The Pheromonal Element to Collaboration


…Just coming up for air after an intense few weeks directing a team from an already Big and currently Burgeoning and Evolving, Iconoclastic Global Agency on a Secret, Massive Creative Project for a Big Entertainment Company the name of which I can’t reveal or…well…you know.

Each individual on our Team of Ten was hand-picked for this project, and very few of us had ever met one another until immediately prior to the launch of the process. Yet, from our fortnight of collaboration came some of the most powerfully compelling, (realistic and physically possible) original creative concepts of which any of us have had the privileged experience of being a part for quite some time.

The atmosphere throughout the entire arc was high-energy; full of engagement, respect, acknowledgement and enthusiasm as Ideas were born, shared, augmented and articulated.

Approaching showtime, as passionate as were each of us for this far-greater-than-the-sum-of-parts Whole Experience; we were trepidatious as to how this would all be received by The Client.

This Client is as discerning and rare to impress as they come; setting standards across the industries in which we work. The overriding goal when presenting was to at least meet expectation, with perhaps an elusive dream of surpassing them…though no delusion.

As we worked, as our project took magnificent shape, we began to fully appreciate what we had and became proud and excited by our own work.

“What If…” this really blows-away the client?

Well, L’s and G’s. We did. Met and exceeded…

How did this happen? In a word: Charrette.

What the heck is a Charrette?

Born of the architectural communities of France in the 19th century; a “charrette” was actually the physical cart in which the work of architectural students was collected on the day of an exhibition. In the mid 1900’s, the word came to label an extended, working meeting in which all stakeholders to something gather to resolve conflicts and map solutions.

In the Theme Park industry – and in it’s most pure form – the charrette has become a multi-day meeting (generally 2 days, though sometimes more) of a disparately-backgrounded, differently-experienced and differently-focused group of professionals, artists, producers and stakeholders – sometimes augmented with peripheral professions or members representing audience demographics – gathered to envision possibility without boundaries for a park, land, experience, resort, destination or Experience Phenomenon of any type.

Done before the application of budget and time to a given project, this “blue-sky” session can uncover and open vast possibilities previously unimagined as differing points of view, likes and dislikes, personal histories and visions are gathered and mixed in this “pheromonal crucible” of minds and imaginations.

(Ah! There’s that word; “pheromonal.” What’s that even mean?)

I’ll get to that.

The first charrette of my career in these industries was run by the well-known Phil Hettema. Thus, the standard was set for me with this first encounter of the process. That was 20 years ago, at the beginning of a project – now fully realized – that is now ranked as one of the best theme parks in the world.

So, that’s my model of how it’s done.

Though, it is an expensive process; involving fees, travel, meals, room nights – generally at an “off-site” location in order to prevent or at least minimize distraction and keep focus on the project…in the name of thoroughness and vast freedom of imaginations, sure, but this also serves to deliver the best ROI.

(I mean, if you’re bringin’ in the pro’s, you want all of their minds and all that attention for which you’re payin’. Amirite?)

This charrette thing virtually never happens in an Agency. Time and Money usually stand right in the way.

In Agencies and Corporations, this process has effectively been pared-down and is labeled a “Brainstorm:” a couple of hours to a day in a conference room, banging out ideas under an immediate-ish deadline. Not ineffective, certainly, and definitely far better than not doing it, at all; this creative forum differs from the charrette in that

  • It is far shorter
  • There is no “downtime” or time and space meditation and cogitation for ideas to simmer and for the subconscious Muse to do her work…
  • People tend to enter and leave based on needs of projects and/or callings that are “just down the hall…”
  • It is not unheard-of for participants to call-in or attend for only what they consider a “relevant section” of the conversation.
  • Often, the entire process is conducted online; one or two hours of collaborative dodgeball, with ideas coming out of brilliant minds as though from a circle of batting cages. Great stuff, immediately applied.

While many great things do come out of brainstorming – and this is not to disparage a very necessary and proven productive process…the results of which make thousands of clients a year very happy – there is no substitute for the charrette.

And that is why the fact of this recent charrette has been so phenomenal…so pheromonally phenomenal. The fact that this Agency took a look at the stakes and decided to invest in this process is eminently forward-thinking and delivered a result that had the client in candidly-expressed awe.

We flew ‘em in from NYC, Chicago, Orlando, Los Angeles, St. Paul to join in San Francisco at a relatively pastoral, non-office facility; surrounded by trees and the ocean. Our first experience was one of discovery and inspiration as we took the group to an immersive spot to which none had ever been. Thus, a shared experience of unique discovery, as each individual connected with something different, there, and came away excited and revitalized by that discovery.

The afternoon was intense download of all the background; the research, the mission and vision of the client, all the data, the work that had been done to date, the mandate and our scope.

Then, assignments of independent thought homework to be shared on Day Two. An evening, each on their own, to ruminate on what they’d seen and heard on Day One and Let the Silence Do its Work.

Then, Day Two was an intense and organized, wonderfully productive flurry of ideas and artwork. At the end of the day, the walls and table were covered with concept art, features and components of a vast and disparate family of concepts which, woven together, might truly manifest something never before seen – a Destination that reflects and draws an evolving world and a participatory tapestry of human cultural existence.

Yet, the true value of the two days was seen in the days that followed.

Having met, come to know one another at some level, worked and collaborated in person with one another – the opportunity in what I call “Pheromonal Collaboration” was fully realized.

Having everyone in the same place at the same time, hearing and seeing the same things and responding to those things, each from their own experience and POV, having each person able to experience the reactions and responses and Points of View of the others and observing myriad responses to the same input at the same time ensured a strong sense of Team and awareness of the components and facets thereof.

With no in-and-out, no one jumping-in to participate only in a given area of expertise, we were able to tap into the experience of each individual beyond the core capabilities or talents; a conversation informed by the person, as well as the expert.

Some of our most thoughtful, compelling and exciting ideas for technical components, for instance, did not come from our digital and technology experts. Some of our most accessible experiences for children came from one who happens to not have any. And so forth…

The whole person – the entire team together – at the table at the same time for All the Things made our subsequent collaboration in bringing these ideas to articulation and definition fantastically smooth.

Not easy, mind you; there was sweat and pressure aplenty. But the massive amount that was accomplished in a short amount of time between ideation and concept presentation – the depth and breadth of concepts realized and expressed – was breathtaking…for us and for the client.

Just sayin’… It was productive and exhilarating; and we all were and are appreciative of the foresight and investment outside the paradigm this company chose to make. This is not something that happens every day or could even happen with anywhere close to every project; though perhaps worth an out-on-a-limb investment, every so often, with the right project(s).


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12 thoughts on “The Pheromonal Element to Collaboration

    • Thank you, Kevin… So true; taking the time, up front, so often seems a fight: all to often compromised, and a compromise with a hefty price. Foundation is everything… Thanks for reading! KO

  1. This charrette profile is a demonstration of the dynamics of creativity fueled by face-to-face generation and cross-pollination in real time. It can’t happen remotely and over long time-frames; the flashpoints don’t emit that way. Thanks for documenting, Kile.

    • Thank you, Doctor King… Truly, all too often, I believe we default to shortcuts, workarounds and digital processes…all of which fall short, though would be far more productive were they to follow the laying of real foundation – pheromonal foundation, if you will – that establishes relationships and genuine connection that CAN survive a subsequent, ongoing digital / satellite / fragmented process… imho…

  2. Thanks Kile for this thoughtful article. Now you got me really curious regarding what project will come out of this charette…

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  4. The more brains in the bowl the better…we are more than the sum of our parts…we stand better together than alone…sounds like the building of the remain campaign to oppose Brexit…if only! My favourite professional moments are as a result of collaboration. Thanks for championing it so eloquently

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