Field Work: Designing Experience for an International Audience

Global Village - One Month Out

Global Village Dubai – One Month Out

A short while ago, my Esteemed Colleague, Disney Imagineer, Professor, Thought Shaper of the Future and Iconic Experience Design Chick, MK Haley, posed some questions to a few of us about designing for an international audience. Her purpose is the building of a new module for her Experience Design class, and if you are lucky enough to be one of her students you are in for a boffo semester.

(“Boffo” is a sophisticated design term.)

In case you are not one of her lucky few, I’m sharing my own responses for consideration and discussion amongst yourselves (or amongst yourself, if you live and work alone: in which case, keep it down. If others hear you discussing with yourself, it could make for awkwardness and possibly end badly).

Herewith, then; the Professor’s Questions and IMHO…

  1. … on the value of working with different countries, cultures, and for an extended period of time.

I’d say the value of this as part of one’s immediate postgraduate curriculum is integral to success in the field; especially in art and experience design.

First and foremost; until one has actually done design work in the field, seen one’s work built or installed and participated in the practical process, one’s work is likely to be myopically academic.

No matter where the work is done; once you’ve seen the design in physical dimension, seen how people interact with or pass through (or past) it, seen the effect of rain, wind, snow, dust, children…the physics of physicality. Only then does one have a true sense of how the thing will manifest in reality.

So, field work is essential to one’s professional development.

International field work takes things quite a bit further.

  • It offers the opportunity to fully appreciate one’s effect on other people.
  • If offers the opportunity to be aware of how one is communicating; to be more clear about choice of words, tone of voice, manner of collaboration, leadership across cultures, teamwork in that same context.
  • It can truly hone listening skills.
  • It will contribute to one’s objectivity. Other cultures don’t always react or respond to color, light, sound, physical storytelling, music or any sort of input or stimulus in the same way as do Westerners, for instance.

So, Looking and Listening are the first things to do a lot of when parachuting into another culture.

Remember: what you have from being educated at <insert name of amazing design school or university> or have been trained at <insert name of coveted design company or theme park brand> still, are simply Tools and Philosophies.

You don’t have experience. To gain experience, one must work in the field. So, go.

And when you get there, pay attention. Even experienced professionals make the mistake of thinking their position or previous experience in other companies or contexts qualifies them to make judgements and give immediate direction. It does not. Get to know the culture and the people who live that culture before depending entirely on previous experience. Context is everything.

2) Is it fun?

  • Yes.
  • If you embrace hard work, walking on a highwire, making mistakes, copping to those mistakes and learning from them.
  • Being open to learning from other cultures begets being embraced by the people of said cultures, and that offers fantastic opportunities for one’s own breadth of experience, perspective and worldview.

3) Is it hard?

  • Yes.
  • One must be on one’s toes.
  • It can get quite lonely.
  • A lot of places can be deceptively welcoming; seem western but are not. This can lead to trouble.
  • Assume nothing.
  • Personal Note: Obviously, Dubai and the UAE “look” and feel western-ish while we all know they are not. It is a muslim-based society; a benevolent monarchy. One knows to respect the culture or suffer severe repercussions: Get drunk and go to jail. On the other hand, Australia looks and feels “just like the states.” It isn’t. I spent a year there and had a great time; but was caught up short more than once in assuming things to which I would never have given a second thought in the US; causing great-though-inadvertent-offense. Lessons learned the hard way.
  • Nuance is Key.
  • Assume nothing.
  • Ask everything.

4) How are you different or better from having had the opportunity to work across cultures?

  • Far more patient.
  • Far more observant of the people around me.
  • Far more aware of the inordinate Privilege that White Westerners enjoy and share just from the color of our skin and the passport we carry.
  • This Privilege is immense. Do not forget that.
  • …And be careful of taking advantage of it.
  • I listen more intently and with acuity. When working with people whose native language is not English, it is critical to listen for what is actually being said beyond the words that are being used. Even the most adept English-speaker can misuse a word and change the entire message s/he is attempting to deliver. This is especially crucial in email.
  • To that, the appreciation of working with people of myriad other cultures who use English as the common denominator, professionally. We all should appreciate that: when others apologize for their “poor English,” that’s the opportunity to thank them for speaking English at all. I doubt many of us would fare particularly well were we to be made to conduct business in Farsi or Arabic or Turkish or Chinese…
  • I slow down and pay attention. Sometimes I have to catch myself; slow my pace from Western City Dweller to wherever I now am.

So, especially, I appreciate the freedom of movement I have as a Western White Guy, and I keep that at the forefront of my mind as I move through any culture or context, whether it be professional, recreational or just shopping for groceries.

5) What unique challenges are there?

  • Racism. There are many cultures on this planet that view anyone not of their race as Less. Be careful of falling into that trap. The simple fact that a person is smaller, has browner skin, is exceedingly polite and deferential to you and speaks poor English does not mean that person is less intelligent than you. Sometimes, actually, when it may seem that way, that person may be playing a “role” in order to survive in a given society. Watch for and see through that. Often, they are smarter… The quality of work, collaboration and cooperation realized will be significantly higher than otherwise.
  • Just treat everyone as equal. Remember, but for the geographical randomness of where you were born, that bathroom attendant, tea boy, car washer could be you.
  • Also watch for being the victim or target of racism. Though your national hosts may treat you well, it isn’t always because you are liked. It could be simply that you have something that is wanted. Actual friendship takes a lot longer in most cultures than it does in Los Angeles. Just sayin’. Give it time before you trust it as Friendship.
  • Assumption. Everywhere and in Everything. Yours and Theirs. Daily, hourly, moment-to-moment. Watch out for it. It will cut you!

6) How has it been on your family?

  • What family?
  • I can’t speak to that, as I have no family. I can say that it is extremely tough on any relationship and, while I know a few couples who have managed to work together or move families from country to country (arguably good for the kids to grow up, multiculturally), most people I know spend quite a significant time away from family, 70 – 80% of the time or more.
  • If family is a priority; that should be kept in mind when seeking or accepting a gig, project or full-time employment. If you are told that there is a lot of travel involved; that will mean there is a LOT of travel involved.

So, them’s my responses and ancillary thoughts on today’s topic. Field work is imperative. Foreign field work can make one a better artist and a better person. I say seek it out. Get out there and test your design ideas along with your preconceptions about Life.

Learn, Do, Grow.



“IMHO: Creating Compelling Experience” is a free downloadable eBook on the tenets and methodologies we use to…create compelling experience. Find it in the iBooks app on any Apple device or in iTunes at this link.

How to Amass and Wield Great Power & Influence

Security Pin/ID for 1994 GGIV Opening Ceremonies, designed by Steve Boyd

Security Pin/ID for 1994 GGIV Opening Ceremonies, designed by Steve Boyd

Give Everything Away.

Take Responsibility.

Be Responsible.

That’s it. That’s all y’gotta do.

As a Production Executive, Creative Executive or Director, Producer or any combination thereof; these three practices will set you up and keep you in a position of effective, essential power and influence.

You already know that, no matter how fantastic one’s own original vision of a production or project may have been; it is likely, virtually assured, that after having shared it with your team and having collaborated and tested and massaged it through design and production to launch or show it is far better, more compelling and resonant for having opened it up to collaboration and contribution with and by your team.

Be sure they know that you know that. Walk that talk and it will come back to you in spades.

Give Everything Away.

I’m talking credit, here; acknowledgement. Put your people in the spotlight as they create or deliver exceptional or exemplary work.

Everyone already knows you are The One, the Creative Visionary, the Impresario Producer…that you drive the Idea or Concept and the Team…are In Charge. The world already knows that. My suggestion is to be relaxed and secure in your position and give all the credit to those who deliver for you.

So, when someone comes up to you after seeing your show or experiencing the thing you made and says, “Oh, Kile (if, in fact, your name is Kile); that was amazing! I still can’t get over The Moment when <whatever impressed them> happened: I will remember that for the rest of my life! THANK YOU!” That is your opportunity to publicly and graciously point to and acknowledge the person or team that made that one component happen for you; throwing attention and accolade their way.

“You know who did that? That was David, John and Melissa; they’re right over there, I’d appreciate it if you’d go over and tell them what you just told me. In fact, let me introduce you…”

…or some practical form of immediate acknowledgement…

  • share their contact informations
  • cite their work when interviewed
  • spontaneously recommend them when the subject of their craft comes up amongst peers and colleagues

Push and promote those who have delivered for you; it only makes you look generous and supportive and ego free…and we know you are at least two of those things, anyway…

The rewards and benefits of such a stance are legion. I can attest to the good feeling of handing off compliments, the power of the trust that is built and grows when your team knows you respect and appreciate them and the security that exists and builds in knowing that these professionals will likely jump with alacrity at the chance to work again with someone who treats them fairly and who readily shares the Glory.

And who pays them on time. (We’ve talked about this…)

So, what am I talking about?

Take Responsibility

Responsibility of The One in Charge extends well beyond the Production, itself.

  • Know your team. Know the individuals who make up your team beyond Job Titles. Know them. Know whether they have families, where they are from, other jobs they’ve had. Assuming an individual is only the title held can cut you off from great amounts of information and resource. The more you know of the background, activities, historical contexts and interests of the people who make up your team, the more I guarantee you will find resources you did not know you had.
  • Especially in an emergency. Who knows: the wind comes up, the tarps come loose, rain is imminent, your production coordinator is also a Scout Leader or was a Forest Ranger in a past life. Knots you need? Done. You never know. Find out.
  • Keep your agreements with your team. (see link, above.) Pay ‘em on time, don’t make them feel they have to ask for their money.
  • Respect their private / home lives.
  • Respect them. This has to be genuine and authentic. Another guarantee: if you treat your people with full-on respect, they will deliver anything for you.
  • Respect the expertise. A good leader should know a little bit about a lot of things and not pretend to know everything about anything. Knowing enough to know your team members are doing good work is important; thinking they need your close supervision in order to do their jobs is a sure way to get them to leave you. Ask for what you want, refrain from telling them how it’s done. If they don’t know more than you, you’ve hired the wrong people.
  • Never assume “ownership” of anyone on your team. They serve and support you out of their respect for you and your work or vision…and because they know you respect them, their expertise, their contributions. Should they sense an absence of respect on your part; they will likely be the next thing that is Absent.
  • Responsibility? Basically, if the show goes great, it’s due to them; if it goes awry, it’s your fault. Deal with any actual person who err’d in private; but publicly, that buck stops at your desk and must fall no further below it.

Finally, Be Responsible

Words are one thing; actions quite another. A Solid Leader pays attention to the little things that might be overlooked or fall between the cracks in a large bureaucracy.

This does not mean be a micromanager. For that, I will lead the mob with stakes and torches in hand. (There is, I hope, a special place in whatever Afterlife there may be for Micromanagers.) What it means is that, as a production ramps up and the work is getting done; the One in Charge must be sure the team is being supported by the infrastructure. Payments are made on time, insurance is carried and covered, breaks are taken and people are fed…and that craft services has carbs, protein and abundant amounts of chocolate and sugar.

Seriously: it is not unusual for a show to close or a project to wrap with a vendor or freelancer not yet paid. It should be unusual but it isn’t, unfortunately. Sometimes things move fast, invoices get lost, payment is assumed but not actually delivered. Many such things can result in that one payment not happening.

When this happens, the One Who Was in Charge remains responsible for the clearing of accounts. You may be on to another project, as may the individual or vendor the former client owes your team member. But being separated from the project is irrelevant; it remains your responsibility see to it that that artist or technician is paid…especially if you are ever going to want work from that person, again.

These are your relationships to protect.

Developing and maintaining a reputation for being committed to the well-being and professional treatment of those who work under you will ultimately give you a great reputation for respecting your people…and will result in those people trusting you, implicitly, and returning to you in the future.

Anecdotally; this is how it has played out for me…

I do work in theme parks, for non-profits and NGO’s, for corporations. When I have a good budget and a well-paying gig, I pay my teams accordingly … and always on time. The men and women who have worked for me in stadiums, theatres, Urban Malls and ballrooms have been doubt-free about the respect (and often awe) in which i hold and treat them. We get great results, every time.

(Well, there was that one time…)

At other times, when I have accepted a project for a weakly-funded charity or smaller entity; I can reach out to these same people, sharing with them the fact that “…there’s no money in this one…,” and they remain highly likely to jump onboard and join me on the project, because:

  • they know that they will be treated with respect
  • they will be paid on time, no matter how minuscule the payment
  • they will be asked to collaborate on something that will be emotionally engaging and likely quite fulfilling to them, personally and professionally, and
  • they will very likely get to see me cry, more than once, as the Experience unfolds…and chances are they will also be moved.

Not a bad reputation to have. Not a bad offer to make. Good practice for work and life.

To the point of the title of this piece; it is working in this way that will ensure the power to attract good people to do good work, it is working in this way that will offer the reputation for edge, for creativity, for creating healthy collaborative and fun environments that yield compelling experiences, it will make your teams attractive to others, lessen the amount of coal in your stocking at Christmas and lower the number of voodoo dolls made in your image.

Make sense?

Hope so.



“IMHO: Creating Compelling Experience” is a free downloadable eBook on the tenets and methodologies we use to…create compelling experience. Find it in the iBooks app on any Apple device or in iTunes at this link.

SPECIAL EDITION: Don’t Fight Battles that Don’t Matter


A Shout-Out to TEA NextGen, their Mentors and their Inspirational Leaders, attending SATE at Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburgh . I know that things are going swimmingly during these two days of revelation, breakthrough, enlightenment and the Business of Show. I came across this pithy editorial yesterday and, with permission from the author, thought it a Propitious Moment to share it with specific thought to the aspiring networkers and the aggressively networked during this forum.

There are some pertinent thoughts, here; watchwords for those just beginning to create their professional personae as well as reminders for those already Running Things. Paying attention to Mr. Wayman’s three suggestions will serve you and the people with whom you work. These should not be taken lightly.

I can say that in the course of my own Experience and self-education, I’ve sometimes failed to adhere to these simple disciplines and have paid the price: it is never worth it.

From Below or from Above, it is best to always behave Honorably and with Integrity: treat people with Respect.

With that: this “reprint:”

My monthly newsletter goes out to 6,000 friends, clients and business partners.  You can’t “subscribe” to it or buy it.  It’s my way of staying in touch with friends.  For my clients, it’s a benefit of doing business with me.  My way of saying thank you for their business and support.  My day job is top Headhunter in the gaming industry, where I place about 50 top executives each year.

Each month I get a dozen wonderful emails thanking me for the newsletter, and for all the time I dedicate to creating and distributing it.  Industry executives enjoy reading about the latest industry news and what’s going on with their peers.  It’s a small world, and everybody knows everybody.  Life is grand…except for that ONE GUY.

You know him, the guy that only calls you when he wants something.  Never adds value; he is a taker.  In my case, that ONE GUY has come to me multiple times for a job over the years.  Because he has a new job every two years.  The one time he actually gave me a search, he wasted 40 hours of my time, treated the candidates poorly, and never hired anyone.  Could not get him to return a phone call or email.

So I made a business decision not to work with him.  Not angry or bitter.  Not judging or complaining.  Moving on!  As Joel Osteen states, “You only have so much emotional energy each day. Don’t fight battles that don’t matter.”  It took that ONE GUY a year to figure out he was off the newsletter and off my client list, at which point he sent me a nasty email explaining how important he is.  I chose not to respond.  Some battles are just not worth fighting.  Here are several lessons we can learn from that ONE GUY.

Always Get Back to People – My Daddy used to say, “Return all your calls and messages.  It’s the professional, respectful and right thing to do.”  I return every phone call and email (500+ per day), even if my answer is a simple, “no thank you.”

Never Burn Bridges – His hate mail may sooth his bruised ego, but why would you want to get sideways with the top Headhunter in your industry?  Better to shake hands and part friends.

Focus on the People That WANT to be on Your Bus – Not everyone is going to like you or want to work with you.  Focus on the people that WANT to be your friend, that want to be your client, that want to be on your bus.  There are only so many hours in the day.  Spend them with the right people.

The Golden Rule – The people you pass on the way up are the same ones you will pass on the way down.  No matter how brilliant, talented and cool you THINK you are, the only thing people will remember…is how you treated them.

Mark Wayman

The Vegas Headhunter –

In closing;

  • No one is justifiably “too busy” to do the Right Thing. Take the ten seconds it takes to shoot back an “I’ll get back to you” or “thank you, but I don’t think this is the right thing…” email. Respond with even the most brief of acknowledgements. It counts.
  • Take a literal and psychological breath. Is it truly necessary or important to share personal reactions through expressions of ire; or can something be simply chalked up to Experience and Lesson Learned. If someone doesn’t give you the consideration you believe you deserve; then you know all you need to know. Telling them off won’t change anything and it will Close Doors. Take the lesson and just STFU.
  • Watch out for allowing Passion and Frustration to get the better of you.
  • Treat others

And with that, Fly High.



“IMHO: Creating Compelling Experience” is a free downloadable eBook on the tenets and methodologies we use to…create compelling experience. Find it in the iBooks app on any Apple device or in iTunes at this link.

Keeping Agreements: Money & Time

Puy du Fou 3 July 15 courtesy of David Willrich

Puy du Fou 3 July 15 courtesy of David Willrich

Money changes everything

Money, money changes everything

We think we know what we’re doin’

That don’t mean a thing

It’s all in the past now

Money changes everything

They shake your hand and they smile

And they buy you a drink

They say we’ll be your friends

We’ll stick with you till the end

Ah but everybody’s only

Looking out for themselves

And you say well who can you trust

I’ll tell you it’s just

Nobody else’s money

Thomas Gray for Cyndi Lauper – 1983

When all is said and done, this is about Respect.

You want to build a team, a network of people willing if not downright looking forward to working with you; to join your team and create amazing things, to return to your teams – time and again – and continue to build great things?

Well then:

Respect them, and show them they are Respected.

Respect the deals that are made and never make anyone have to ask for their money.

Of key importance is that we remember that:

  • Putting people in a position to have to ask for their money, especially more than once, is demeaning to and disrespectful of them.
  • These people are working for you, they are not working for your client. When your client pays you is irrelevant to when you pay your people. This is a tough part of owning one’s own business, though it remains a line it is imperative not be crossed.
  • Unless otherwise decided and contracted or agreed, all Talent and Show Crew should walk away from the theatre on the night of the show or on the day of the end of a project with a check in hand, fully paid.

Building a Team and a Network of Loyalty

Paying people on time; keeping money agreements (all agreements, really; but today’s topic is Money); these are a foundation for building and maintaining trusting, productive, fruitful ongoing relationships with vendors, freelance production professionals and talent…all with whom one works and with whom one hopes to work, again.

Unless otherwise decided and contracted or agreed, all Talent and Show Crew should depart the theatre on the night of any show or production with a check in hand, fully paid.

Frankly, it’s a great opportunity for reinforcing the bond that has been established through working together, after the curtain has dropped and during load-out, to be able to circulate among one’s crew and team, handing these men and women their envelopes, looking them in the eye while personally thanking them for the gift of their efforts, skills and talents in support of the vision…your vision that has likely become a collective vision as y’all’ve worked side-by-side on making it happen.

(In my case this process more often involves hugs and a few happy tears…but that’s just me.)

As a freelancer, back in my early days in San Francisco, I discovered that when I offered a 5% discount for being paid on the day of the event, the City of San Francisco would jump on that and I would be paid on the day of the event…saving me weeks of wondering when I’d see the money AND keeping relationships comfy and clean for years of successive projects at and around City Hall.

[Personal Note: I did try that “discount thing” here in Dubai, with the result that the client paid me a week late AND took the discount! So, that isn’t necessarily a foolproof technique.]

The point is that the actual payment of agreed-upon fees directly affects the working relationship. Keep it clean and free of doubt; it will come back to you a thousandfold in respect, loyalty, performance.

Now: About Time

Looking back across the table to deliverables and deadlines; again…

  • Keep the Agreement
  • Be on Time
  • Deliver on time
  • Make the call on time
  • Do whatever you said you’d do on time…
  • Avoid keeping people waiting, whether they be teammates, colleagues or audience members

We’ve talked before about Time, specifically about the Power of Time with “Time and Timing” and the full grasp and mapping of Time in “Time & Timing – Rudiment to Complement” .

So, today, a brief rant-ette on the ramifications of inattention to Time.

Time Agreements – making and keeping them.

As freelance, staff, vendor or colleague; one’s Time Agreements are of vital imortance to the perceived integrity and very real dependability of oneself and the value of one’s word.

Just as the above conversation of payment on time supports Trust in Professional Relationships; so, too, do all Time Agreements serve to strengthen and support one’s integrity and the tenor of the Team one builds and with which one works.

As has been cited in this space, before: one person arriving ten minutes late to a meeting of six colleagues has effectively wasted 60 expensive minutes; a full hour of staff time. Lateness has a price in the micro and the macro; irrespective of the reason for it, there is rarely rationale.

  • be on time
  • pay on time
  • deliver on time – or early

…and the moment one knows one is not going to arrive / pay / deliver on time is the time to alert the concerned parties. Announcing one is late at the moment one is late is pointless; by then, that secret is already out. This applies, by the way, to ANY moment after people have begun to travel to gather for said meeting or function.

…And to perception. Meetings and professional commitments are not free-standing. People plan their days and work flow around meetings such that a cancellation even a few hours beforehand does not alleviate serious negative fallout. Companies staff up based on delivery schedules; failure to meet that schedule can cost significant amounts of money in lost or idle staff time (and overtime when running to compensate for your lateness). Be sensitive to the ramifications of failure to keep agreements, to keep one’s word.

People and companies make plans based on agreements made. Failure to adhere to agreements can have ramifications far beyond anything one might see or assume.

Don’t commit unless you can do it; and don’t fail to do it if you commit. Less than that is less than honorable. Respect your own word.

We are part of a team. Successive teams. Part of a relationship or network of relationships that depend on trust and integrity to function fully well. From Individuals to Agencies to Corporations; we are all bound to Keep Our Word; and no context is too small to merit full commitment to integrity.

No context is too small to merit full commitment to Integrity.


Billions of readers throughout the Milky Way and Andromeda Galaxies have discovered “IMHO: Creating Compelling Experience.” A free, downloadable eBook on the tenets and methodologies we use to…create compelling experience. The book can be found in the iBooks app on any Apple device, in iTunes or at this link.

Reality Cannot be Taught…

…thus critically, it must be learned through Experience.

If you graduated from Design or Production School anytime within the past three years; you are not yet ready to go out on your own.

Rarely, ever so rarely, does one graduate from school ready to open one’s own shop. Virtually everyone from Accountants to Engineers to Therapists and Physicians goes through something akin to an Apprenticeship before putting their own name on a door.

Does a doctor graduate Medical School, grab a scalpel and start transplanting hearts? Years of Residency await; closely supervised, mentored, to be guided through test after test, practice and more practice before s/he begins to Practice solo.

[I do not for a moment, btw, suggest that Experience Design and Production takes nearly the study that Medicine requires – I’m simply making the point that practice is a crucial component in the preparation for virtually any profession or craft.]

Just as any Professional must experience the practical application of the theories, disciplines and methodologies s/he’s learned in school in order to best use said learning with awareness of the random nuance that accompanies the Human Factor; so, too, must Designers and Creatives and Stage Managers and Producers see their work in three-dimensional (and now four-dimensional) presence in the field to truly know how what is created will play.

One must have actually Built It to Know It.

We have spoken of this, before, in “A Word to the Wise”. The subject arises, again now, due to a couple of recent experiences we’ve had, professionally.

These instances? A lecture given last year at EMDI Dubai and this year’s EMDI graduation ceremony.

I love teaching at EMDI and can’t get enough of those students (though may never again be invited, after this post is published); they are intelligent, earnest, committed, aspirational and they listen. But in class that night, during Q&A, after several questions about finding or “getting” clients, something dawned on me; so, I asked.

“How many of you are planning on opening your own Event companies after graduation?” Easily a third of the room raised hands.

I came back with, “Nooooo, nononono. That is not how you get clients. If anything, it is how you will get unhappy clients…” I explained that one must first work for others…a lot; working on an event from concept development all the way through production and load out; sweeping out dressing rooms, bringing water to testy talent, scheduling the loading dock, doing every little job there is that adds up to the Whole of the production.

That is where reputations are made, that is where the beginnings of a career actually take root. Years of working for other companies and Individuals is where one’s own reputation is forged. Being noticed for the work done, the creativity applied, the equanimity under pressure (look it up); that’s where Clients will come from.

Having “interned” by staffing events is good experience, but it is barely scratching the surface. Allow me to put a finer point on that: Staffing an Event is not an “internship” and, while it offers valuable experience, it does in no way render one “Experienced.”

Being a part of the team from the very beginning; discovering idiosyncrasies of clients, venues and vendors and ironing out obstacles and misunderstandings on the fly while keeping one’s production on schedule for curtain up on schedule and being fully responsible for anything that’s forgotten or overlooked is critical to one’s ultimate success as stage manager, production manager, producer, director, anything.

Having to solve one’s own mistakes.

Working three days on an event is not Production Experience; it is only a taste.

Only. A. Taste.

I believe it is the responsibility of Professional schools to emphasize the fact that these schools actually and realistically prepare the students to learn; a learning that will happen after graduation. No student should graduate with the expectation that s/he now knows everything needed to launch a businesses.

This is unfair to the students, vastly unfair to upcoming clients and ultimately deleterious to professionals in the Show and Experience industry, overall.

So. Are they being taught this? That is not my sense, here in Dubai.

Which brings me to last week’s Graduation Ceremony.

As a Production, it was pretty bad; as an event, it was average; as an Experience, it was disappointing; as a showcase for a Graduating Class of Event Professionals, it was downright embarrassing.

A part of me feels awful for saying this; as these students truly are great and most of them carry the potential for becoming good and excellent producers. A few came up to me during the event, asking if the night was going to merit “…better than a C-plus?” (That’s the grade I gave last year’s ceremony; which I had shared in class, this year…)

Plus; the students even gave me an award! Most cool…


Newly graduated men and women of EMDI; I feel a bit bad about this, but I can’t give that ceremony more than a C+. The lighting was better (thanks to ECLIPSE) and the room was prettier on entry; but beyond that, the event was so poorly designed and sloppily run that it elicited running commentary among the guest faculty and event professionals in the room throughout the night.

Specifically and not all-inclusively (diagrams at bottom of column):

  • the program started nearly 45 minutes late.
  • If any of the speakers had rehearsed, this was not in evidence. Neither most of the professionals nor the students.
  • Not all facts had been checked.
  • A vast dance floor split the space between the audience and the stage
  • on which was a big, ugly, unmasked monitor and
  • across which every speaker had to walk to get to the lectern, every student had to walk to collect the Diploma or Class Award.
  • Taking perhaps 10 seconds per trip across the boards.
  • Ten seconds x even just 100 people = 1000 seconds = 16 minutes while people waited. Sixteen minutes.
  • Mounting the stage meant climbing a step unit with no handrails and no ASM (assistant stage manager) at the stairs to extend a hand for security on the way up (and some of these women wore some impressive heels)
  • Descending the stage meant descending another stage unit; again with no railing, no ASM, and several hearts in throats as young women carefully found their way down them.
  • The stage was just plain poorly placed; requiring travel by anyone called to it.
  • The talent entertainment was of and by the students. In theory, this is a nice thought; but what was brought to mind by the seriously off-key soloist and poorly-rehearsed dance troupe was Noel Coward’s “Don’t Put Your Daughter on the Stage, Mrs. Worthington.”

“Don’t put your daughter on the stage, Mrs. Worthington.

Don’t put your daughter on the stage.

The profession is overcrowded,

And the struggle’s pretty tough,

And admitting the fact

She’s burning to act,

That isn’t quite enough…”

These young people are adults; they are old enough to be told the truth. If an act isn’t ready to present; that information should be shared with the Talent…lest they be subject to more public critique. Such as this…but more brutal.

Correcting for any of these above-cited production errors would cost precisely nothing.

But what rumbles beneath the surface here, what is cause for professional concern, the elephant in THIS room is the answer to the question;

“Is this what these kids are being taught is good production?”

Is this what they are off to emulate with their degrees?

EMDI is arguably the premiere Production Management school in the Middle East. That being the case, one would expect the graduation ceremony to be a sparkling showcase of their best work. Flawlessly designed and run with precision, style, professionalism and sophistication, the graduation event is a fantastic opportunity to impress Those Who Hire.

None of this costs money; all it takes is thought and planning.

I believe, strongly, that it is the responsibility of the school to espouse reaching for the best in Production Value; eschewing anything that falls short of the best possible work and sending new producers out into the world with a strong sense of quality of production…including attention to detail, mastery of Time and commitment to smooth and compelling experience.

Otherwise, why do this?

Do these graduates leave that evening thinking they’ve been a part of an excellent production?

If so, they are misled and mistaken and I, as a potential employer, am let down… these graduates, if that Graduation Ceremony is their Standard, are not prepared to deliver the best possible show, event or experience to any clients. While these students pay dearly for the education they get; do they leave there knowing that they need to do far better than their own graduation ceremony in order to be successful in this industry?

If, on the other hand, this is just a party for family and friends; maybe stop inviting professionals and do a separate showcase.

A Final Note:

In my experience, I have worked with scores of EMDI undergrads on other events; finding some who rise to the occasion, some who are a tad challenged by the pressure, many of whom were solid and dependable potential stage managers and production staff; with very few exceptions. They took direction well and I stay in touch with a few of them with intent to continue to hire them.

On the other hand; some I visited on site on projects they worked after graduation. More often than not, I would see what I would classify as obvious gaps in production, sub-optimal staging or craft, and ask the newly-minted Producer / Stage Manager about it…only to learn that the failings of the production under their new purview were not evident to them until pointed-out.

Inductive thinking was not being applied, a critical eye had not been developed and these earnest individuals were not aware. Either unsupervised or not mentored, but evidently not practiced in making a production the best it can be. After a little mini-tutorial in applied stagecraft, they could see…but were often afraid to raise the issue with their employers.

That would be a different problem…


About that Ceremony Set-up:

Rough (VERY rough; I am no artist) comparison of options…)

What was:

Screen Shot 2015-08-07 at 10.32.57 AM

An Option:

Screen Shot 2015-08-07 at 10.33.11 AM


Interested in a refresher on The Original Five Tenets? These are excellent tools to keep one fresh, inspired, inspiring…

Billions of readers throughout the Milky Way and Andromeda Galaxies have discovered “IMHO: Creating Compelling Experience.” A free, downloadable eBook on the tenets and methodologies we use to…create compelling experience, it can be found in the iBooks app on any Apple device, in iTunes or at this link.

Wait! What? It Has a Toothpick?!


Can one covet what one already has?

My Swiss Army Knife. I was in Boy Scouts; hiking and camping in the mountains of Oregon when I was given mine. For boys of a certain era, I believe, the possession of such a wonder was almost a rite of passage, a coming of age, the precursor to Mountain Manhood. Owning one made one Cool…and able to accomplish anything.

I could whittle with the best, open things, pry things, cut kindling or meat or rope. I could do it all, and was sure to carry this instrument with me at all times; Be Prepared.

One evening, over an actual campfire with a group of guys, as we cooked and ate our burgers, all with our Swiss Army Knives attached to our belts; one of the guys got some gristle stuck between his teeth.

“Anyone got a toothpick…” he asked. Two of us looked uselessly at each other, thinking “Who packs toothpicks for a camping trip?”

The fourth guy reached for his SAK, pulled out the toothpick and silently, smugly, handed it to him.

“Wait! WHAT? Yours has a toothpick!!?”

“YOURS have toothpicks…” he quietly said.


Who knew?!

Life Lesson: One ought never to assume one knows everything about anything; no matter how familiar one is with that thing…or how familiar one believes one is with said Thing.

Working with people – be this on a creative or production team or in virtually any context – one can easily come to assume (See Exploration of Assumption) one knows everything relevant about one’s teammates or those whom s/he is directing. This is never so. People can almost always surprise us with another layer of creativity, another applicable experience from the past to apply to today’s problem, a deeper understanding of some thing or other which can miraculously expand horizons or enrich an experience.

Keep asking questions, keep minds open; as a project unfolds through its process, see to it that the atmosphere is open for contribution, innovation, exploration of possibility outside one’s own experience, vast or otherwise.

Likewise, being familiar with or “knowing” another’s Body of Work can make one an expert in what that person has done; but not an expert on that person or what that person can do.

Be open, expect surprises, seek them out. I speak from show and experience production: I’ll wager, though, that this dynamic applies in almost any business or academic context.

You’ve worked with scores of designers, legions of creatives, producers, technicians. They’re all different…and can each and all surprise you.

I’m just saying that simply because someone has “Art Director” on the business card, s/he may or may not work as other Art Directors work…not all Creative Directors live in a cloud of their own reality (though, some…) and not all Producers are…well, you know.

It’s a good rule of thumb to approach afresh each person on one’s teams…each time…to see what’s new, what characteristics may have evolved since last contact and what amazing and valuable properties may have been there all along without your awareness.

Keep exploring, remain ready to learn at all times and keep people around you who can surprise you with what they can do and how they can inspire you. I have been newly inspired in the past few weeks, by people I had inadvertently mis-evaluated based on my experience of them.

I offer, too, we should guard against forgetting that people evolve just as we, too, explore, discover, learn and grow ourselves.

Don’t be the last one to know about the toothpick. Explore.

(Though, people who cannot tell a joke will probably never be able to tell one. Physics.)


Interested in a refresher on The Original Five Tenets? Good tools to keep one fresh, inspired, inspiring…

“IMHO: Creating Compelling Experience” is a free downloadable eBook on the tenets and methodologies we use to…create compelling experience. Find it in the iBooks app on any Apple device or in iTunes at this link.

Your Competition is NOT Your Enemy

“Territory folks should stick together, 

Territory folks should all be pals. 

Cowboys dance with the farmer’s daughters, 

Farmers dance with the ranchers’ gals…”

– “The Farmer and the Cowman” from “Oklahoma”

Rodgers & Hammerstein

Here in the UAE (and in certain other global businesses, industries and neighborhoods, as well) one of the most effective obstacles to the growth of a strong and healthy theme park, show and spectacle production community is the aloofness and animosity between the Principals of competing agencies and companies.

This pretty much serves to stunt the healthy growth of what could be a far more profitable and impressive industry and undermine the quality of what is being produced and built, even now.

Many GM’s, Presidents and Officers of production companies and agencies in this part of the world simply do not speak to one another. It’s as though being friendly with the Competition is seen as somehow risking damage one’s own business.

Bad call, kids.

Let’s look at some relevant clichés:

  • Keep your friends close and your enemies (but they are NOT your enemies) closer
  • In unity there is strength
  • Divide and Conquer

Let’s face it: in the UAE we are faced with a privileged though uneducated client. Blessed with budgets to make dreams happen; the client in this part of the world does not know how to shop for Show nor for the most part how to refine and define what is actually being sought.

The result is

  • vast amounts of time and money wasted on the creation of briefs that do not represent the vision of the client,
  • a purchasing and sourcing system that virtually dismisses the creativity and quality that is sought (usually after it has been developed and pitched)…and needed if the vision for this part of the world is to be realized, and
  • ridiculous production timelines that can only result in shortcuts and shortfall; practically inviting mistakes and shoddily-rushed work, especially in Events and Show
  • often astonishingly ignorant decision-making, simply out of inexperience and fear, that results in
  • shows that do not meet expectation (much less surpass it),
  • egregious budget overruns,
  • clients being taken advantage of by vendors and companies of poor repute and simple inexperience…

…all of which ultimately makes the show and spectacle industry in this part of the world look amateurish.

None of this can be addressed effectively, much less alleviated, with a Balkanized “community.” There is work to do, clients to enlighten, an industry to evolve, grow and empower. There is wonderful production to mount in collaboration with educated clients.

This cannot be managed if y’all’re not speaking to one another.

One of the best qualities of the TEA (Themed Entertainment Association) in the West, Europe and newly in Asia and the Middle East is the collegiality amongst the entire membership. Production, Technical, Fabrication, Creative companies may bid against one another on a given project; then join together to pitch on something subsequent for which this ad hoc partnership renders the resulting consortium perfect for that specific project.

This is Professional, Adult, Evolved…and PROFITABLE.

It is also why that organization has gone from an informal association of small businesses to arguably the most respected Association of Entertainment professionals in the world; counting among its membership everything from the small creative content collective or individual writer, Director & Producer to the mid-sized, kick*ss lighting, sound or technical company to Disney, Universal, Paramount, Cedar Fair…

It is through the collective action of this organization that the relationships with the Big Corporate Boys of Themed Entertainment have become normalized, payment periods have shortened, mutual respect has been engendered and strengthened…all because everyone talks to one another, collaborates with one another, supports one another.

It is not necessary to reveal trade secrets in order to be friendly with the Competition.

Imagine how it might feel to receive a phone call from a competing company, congratulating you on winning a pitch against them. You must be willing to make that same call.

Build relationships, build this business.

Sometimes y’win, sometimes y’lose, but everyone continues working…

Rather than keep distance from one another; work with one another to evolve the client / vendor / production / creative culture here in the UAE to bring it into this century.

Virtually everyone complains about clients wanting complete shows designed and budgeted in a matter of weeks (or less) as part of a Pitch. This is wildly inappropriate and wastefully expensive as well as being misleading to the client while undermining the quality of production, not to mention degrading the potential creative product.

We appreciate the fact that this dynamic has grown from a history of historical client error and out of the client’s fear of buying something that can’t be delivered (and undeniably also our own fault out of our own industries’ failure to take responsibility for self-policing and proactively educating clients – discussed elsewhere on IMHO, as it will be again).

Thus, it is our collective responsibility to assure, reassure and enlighten the client that the level of detail for which they are asking in order to make a decision is a months-long, post-contracting process that should be collaborative, not created-in-a-ten-day-vacuum.

This must be communicated as an industry, as collective. Agencies and Companies, here in the UAE, are the only ones who can change the dynamic by which all this waste can be alleviated and the quality of the collective product can be elevated to world-class. Defining and then universally accepting, working toward and standing behind a change in the way things are done here will – when all is said and done – make everyone happier, more productive, more profitable and alleviate the angst and tension between the Creators of Experience and the Clients.

Of the plethora of agencies and companies with whom we’ve worked in the UAE, each and every one of them is headed by Principals with commitment and good hearts. While we may not agree on certain ethos or always jibe culturally, even those with whom we would not work again are led by men and women passionate about the industry. This is a fact to be acknowledged, appreciated and respected; and a foundation on which can be built an even stronger industry.

These individuals should all treat one another as peers, colleagues, professional friends; we’re all in the same trenches. All can learn from one another, and only together can the members of this industry effect the changes needed in order to succeed in upgrading the product and concomitant processes.

One’s business cannot be hurt by proximity to the Competition.

There are two organizations in this area working hard at building collaborative relationships between and among the production businesses, theme parks, agencies and consultants, here in the UAE; ILEA, the International Live Events Association and the aforementioned TEA Europe / Middle East Division.

Get involved, meet one another, collaborate, make a plan of action and address the disparities that are holding back these industries, here in the Middle East.

All you GM’s and Principal Officers who aren’t speaking to one another: get together for dinner and find your common ground. You’re holding back your own industries.


[As it happens, “IMHO : Creating Compelling Experience” is still a free download from the Apple bookstore and iTunes. Free. Read it. ]


Dirhams and Dollars Down the Drain in Dubai

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The Legacy of the Carpetbaggers from the West continues to wreak havoc in its effect on the way business is done and projects are being managed in the UAE (and elsewhere).

Our position: 

There is no substitute for assiduous attention to the quality and completeness of the Experience being created at any level in Themed Entertainment, Show or Spectacle. It is our responsibility as members of this industry to police ourselves; holding ourselves and our colleagues accountable for Quality of Experience, Integrity of Production and Respect for Clients.

No excuses, no free passes, no looking the other way.

And we are not doing it.

The onslaught of the Unscrupulous, descending on the UAE at the turn of the century, selling second- and third-hand, low-quality equipment and experience with glowing Words of Descriptive Marketing – taking advantage of a newly rich and unsophisticated market, taking the money and running – planted deeply the seeds of suspicion that continue to germinate and affect business relationships, even today.

The crash that followed toward the end of the first decade then undermined even the trust inherently granted to the proverbial Big Boys; the Disney’s, the Paramount’s, the Universals… Despite the explicability of even these behemoths closing up shop and leaving, the subtextual effect of these massively expensive disappointments and departures was to further undermine trust in We Outlanders who come Bearing Themes…

The Client Culture that has evolved can be characterized as nervous, paranoid, skeptical and skittish. At virtually every level, government and private, boards and committees seeking to build want, on the one hand, assurances so comprehensive as to virtually require nearly full design before contracts are let. Primarily at scopes of small to mid-millions, the hoops and hurdles the small shop or vendor must navigate in order to obtain the work run closer to obstruction than to qualification.

Again; this is a result of clients who, from experience, fear being taken advantage of by the integrity-free in a market or industry with which they are largely unfamiliar, but in which they see great potential to showcase this part of the world. Trust is rare; even presentations of credentials citing bodies of successful, exemplary work can be cautiously dismissed as mere marketing…invalid even as presented.

Too, out of all this has come a bidding process that wastes ridiculous amounts of money of both client and vendor in creating projects and presentations in a vacuum of information and concept and competing on a field with no discernible rules…at the end of which is a Procurement Process that favors the lowest bidder irrespective of reputation, quality, experience, concept.

Thank you, 2000’s!

Subjecting Creative to a bidding process is, in and of itself, strong deterrent to quality. It only guarantees the cheapest script. If it’s the cheapest script that is wanted, irrespective of quality, take it to a classroom or ask “the best writer in the office” to write your show. (Um, not a good idea…)

Production can be “bid” to a point; though only with a careful eye to quality of product. Beware, too, the lowest price for structure, infrastructure, hard goods. Quality is not universal. It would seem unnecessary to have to say this; but again and historically right here in the UAE, paying the lowest price for production rarely…rarely…offers acceptable quality and longevity.

Business is Personal


Clients: nurture relationships with creative individuals and agencies whom you can trust, negotiate contracts as you develop relationships. Keep your business relationships close and keep them accountable. Look to your creative resources to help navigate the production pathways to uncover and develop relationships with the production resources best suited to each project.

Seriously: a supplier of creative content or direction, knowing s/he is participating in a relationship expected to last from and through project after project, is going to bond, trust and come to know the wants and needs of the client far better than a one-off vendor who prevails, delivers and departs. The product will reflect this.

Negotiate contracts, evolve relationships, save money while representing your project or brand.


The Insidious Truth of Now and How our Industry is Letting Us All Down

As this decade has unfolded, the purse strings in this part of the world have relaxed (and, in some cases, vaporized!) with vast amounts of money being invested in some of the largest projects on the planet, here in the UAE.

Question: What do you get when you take a corps of one-more-gig-before-I-retire white guys, many (but not all) alumni of and pedigreed at Disney and Universal, and cross them with projects worth billions of dollars; making them responsible only for completing the projects on time…not for the quality, success or longevity of the completed projects?

Do we need to answer that?

Add to that a veritable army of Yes Men, terrified for their jobs, vastly under qualified for the positions they hold and with virtually no experience in the industry to – and I have to say this – a head of design for a HUGE theme park project who continues to boast that he’s “…never been to a theme park.” Who hires these people and expects expert product?

This is what has developed in the UAE. Principals are in place here, at the end of their careers, pushing, pushing, pushing for completion of multi-billion dollar projects by the Announced Date, irrespective of the quality of work being done to get the doors open. Employees who raise questions about quality, completeness, manageability, missing components or technologies are pushed out or sidelined as obstructive when these people are often those most committed to quality of experience delivered.

This is not universal; it is, though, a rampant dynamic.

More than one company responsible for these showcase products are already well-known for being “Carousel gigs,” with people cycling in and out over periods of mere months as they learn they cannot work with integrity in these contexts or for these companies. Too many questions means dismissal. With silence, one’s job may be secure but the work is sub-par. Personal and professional reputations begin to outweigh the paycheck in short order.

A great number of highly-qualified individuals in the midst of building their own careers have left these projects seeking work of higher integrity.

One key principal company in this morass hasn’t regularly paid it’s employees on time for years and is well-known for non-timely-payment of vendors….

Virtually our entire industry knows this; yet our industry press continues to blithely print Opening Announcements and gaudy press releases, schmooze and shake hands over cocktails with the very companies putting these projects and the reputation of this part of the world at risk.

Recently, IAAPA held a “leadership conference” here in the UAE; part of which included tours of properties which, clearly, even the simple laws of Physics stand in the way of completion by the Announced Dates, not to mention actual logistics of time, design and construction. Nothing was said.

Dubai 2020 versus Other Dubai Projects

It will be most interesting to observe the comparison between the quality of production realized in these “permanent” projects and parks being built and that of the experiences offered in the “temporary” installations and experiences that will be a part of Dubai 2020 when that fair opens.

The work done for Dubai 2020, each pavilion being directly representative of individual countries, just may far outshine the envisioned Destinations being built, here.

We’ve been accused of being “angry…” Nah; disgusted, certainly…and deeply disappointed in seeing so much money wasted on a vision that quite possibly could be realized. Were it not for the absence of accountability, were those in control to insist on giving quality top priority and putting Qualified Individuals in positions of Decision…and backing them; this vision could be beautifully realized.

Whither accountability?

We owe our audiences better.

We owe ourselves better.

We owe the vision of Sheikh Mohammed far better.


IMHO – Creating Compelling Experience is a free download for iOS and OS X from iTunes and the iBook Store. Free. 

The Elephant in the TEAroom


It is the eve of the annual TEA Summit and Thea Awards Weekend; arguably, the most Important annual event in the Themed Entertainment Industry. At this moment, hundreds of members of this community-slash-industry, The Themed Entertainment Association — Production and Creative Executives, Writers and Technical Experts, Inventors, Project Directors, Artists…— are aboard flights and headed to Disneyland for two days of seminars, iconic speakers and intensive networking: all to wrap up on Saturday night with an Awards Night of Glamour that almost rival’s Cinderella’s Ball.

(Almost…that movie was art-directed to within an inch of it’s life; was it NOT?)

The Best of the Year’s Work is acknowledged, awarded and celebrated over this three-day show-and-tell at the highest of levels. And while the stages are filled with What Has Been Built This Year, the conversation on the floor is about Who is Building What, Next Year.

After all, it’s all about the business of The Business…and everyone wants to be a part of it.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

As hands are shaken and awards are given, amidst the congratulations and the laughter and as “would you believe it…” anecdotes are shared; there exists, on the periphery, a vibrant conversation on this business that this writer has been attempting to bring into the foreground for a couple of years, with little success.

It has to do with self-awareness, responsibility for the business & for business best practices, and the obligations inherent in leadership.

To be more direct:

  • We, as leaders, are responsible for how we and our peers represent when working in other countries.
  • We are responsible for delivering the best possible product irrespective of context or client.
  • There is no excuse for delivering substandard work; we can and are morally obligated to encourage our colleagues and peers — and competitors — to maintain the highest standards.
    • The other side of that is calling out those who do deliver poor quality work. Such work harms our industry and, not so subtly, affects those of us from the same country as s/he who delivers poorly.
  • We can be Ambassadors of Best Practices.
    • This includes how to treat laborers well and the financial value of that philosophy.
    • This includes the concept of Green-ness and awareness of resource consumption.
    • This includes plenty of other stuff…
  • We pay the price for conduct unbecoming; whether such conduct is intentional or inadvertent.
  • That being said, we can be responsible for maintaining, within our industry, awareness of negative trends that can (and have) become virtually cliche and we should support methods of eradication and enlightenment to said trends and actions.

These are areas of paramount importance to any industry doing business out-of-town; from across a state line to beyond national borders, across oceans and most especially across language barriers. What we’ve learned at IMHO, anecdotally, is that the response to any article posted or podcast presented on these subjects unwaveringly result in significant spikes in metrics and in online and offline response…especially from the Next Generation of professionals currently stepping into place.

Many in our industry are hungry to discuss and be positive influence in these and related areas.

This is heartening and encouraging and, imho, well worth heeding on the part of institutional leadership in any business or industry.

Conversations on these subjects are taking place everywhere; kitchens and patios at parties, over cocktails, over dessert at dinner, over lunch on job sites, at picnics. While we’d like to see Consciousness Conversations such as these taking place as part of the Official Agendas of both TEA and IAAPA; until then, we offer this…

An Open Agenda for Casual Business Conversation.

After you’ve asked, “how’s the family…?”

Perhaps you can chat about these…

Diplomacy 101: Condescension Communicates

To paraphrase Jeff Foxworthy, You might be a racist if… you’ve ever said the words, “Those people…” and followed with some generalization applied to what a given population or demographic will or won’t do with regard to maintenance or upkeep to your design or production.

  1. That is a racist comment, full stop. It could be sexist, too, depending on who says it and when. Whether or not some of one’s best friends and colleagues are also members of that group, and whether or not one is at all comfortable with the fact that one may be just a little bit racist does not alter reality. Not even with a magic wand. Be aware of it, guard against it, nip it in the bud and freaking acknowledge it when one sees it in oneself. We’re only human; most of us aren’t perfect.
  2. IT DOES NOT MATTER WHAT “THEY” WILL DO WITH IT when the project has been handed off. There is nothing that excuses “designing-down” to a population or client. Our job is to do the absolute best work possible, to prepare the receiving client to manage and maintain in the most efficient, best possible way, and hand it off. Period.
  3. Nothing mitigates that obligation.

“Those people” aren’t stupid. “They” are just as smart as the rest of us and, while there may be an absence of knowledge in our areas of expertise, while there may be a virtually crippling lack of experience or failure to grasp certain concepts with which we Westerners may be almost inherently (or culturally) familiar; this does not mean the mind across the table or desk from you is not just as sharp as yours. Maybe even smarter, as you are probably speaking your native tongue which may be the other person’s third, fourth or fifth language.

BTW: condescension crosses all language barriers; it is readily recognizable on an international scale. We’ve seen respected companies lose massive contracts due to the overt condescension expressed from the Home Office over too great a time. Just sayin’.

Integrity 204: These Ain’t Your Daddy’s Press Releases

Used to be, development companies could issue a press release and make promises and predictions about a project. Those releases would be picked up by industry or mainstream press and repeated. People would read them and consider them to be truthful, make assessments (and, in our case, plans to visit or participate) and do so. Showtime would come and people would travel from far and near to see this thing and, having been told nothing different, would embrace what they experienced as exactly what they’d read it would be…trusting that this is the best, possible experience without even thinking about it.

Research on past predictions would entail dusty back room and microfiche. No more.

Now, It’s all google-able. If we say, today, that our park will be the utmost in immersive guest experience; those words will be there to fuel expectation on Opening Day…and today’s Opening Day Expectation is far more sophisticated, more aware and certainly more critical of failure than those of generations past.

As such, it follows that our Industry Press is bound to report the Actual as zealously as were the Predictions reported.

We, as an industry, ought to be policing ourselves on a casual, offline, “keep your act together, brother” and “here’s the best way to do it” basis. or…

It’s Your (Financial) Ass 233: Social Media Will Bust You

Day One “Opening Day:” 4- and 8- and 10-hour flights land, the doors open and thousands of Tweeters and Instagrammers and FaceBookers and YouTubers and Snapchatters eagerly flood through your gates or to your box offices.

And if, on said Day One, what is delivered falls short of what was promised; Social Media will Cut You Down before the day is out. The reality will be everywhere, the reviews will be legion, the message will be “don’t come!”

Business and Management Skills 455: ExPat Agony

“Well, back at Disney…” or “When I was at Universal…”

Do. Not. Say. This.

DON’T say it.

Seriously, Just don’t say it.

This talk even bugs the other alums in the room. Pretty much everyone has worked for one or the other or both the Big Boys by now. Just can it. One is making NO friends with this name-dropping and one is definitely making one’s own job significantly harder…probably more so with the other alums witinin earshot than with the rank-and-file who probably just think the speaker sounds arrogant and old.

Unless you are Joe Rohde. Then, you can say anything you want.

As an Expert Expat, one has been brought in because of one’s experience. There is NO question that Disney and Universal generally do it best, have some of the best processes and procedures and offer great models for approaching a given project.

Though, do notice the specific words used in that previous sentence…

They do not offer the ONLY way to do anything, nor always the ONLY BEST way. Do not lose sight of the fact that even these Big Boys have learned massive amounts from massive mistakes made and as a result have evolved their own processes and philosophies from Paris to Hong Kong to a virtually millennial evolution in the approach to Shanghai that is hurtling toward realization.

What one knows from experience in Anaheim, Orlando, Tokyo or wherever is a great beginning to learning the process of doing it “here.”

As Expatriate, Western “Experts”; we are brought in NOT because we already know the answers. No, we are brought in because we are assumed to have the ability to discover and CREATE the best answers…if we want to do the best jobs, that is.

And how do we create these answers? By applying our bodies of knowledge and experience to what we learn before acting in a given, new context and using our judgement with that experience to craft original approaches to the cross-cultural work we now do.

The courses we take, the processes we apply, the way we build and create may look very similar to ways which he have learned work well in other contexts. But, if we parachute in and begin to apply without first truly investigating and learning the lay of the land, where the cultural rifts and gullies are; we are shortchanging ourselves, our clients and ultimately our audiences.


Graduate Level: The Burden of White Male Privilege

Last thing. If you are a Middle-aged White Guy (or Gal, but not so much I think); just don’t forget that you are truly burdened with exhaustive and sometimes exhausting Privilege. Such privilege will certainly get doors opened, elicit deference and favors… It is also a powerful barrier to hearing the Truth when the Truth needs to be spoken. You can be feared, as many believe they can lose their jobs by offending or even delivering bad news.

This can threaten the quality of an entire project. Important information can be missed or hidden.

Such Privilege obligates outreach and mitigation by those privileged. It is the responsibility of the privileged to alleviate the fear of candor and to invite initiative. It’s a big job; and many a powerful executive from the west has failed without comprehending why.

Talk to everyone. Learn their names. Ask about their families and their work backgrounds. And LISTEN. Chances are you’ll be blown away by what and who you learn is on your team.

So. Talk amongst yourselves and perhaps, next year, we can get this conversation onto the dais.


IMHO – Creating Compelling Experience is a free download for iOS and OS X from iTunes and the iBook Store. Free. 

Six Principles of Leadership: The Creative Pathway

Creatives can be Led, Creatives can be Managed; Creatives cannot be Controlled.

That being said; the opposite of “Control” is not necessarily “Out of Control”…

Creative Leadership and the Leadership of Creatives, in this decade of this century, is dependent on these critical qualities in and from the ostensible Leader…

  • Authentic Respect
  • Ongoing & Focused Listening
  • Passion for the Work
  • Humility
  • Exhibited Trust
  • Willingness to Teach and to Learn

Gone are the days of old-fashioned, last-century, top-down Management styles; this, to the confused frustration of many a Managing Director, Creative Director, General Manager, Project Manager, Chairman or CEO. No longer can one Direct or Lead from a position of erstwhile power; for that “power” is now largely irrelevant. Expecting to be followed, heard, or even respected by one’s creative team simply due to a title and body of work simply won’t cut it with today’s evolved Creatives.

Leadership has evolved, as well.

Managing Creativity is, most effectively and productively, inherently and fundamentally collaborative.

Before going into specifics of each Leadership Quality, let’s take a look at the most effective model of such collaborative team-building, inspiration and work: The Theatre.

In Theatre, everyone on the team has an opinion and tends to share it. All members of the team share a passion for what they do and for connecting the story with the audience. The most successful Directors listen to – and hear – everyone; then s/he decides…

Once the Director’s decision is made, the team then aligns and supports the Director in the Vision, the course, the production. Each has been heard, the decision has been made, onward to storytelling victory!

Everyone having been heard gives each individual a sense of being appreciated and respected, as well as offering a sense of investment in the final product. This is collaboration at its most basic and simplest…and a resonant model.

Today, a Creative Leader – or one who Leads Creatives – must be a part of the team. The clearest analogy is, IMHO, to “sit on the same side of the table” as the rest of the team.

So, to the Principles.

Authentic Respect

A Leader must truly respect the team. This means knowing who each is, knowing names, origins, backgrounds, strengths, weaknesses, passions… When launching a project with a new team, a powerful first step is to informally “interview” the members of the team; asking open questions and hearing the answers…answers that often reveal more about the individual than may lie on the surface.

Avoid being “all business,” as people respond better and are far more creative once there is some level of connection amongst the group and with the Leader or Director. Creatives, today … all people, actually … respond more fully and engage more completely when they sense a connection…and this connection cannot be faked.

To respect an individual with whom one works, one must know the individual. Such respect for one’s team engenders reciprocal respect for the Leader. Team members feel seen and heard; thus respected. Thus willing to jump in and contribute without hesitation. Thus giving the process the benefit of the full wealth of talent and creativity.

Ongoing & Focused Listening

There is no rush. Creativity takes the time it takes. Communication takes the time it takes. So, Listen. Fully. Be focused on what is being said and save the evaluation of what’s offered and the formulation of the response to it until the entire idea or concept being shared is articulated and on the table.

You know what we’re saying; it takes discipline to shut down the voice in one’s head that is evaluating and preparing the response to what someone is saying and simply hear everything being said. Countless are the times that the most salient of points is made at the end of an idea, “share” or rant.

Let ‘em talk. Hear all of what is being said before beginning to formulate a response.

Here’s a great rule of thumb, taken from documentary filmmaking. When interviewing a subject, on camera; a question is asked, then answered. It is almost instinctive to, when the interviewee has finished responding, to immediately jump in with another question…to fill the silence with something. However, if the interviewer exercises the discipline to remain silent, to sit with and consider what has just been shared, more often than not it is the interviewee who steps back in with more…and this “more” is usually The Quote or The Moment for which the segment is remembered.

Sometimes, such discipline can completely change the tone and tenor of an interview.

Try this in creative meetings, management meetings. When someone makes a statement, responds to a question or otherwise shares or contributes; take a breath before responding. Use that breath to consider what was just said in it’s entirety and in the context of the conversation. Look around the room and see who’s bursting to contribute…if nothing else, it can make one look smarter!

And, amazingly, these brief pauses to think and consider can actually shorten the time taken to create or develop The Perfect Concept…as everyone at the table is spending more time thinking while they watch you!

Give it a go.

Passion for the Work

A Leader Leads with Passion

This cannot be faked. One who is not passionate about creating experience cannot inspire passion in others. And, far and away, it is the Passion of the Leader that fuels everything else in the process.

It is one’s Passion that most effectively inspires others to invest fully, to participate unhesitatingly, to do their best work in support of the vision.

Articulating one’s Passion, sharing and showing one’s enthusiasm for, commitment to and personal fulfillment derived from the work is – if not the only way – by far the most effective way of gaining the respect and investment of one’s team.

If you’re doing it for the money, do something else. While it is possible to recruit creatives to one’s team with money; the money will not engage them. It is the identification of a Passionate Person of Like Mind that will engage, and will result in the best work.

People may take a job for the money; they will be of far more value when their passion for the work, the craft, the project – for connecting with the audience is met and matched by the Leader. They’ll fight to return and work again with that Leader.



The Leader need not know everything.

The Leader must know how to learn or get or find everything. Leadership is not about telling others what to do; it is about inspiring others to do their best work; even inspiring them to discover new levels of creative insight within themselves.

Letting go of preconceptions about being the Leader and embracing the fact that s/he does not know everything gives the rest of the team the opportunity to contribute appreciable value. Most people enjoy being able to enlighten or expand the knowledge of the Leader through the creative process.

Humility in Leadership inspires increased self-worth on the part of the team members.

Trust, Exhibited

That means trust your people to do their jobs. Be clear about what is wanted and needed; the parameters and responsibilities; be sure that the scope and deadlines are understood and agreed. Then, get out of the way and allow the person to work in the manner in which they do their best work; responsible for the result.

Example: When building a team and launching a project, my approach is to

  • lay out the job responsibilities and be sure they are understood
  • if appropriate, share the process or method by which I would accomplish the job; leaving plenty of room for the person accepting the responsibilities to use any process s/he feels is most appropriate – a composite of mine and hers…or just her method…
  • all I ask is that, if and when it becomes apparent that a deadline may not be met or a result not achieved, s/he comes to me with the problem so we can solve it
  • and, in seeking the solution, I usually ask the person what s/he sees at the best solution…
  • then say, “why not do that, then…”

Permission and Trust. Can’t beat ‘em.

Willingness to Teach and to Learn

Referencing the above section on Trust; a confident Leader must be willing to share the how and why of his own methodologies and practices while keeping the door wide open to learn from those whom one is teaching or leading…

Learning to Question without Challenging keeps information and insight flowing in both directions. The simple fact that someone has a different way of doing things than the way one might historically have done the same thing does not mean that this other way is wrong or worse (or better)…just different.

Be willing to evolve one’s own methodologies, to embrace the new without needing to jettison the, um, old… Continuous and ongoing refreshing of one’s perspective will keep a longtime Leader fresh, relevant, sought after and respected.

Remember: Creatives are managed through Passion, not by Directive.



“IMHO – Creating Compelling Experience” the eBook is a free download from iTunes and iBooks.