Up front.

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

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

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

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

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


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