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.

How to Build an Audience for Your Theme Park

Hypothetically speaking…

Let’s say one wants to build a theme park, a big one…perhaps even a collection of theme parks, in a part of the world where few yet exist; where, perhaps, even a culture of enjoying theme parks hasn’t yet become developed.

Perhaps the population of that part of the world favors this vision, yet has no actual, practical experience of Theme Parks in Their Midst.

How, then, to build and enhance anticipation for this launch; to infuse and nurture visceral excitement and a sense of participation and ownership on the part of the population in support of this visionary enterprise?

Beyond press releases and billboards; how to engage the entire country in enthusiastically supporting what is envisioned in such a way as to make citizens feel like investors in the project; talking about it, tweeting about it, publicly expressing excitement and support beyond the borders of a marketing department…?


Just a Random Idea on a Sunday afternoon; how about a “Be There, Be a Part of It” campaign?

How would that look, I wonder?

Okay, let’s say we were going to open a huge collection of high-end theme parks in a previously undeveloped area of our country that happened to be directly adjacent to a main thoroughfare between the two major cities.

Hypothetically, let’s say we are building three, fully fleshed out and operational theme parks to open, simultaneously, on Day One, under the umbrella of “OurParks”:

  • One that is all about SuperHeroes and Movies
  • One that is all about Cartoon Characters and Kids Television shows, and
  • One that is all about Exotic Areas of the World where Color, Movement and Dance are Popular…

How to maximize this great opportunity for promotion and engagement in the time before these attractions open?

Every day, as the months and years pass from Groundbreaking to Projected Opening Day, hundreds of thousands of people drive past the site… So, there’s our first and primary opportunity.

A huge wall hides the site, and that wall is covered with brightly-colored images that represent the Intellectual Properties and Attractions that are being built, just out of sight, behind.

Right here is our first best opportunity to engage our future audience, to recruit our global, cyberspace ambassadors.

In every section of that wall, we might print:

Be There, Be a Part of It!

go to: and learn how!

In support of this campaign, we might print the same information in every ad and on every billboard; growing more specific as each park developed its own marketing strategy and audience: 

From the beginning, from well before Opening Day, people could hit that website and we could begin to collect data on them. Data we can then use to further engage; keeping them informed as they could then keep those in their networks informed, as well. Spreading the word about developments, surprises, characters, special pre-opening events and opportunities for participation in such events.

For instance; in addition to asking

  • name
  • age
  • gender
  • number in family
  • city of residence
  • email address
  • et cetera…

We can also ask:

  • Who is your favorite superhero
  • Who is your favorite cartoon character
  • Do you like to Dance?
  • Do you like to Sing?

We can collect all sorts of pre-qualifying, pre-selecting, advance information to turn around and use for targeted marketing as and when we are ready.

We can sign them to our Twitter Feed, Instagram, YouTube and Vimeo Channels…

Personal Content Providors

We can then have this army of social networkers participate in the creation or actual provision of our content.

I said

“we can then have this army of social networkers

participate in the

creation or actual provision of our content.”

In making the sharing of personal network data attractive to this audience of potential millions, we can exponentially maximize the spreading of our word(s).

How do we make it attractive to our desired audience to share such information? Only through this site can a person:

  • Register for free VIP passes to Opening Day at any one of OurParks
  • Be invited to special, Pre-Opening Events and Character Meet-and-Greets
  • Be invited to special “hardhat” tours of the site in advance of Opening
  • Be eligible to be a part of any pre-opening or Opening Day or Opening Week Events or Experiences…
  • Myriad, effective contests and competitions can be orchestrated via this site

Through offers and experiences such as these, we can engender connection and personal investment in what is happening behind the hoarding. We can guide the conversation, leak information, embrace opportunity for speculation and discussion amongst the demographics on who and when and how and what to far greater degree than simple billboards, press releases and television advertising.

Hmmm, and speaking of Television, YouTube and Vimeo

We could “cast” our pre-opening video advertising from this database.

Offering kids (and their parents) the opportunity to “audition” for music video-style advertising for each of the Parks, we offer deeper engagement and even more excitement. By offering the opportunity to submit headshots and/or audition videos, we can build excitement for a huge, “Audition Event” with Celebrity Judges and Choreographers selecting the winners…

Which then fosters anticipation for these video ads to appear on TV or online. Offering video auditions for popular vote and televising the audition event could well increase massive individual invested interest in the ads, thus in the parks.

Certain “personalities” may surface through this process; to the extent that we may even find a “face” or two or ten to represent the fun personalities of each park audience. Faces that can appear on billboards, promote special events inside the park, represent the local culture and population as part of this fantastic new place we are building or, by that time, will have built.

All by offering advance information via our special website; then using the information collected in creative ways to both spread the word and engage our audience more deeply, long before Opening Day.

Just an idea on a Sunday afternoon.

Just a Hypothetical idea…

Were I building a theme park; I’d probably look at this as part of what I’d do to engage the population of my country. Hypothetically.

But that’s just me.



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

Game Change

Diagon Alley

The World of Themed Entertainment is On Notice; whether or not we’ve Noticed.

This sharp, upward curve began with Universal’s opening of the Gates to Hogsmeade and The Wizarding World of Harry Potter; for the first time meeting and surpassing the Theming Standard heretofore set by Disney. Disney has followed with New Fantasyland, and the lushness of those experiences have now been completely superseded by Universal’s Diagon Alley.

And Buckle Up! …as Disney Shanghai opens its doors to heightened levels of group intimacy and marvelousness…

The bar is irrevocably raised, the gauntlet thrown down, and not just among the Big Boys. Whereas, historically, Disney set the standard for immersiveness and Universal led the way in the visceral; now, over the past few years, even the Regional Parks have been upping their game; Cedar Point a leader among them.

Audiences are becoming more sophisticated and more discerning; the more they know, the more they expect. Getting people to part with their hard-earned money, to leave the comfort of home, of entertainment center and keyboard, is calling for more fully fleshed-out experiences of greater immersiveness and a more nuanced, intimate atmosphere than has been delivered in the past.

Nowhere is Noticing more crucial, nowhere is more money riding on more projects meeting a higher standard, than in the UAE.

The last time the UAE began opening up and announcing themed experiences as destination-augmentation was in the early 2000’s; as our industry press waxed rhapsodic about the “amazingly themed” shopping malls that were supposedly rising from the sands of the desert. Closer inspection revealed collections of repainted and refurbished carnival and FEC attractions; virtual sow’s ears dressed up and positioned as experiential silk purses to an audience with a lot of money and not so much exposure to the rest of the world…yet.

The West did itself a disservice at that time in not calling out the carpetbaggers who were taking advantage of the newly-rich spenders in the UAE, surrounding nations and markets. Writing in glowing terms about this second-hand collection of white elephants was, effectively, collusion in delusion and ultimately served no one.

It made us all look bad.

Later in that decade, just as money was starting to be spent in newly-vast quantities in the UAE for projects of massive vision; the bottom fell out of the market. The money disappeared, and along with it came the vaporization of a plethora of excitingly-envisioned projects the realization of which we shall never see. Whether or not those projects would have been well-executed will never be known.

It was a disaster, and it served to further undermine the image of Dubai, Abu Dhabi and the UAE as The Next Destination Paradise. Huge developments were stopped in their tracks. Some remain as Ghost Projects, still accessible to wander through and see what magic had been envisioned. When people visit the area, we take them on this “Tour of Broken Dreams” just to see the exciting models and images of extremely creative people, unrealized.

And now, we are coming up on Round Three, The Third Time.

Will this be the proverbial Charm, or will Dubai strike out? For, should this vision not be realized, there will be no Fourth Shot. The world will turn away.

Those of us spending time and working here are betting on the Vision.

In the time it took San Francisco to build a bridge, Sheik Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum, (Vice President of the UAE and Constitutional Monarch of Dubai) has built an entire country.

His Highness has a breathtaking vision and is making that vision reality as building after other-worldly building rises into the sky, as destinations materialize, as the future comes together, here.

The place is fantastic; a panoply of myriad cultures and people in one place, supporting the vision of this part of the world as pivotal in the future of the Globe…as key player in the next Moment in Global Evolution and power.

There is, though, a very real danger in the potential for shortfall; and that danger is deceptively called “value engineering.”

What we are seeing, here, as projects are being taken from plan to platform, is the aggressive shaving of the “unnecessary” in favor of carving a prettier budget and getting an ephemeral “more” for the money that is being spent. We call it the “Curse of the MBA,” as elements are eliminated, lessened or replaced by cheaper materials in the name of profit margin and getting a better deal.

What is missed is that, especially in the world of themed entertainment and destinations, that the 30% that is shaved from the budget may well cause the remaining 70% to become that much wasted capital; as the finished whole runs a very real risk of not achieving even the sum of it’s remaining parts.

The examples are here to see and learn from. Ferrari World, a survivor of the 2008 crash, is only now beginning to recover from the cuts made to budgets during building. Over the past year, as hoarding has come down and the results of millions of dollars in reparative investment are revealed, what is emerging is a more fully populated, energetic experience where something is happening no matter where the eye comes to rest.

Nearly five years after opening, the cavernous feeling is dissipating, the two-dimensional experiences are disappearing and the newly-present lushness and depth are creating a welcoming, curiosity-inspiring, even convivial atmosphere. One can feel the difference in atmosphere, already.

The atmosphere is lush, full and far more exciting than it was even months ago. Well-done, Ferrari World!

The Parks that are currently being built in the UAE are not going to have any time after opening to fix or repair the gaps in experience that are being considered as production moves forward. If audiences show up on Opening Day to an experience that is barren, two-dimensional, reflective of budget cuts; the word on that will be out, worldwide, by the end of that day.

Social Media can kill these projects in a matter of days, before there is time to “repair.” These must be done right, the first time; they must open as complete.

And thus, then, is uncovered a cultural achilles heel in the UAE.

Our interpretation of this is an inner clash of disparate cultures. A product of having the resources to buy or build virtually anything that is desired or envisioned that is compromised by thousands of years of the honorable culture of the souk and of bartering, woven into the DNA.

The Best is what’s wanted; but it’s wanted at a lower price and faster. When bartering for anything that is already manufactured and for sale, this is a social and economic exercise that poses no risk to the product. The seller and buyer square off on either side of the carpet on the block and, once a price is agreed, the buyer walks off with the product intact. The quality of the product has not changed at all during the exchange.

This does not happen with theme parks or shows. What costs a million dollars costs a million dollars. If forced to sell for less, the seller will make adjustments to the product simply in order to stay in business, to survive after this sale or build. Materials cheapen, warranties lessen, durability is mitigated, the product is compromised. It doesn’t take much of this to affect that experience and, though one’s audience may not be able to articulate what makes an experience less compelling, that audience may not return…and may spread the word that what is being sold as Amazing is really just OK.

There will be no Next Wave.

It is imperative that quality be paramount in importance as these experiences are built. Even now, the men and women responsible for ensuring quality in many of the projects being built are daily dismayed at the decisions being made that will affect the quality of the experience. There is a very real concern that what was originally envisioned as lushly themed and intimate will devolve into something spare, too spacious, raw-edged and of “painted brick”…

We see here, all the time, production large and small with the same shortfall in detail. At every level, from shopping mall to grand opening experience; too close a look at detail will reveal sloppy standards, careless execution, what can be interpreted as a cavalier attention to detail. The people in charge, here, are as smart as people any where else; so, what is it that makes poor production values acceptable?

Nothing makes it acceptable; and this level of execution affects the experience. Sometimes directly, sometimes obliquely, but it is always affected. Whether a temporary show at a mall in Abu Dhabi, the Opening of a Dining and Entertainment complex on a beach in Dubai or the launch of a group of theme parks in the desert; completeness of execution, thoroughness of detail, lushness of experience is and shall remain paramount, or success will be elusive.

It is the responsibility of the industry press to do more than reprint press releases as these installations and developments come to be realized. Hard questions must be asked, clear eyes must be focused, we must closely watch the development and share the truth about what is being built…or we risk our own credibility.

The photo at the top of this column shows the lushness of Diagon Alley; the intimacy, the completeness, the fullness of the experience.

The photos, below, show what are evidently acceptable levels of production – projects, openings and shows presented as complete – that are, in fact, unacceptable; the existence of which dilutes what is sold as a finished experience.

No names and places. The purpose is not to name names and point fingers, the purpose is to wave flags.

There is time and there is money to do these projects correctly. That is what is sought.



“IMHO – Creating Compelling Experience” remains a free download from iBooks or iTunes. Grab it.


Show Plaza, during opening night


main show plaza opening night

Staples and Screws

Staples and Screws


Main thoroughfare, Opening Day

Main Thoroughfare, Opening Day


Taking Your “Elevator Pitch” to IAAPA

So, you’re off to IAAPA.

Most people heading to this annual confab in Orlando, next week, are going to seek business, meet with colleagues, discover new technologies and resources for adoption and enhancing product.

Some, though, will be looking for new contacts – or the renewal of old contacts – in search of a job or gig.

Things are happening all over the world in Themed Entertainment, these days, and this is a good year to be fresh and available. Heck, it may be a good year to be re-freshed and available!

Last week, the Themed Entertainment Association (TEA) held one of its valuable NextGen Webinars in support of preparing the current crop of Able & Gifted young…and credentialed…creative minds for meeting prospective employers, mentors, advisors and generally circulating in the global milieu of themed entertainment and the effective seeking of jobs, therein.

So, for those of you who missed the webinar, or those of you who were on the broadcast and want a refresher, I am publishing a video of our Keynote, here (at the bottom of the page), along with bullets of the points made in our section of the conversation.

The title was:

“Positioning Yourself to Become a Themed Entertainment Pro” – with the sub-headers of…

  • How do I find work in this industry?
  • How can I make a good impression?
  • How can I build my personal brand?

Positioning versus Preparation

The overarching umbrella for all of this is to Be Authentic. There is no secret to this; there is only this Key. So, in light of that, there is Preparation for articulating one’s authenticity, then Positioning for the job one seeks…as treads the path, seeking employment.

Prepare … by knowing who you are; what you are good at doing, what you thrill at doing, what fulfills you that you can do. Do listen to others when they offer opinions on what you “should” do; but make your decision based on what you want to do.

What’s a “Pro”?

The first distinction we make is the colloquially-nuanced difference between the words “Pro” and “Professional.” One can be both, though being a Professional does not necessarily qualify one as a Pro in the sense of being at the top of the game. It is quite possible – indeed, advisable – to enter the arena conducting oneself as a Professional. That is about conduct, ethics, ethos and assiduous attention to detail.


About a hundred years later, with much accomplishment under the proverbial belt, one gets to call oneself a Pro. Conduct yourself professionally for long enough and you will become a Pro.

Remember; and any of you who’ve been at the TEA Summit or SATE have heard from those of us gathered by the august and estimable Imagineer in Residence at SCAD, George Head, know; the degree you receive is only the beginning of your professional pathway. It is your ticket to find your way; not a substitute for actually having experience.

So, to get the experience; you gotta getta job.

Elevator Pitch

The term “Elevator Pitch” comes from the extemporaneous encounter in an elevator with a person to whom you wish to pitch an idea (or, in this case, to pitch yourself).

You have 30 seconds. What are you going to say? You’re wanting to impress with your value, then get an interview. This is not your interview.

  • Of course, first, it depends on who is the Pitchee. If one is wanting to be a creative director or a show producer – either of which one might choose to be, based on skill and talent – on one’s way to Production Executive-hood; it would depend on who was encountered, which skills or assets one might highlight in that spare window of opportunity which pitch one might lob.
  • Thus, it might be handy to have more than one “pitch” in the arsenal for use at the right opportunity.
  • Practice on your friends, aloud; telling them what you want to do and what you bring to the table that is uniquely suited to that. (You might try practicing on your parents, but they’ll probably insist you get a Real Job and stop wasting your time with Fairydust. So, be prepared for that. Your Grandma will probably be more supportive. So is the way of the world.)
  • Remember: it’s not what you WANT to do that s/he needs to hear; it’s what you can do for your Pitchee that is most important.
  • And, as you elucidate your value, you must communicate your passion and commitment.
  • Qualification is Assumed, at this moment (you’ll have to prove that, later, once you’ve landed an actual interview).
  • Make it personal, from the heart, from the start. If it sounds rehearsed, you may as well go sell used cars.
  • If it would help your case, have one or two photos (and, by that, I mean ONE or TWO) of exemplary projects or accomplishments of which you are proud on your phone ready to share, accessed by a tap or two. (Do I have to suggest you build a special album and place it within the first three in the column? I didn’t think so. Keep it HANDY.)
  • Remember; just as though you are on a Manhattan sidewalk, don’t slow ‘em down and they’ll stay friendly…

Tools at Your Disposal 

Social Media

  • Don’t use the default “link” or “friend” buttons. Send a message that you’d like to connect and why…what’s in it for them?
  • Perhaps comment on something a desired contact has posted, then follow up (later) with a request to link or friend…
  • Do your research on people with whom you want to speak.
  • On the above; at least have googled these individuals before you actually meet with them. Seriously: know who you are meeting and know about their company.
  • This helps to personalize your correspondence.
  • Assume nothing; not knowledge of you, not a common frame of reference, nothing.
  • As far as that goes, don’t assume they will even respond to you. Generation after generation has a healthy percentage of people for whom Courtesy just ain’t natural. Don’t take it personally.

Portfolio or Body of Work

  • Edit the living hell out of it. Less is more.
  • Show what’s unique to you; what sets you apart. Basic skill levels are, in this context, assumed.
  • Share it digitally. You may (as an artist) carry a portfolio, but have it on a flash drive you can leave behind or in a format you can email. Now is always better and ease of retrieval trumps Big, Honkin’ Portfolio in some drawer.

You are Your Personal Brand

  • There is nothing to make up, here. Communicate YOU.
  • Nurture that which is You. Follow your own Vision or Dream for your future.
  • If, in pursuit of that dream, you discover that’s not what you want to do; that’s GREAT information. So stop, quit, move on to what newly inspires you as your vision clears.
  • There is no time limit, and there is no limit on the number of careers or jobs  you can have.
  • Nothing is forever…especially now.
  • And…don’t do it for the money. Just figure you’re not going to get rich, doing this. Some do, and not always the ones who are the best at it. There’s a lot of luck in all of this. If you can be happy not making a lot of money, you’ll be even happier if you do make a lot of money…just don’t count on that being part of the equation.
  • One must find fulfillment in putting smiles and looks of wonder on those cute, little faces at knee-height, throughout this world…

As we said, above, There is No Trick to This

  • Be authentic. If that doesn’t fly, then what you know is that you don’t want to work for that person, because it would not work! (As with dating; the true you is going to show up at some point, so may as well launch with it.)
  • Follow up…by asking how you should follow up, then doing that with a dose of reality. By that “reality,” we mean keep in mind that time flows differently for people managing companies or working in corporations. S/he may say, “…call me in a week and I’ll get back to you…,” and mean it when s/he says it. But most of these people have daily logistical support such that other people manage their calendars and their paychecks are deposited automatically … leaving them with an altered sense of time and it’s passage.
  • Be patient. It’s not personal.
  • And…don’t believe your own press. You may have been called the best thing to come out of your Art of Business or Film or Theatre School in the past decade, and perhaps you are…but what does that mean to the people for whom you want to work. That “best” is subjective and contextual; now you are playing in Reality. (Creating fantasy…ironic, ain’t it?)

So. It’s about Embracing your Passion & Being Authentic.

  • Be yourself.
  • Clean up a bit.
  • Dress nice.
  • By now you’ve heard, “Dress for the job you want, not the job(less) you have…” Even if “they” wear jeans and t-shirts to work where you want to work; class up for your first impression; you’ll make a better impression.
  • Later, when you’re in a t-shirt and someone’s on the way to a client meeting; they’ll know you know how to clean up and talk nicely. Perhaps they’ll ask you along.
  • These things matter.
  • They do.

Good Luck.

Now, get out there and get a job so’s you can hire us Seasoned Consultants to collaborate with you. We’ll help you look good and you’ll help us stay current. Win-Win.



Video of Webinar Keynote (Opens in separate window, in case you wish to refer to it while reading.)

“IMHO” the book is a free download from iBooks or iTunes. Take advantage of it!

The Humility Factor

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What does Luck have to do with our career trajectory?

Plenty; and let’s not be forgettin’.

Remembering that Luck, Timing and Circumstance often have no small amount to do with being in the right place at the right time, taking advantage of a unique circumstance to showcase (or show-off!) one’s skill or talent, meeting the right person (when s/he’s in a mood that is receptive to what we are or want to be), or whatever series of fortunate events has led us to the project on which we now work, the title we may now carry is a valuable habit to embrace.

What’s the point of this?

The point is that it does us good to remember that there are a lot of people as smart, as creative, as insightful and empathetic, as thoughtful and intuitive, as assiduous and meticulous as are we…currently pumping gas, feeding chickens, weeding gardens, picking fruit, handling garbage, working in plants and factories or…if you can imagine…being lawyers. (OK, I’m kidding with that last one.)

Some do these things, above, because they like or want to do them; though likely not most of them, I’d wager.

We are lucky to be in this particular service industry. (…and let’s not lose sight of the fact that Entertainment is a Service Industry, if we do our jobs well; there should be no distractions and the audience fully taken care-of for us to consider ourselves fully successful.) We craft experiences, tell stories in myriad ways, take people to places they’ve only imagined or which they may have thought were lost forever. We ease their minds of the daily worries while we have them in our hands.

We are very, very lucky. With that Luck comes our concomitant responsibility to embrace Humility, to remain Humble, to watch ourselves from taking ourselves too seriously and allowing us to think we in some way Deserve to be doing what we do.

So much of this, of being where we are, doing what we love do to is Luck.

How can this Humility manifest?

Listen. Listen to every one around…especially when developing an idea. Hear as may ideas and approaches as are available before deciding on a course. Sometimes, what seems the most ridiculous or mundane of ideas can have just that germ in it that inspires brilliance that might otherwise have been missed.

Listen. Listen to those in junior positions, listen to those in parallel positions, listen to those in no position to make a suggestion. One Never Knows from whence the next Idea will come.

Let Go of Ego. Rarely, rarely, rarely is One Guy’s Way the Only Way to accomplish something. It may be the way s/he does it; but frankly, if that’s the way s/he does it every time, that method or process may well be running the risk of becoming stale and irrelevant.

Don’t get stuck in past successes.

Listen to suggestion, take out the virtual toolbox, be sure the tools are polished and ready,  then apply them to the project or process in a way that is inspired by the goal, by the audience, by the story, by the other minds at the table. Allow the path to success to change with each journey; that is where Discovery lives.

Be willing to start fresh, each time. Of course, what was done before will inform what is next accomplished; yet we can allow for the possibility that a different way might be the better way. To do so, one must be open to the surrounding creative, sharp minds…all minds, actually.

Ignore Titles. People are not the jobs they hold, they are not their titles.

From the microcosm of the workplace, headquarters or team, where even the new junior member may possibly be the most realistically innovative (okay: rare, but it could happen: more often, that kid just thinks s/he’s the answer to everything.) to the broader macro of the guy on the street or the bank teller or the gas station attendant…

One never knows what experiences bring others into one’s own sphere: so, best we keep eyes and ears open to what can come our way.

Never dismiss before fully hearing. Actually, never dismiss: what may not be germane today may germinate and grow in the The Idea on the next project.

Humility. The best idea doesn’t have to be the Leader’s. The Leader is responsible for recognizing, embracing and developing the best idea…without ego. That can only be accomplished without ego. Without Assumption.

I recently came across a quote by the inimitable Sir Ken Robinson;

“The role of a creative leader is not to have all the ideas; it’s to create a culture where everyone can have ideas and feel that they are valued.”

…and the best way to see that a person feels valued is to show that person that s/he is listened-to and heard. Every idea fuels the next one. It’s organic: it’s creative physics.

And I’ll share a grave danger; that of one who listens protectively – if one is working with a previously-envisioned goal in mind and hanging onto that goal – the listening is then false, the energy in the room and the processes undertaken will reflect that falseness, that inauthenticity.

Being willing to embrace the new does not mean the New will prevail, necessarily: it only means the New will be actively considered. And the practical fact is that everything heard, somehow, ends up as some part of the project or result; whether nuanced or fully articulated, somehow it often all ends up in there.

Everything changes. Be a part of that. Be open to it. One who has the zen discipline to maintain that approach stands to be seen as far more successfully creative…and will in fact most certainly be more successful in inspiring and managing creativity than most others.

Simply keep in mind how lucky are we all to be doing what we love…and that very likely everyone else on a given team is just as lucky if not more so.

This, alone, will serve the process – and, ultimately, our audiences – ever so well.



Today, I’ve launched my new, UAE website. Take a look:


“IMHO” the ebook is, wonderfully, still a free download from iTunes or the iBooks store…but only for those who are able to appreciate the evolution of process and can let go of The Way We Do It.