Good Deadlines Drive the Imagination

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All projects need an end in sight to bring the creative flow to its natural conclusion. Yet many see the deadline as a dreaded device that squeezes the life out of a project. Disney Imagineer and Senior Principal Production Show Designer, Neil Engel, put a positive spin on deadlines when he says, “Deadlines can keep your imagination active, and ideas fresh and flowing.”

Engel’s perspective is about shifting our perspective to one that energizes activities, rather than causing the creative to freeze up. By shifting our attention to what motivates us and keeping the focus on the portion of the project being worked, Engel suggests that we can reframe our perspective and make the deadline just another objective.

After giving his viewpoint consideration, I realized the validity of making sure every deadline-based project is broken down into easily managed milestones. A fiction writer that has to write and deliver a manuscript in twelve months wouldn’t have to fret if he broke down the overwhelming 100,000 words into achievable milestones.

Most beginning novelists can write 1,000 words a day and pros can write twice that amount. By setting milestones for 1,000 words a day gives the slowest of writers a completed first draft manuscript in six months. A goal of 2,000 words a day converts the writer’s ideas into a first draft in half the amount of time.

The business salesman making cold calls can also breakdown his activities into milestones. If he makes 23 cold calls an hour, he is likely to get 3-7 prospects. Out of the 40 prospects during the day, he is likely to get 1-2 meetings. Out of seven scheduled meetings during the week, one or two are likely to convert into a sale.

If the boss is pressuring everyone to close one sale a week, the salesman might feel more pressure at the beginning of every week unless he focuses on the milestone process instead of that one deal that must be closed. In other words, our perspective makes the deadline nerve-racking or just another milestone.

A screenwriter doesn’t count the words, but the script pages with the total landing at 110-120 pages on average. The milestones for a first draft might be writing four pages a day, which would deliver the first draft in a month. However, most screenwriters that I know don’t go by page or word count, but by the number of scenes that the story requires.

The milestones for a screenplay are usually first broken out by reels, story sequences, or mini-movies. Then the story is broken down into smaller segments that meet the requirements of the beat sheet. When the writer focuses on just the key beats for any given day, there is little stress related to the deadline, which also reduces the pressure of on set rewrites—when everyone is waiting for the changed pages for that day’s shoot.

My past experiences confirm the accuracy of Engel’s perspective. I also agree with his view that some pressure is necessary to force the creative process to flourish. There is a reason all Broadway musicals take 8-12 weeks to rehearse. While some suggest producers can’t afford to pay for a longer rehearsal period, most pros agree that the show would become boring and flat for the performers if it extends past that standard period.

Engel presented the concept from a creative’s perspective when he says, “With too much time, a project can become overworked and lose its spontaneity or direction.”

For a successful project, it is critical that creatives stay fresh. They need enough time to do the job properly, which requires a strategically placed deadline. They also need to learn how to turn the deadline into a normal milestone to reduce the pressure to what is manageable in a normal day. By facilitating these two issues concerning deadlines, bosses and managers can get the most creativity and efficiency from their teams.

© 2019 by CJ Powers

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Takeaway Creativity

JengaHave you ever given a talk and had too much information to share?

Last night, I shared how to give a six-minute talk that helps the audience understand a key problem, learn the steps necessary to make changes, and inspire them to take some form of action. I wanted to give the talk in six minutes to demonstrate my point, but I had 30-minutes of information to share.

My prep time reminded me of the Jenga game. Players start with a large tower of wooden pieces and have to carefully remove one piece at a time without the entire structure collapsing. The game is always a challenge because opponents alternate the removal of pieces, which means their move might be to keep the tower stable for a few more rounds or designed to force the destruction of the tower upon your next move—so they can win.

In business projects, takeaway creativity is like a Jenga game. We research and are supplied resources for our assigned project. A brain dump occurs of all the information we have to work with followed by a sifting and sorting process to select only the useful or pertinent information. And then, we decide if we’ll give a presentation with 46 slides or whittle it down to our best seven.

The ace solution is always the simplest. It’s true in filmmaking, writing, and presentations. No one wants to be lulled to sleep by the information that isn’t relevant.

When television first got started, the shows were 58 minutes in length, giving time for sponsors to demonstrate their products in exchange for covering the show’s production costs. Once the power of television became known to advertisers, a deluge of companies started promoting their wares, which forced show lengths to drop down to 43-minutes.

The programs improved as a result because writers were forced to use only the pertinent information that was absolutely necessary to tell the story. Then streamers hit the market and the rules about programming length changed to fit the story. Suddenly the advertising-free shows were released at varying lengths based on what the story dictated for each episode.

The right-sizing of content to close a business deal is important and the information must dictate the length of a presentation. No longer will a cookie cutter template keep the prospect’s attention. This forces businessmen and women to reduce their presentations down to the bare essence of what is necessary for the deal.

A published humorous anecdote that 100 years later was attributed to Michelangelo, alleging that it was a true story at the revealing of his David, reflects the idea of takeaway creativity. The man asked, “how could you achieve such a masterpiece from a crude slab of marble?” The response, “All I did was chip away everything that didn’t look like David.”

Taking away what doesn’t belong in your presentation starts with a Jenga-like tower of information. Knowing what pieces to pull from the presentation will reduce the structure down to its ideal size. But if too much information is taken away, the story is incomplete and the client lacks the necessary information to say, “Yes.”

The art of condensing the information down to its core elements can be learned from the Jenga game. Here are the steps in the search for the key elements that must be removed to condense the presentation:

  • Start with all project related information.
  • Take away the obvious that the client already knows.
  • Take away the fluff information.
  • Take away the repetitive information.
  • Take away the features that don’t benefit the customer.
  • Take away the history of the product.
  • Take away anything that doesn’t perfectly meet your focus.

What you are left with might be…

  • The client’s problem.
  • The recommended solution.
  • The features and case studies that proved the solution successful with other clients.
  • The benefits the client receives from the solution.
  • The structure of the deal and its related offer.
  • Plenty of time for Q&A to fine-tune the client’s solution.

Just like pulling one piece from the Jenga puzzle at a time to focus the presentation down to its bare essence, making sure certain elements stay in place to maintain the health of the offer is also critical.

In preparation for my talk last night, I distilled a 160-page book on how to give a six-minute talk down to five critical sentences. Then I added in relatable information to clarify those sentences and help the audience take ownership of the structure that I shared. The result, several people took notes for their next presentation and one woman changed her planned talk that she’s giving to a national group of investors tomorrow. Oh, and I gave my talk all within the six minutes time frame to prove it works.

One of the greatest forms of creativity that we must practice is the art of condensing information, or what I call Takeaway Creativity. I have practiced it by reediting a feature movie down to a short film, taking a novel and turning it into a short story, and taking a 46-slide corporate presentation deck and turning it into a 7-slide show.

Take time this week to practice your creativity by cutting out the unnecessary and reforming it into a highly impactful solution that will impress your associates.

© 2019 by CJ Powers

 

Disruptive Creativity Drives Success

september 5, 2016arcadia football field6_00 pm

This past week I gave a talk on how creativity fuels innovation, which in turn generates departmental and business success. Several business owners were thrilled to hear more about the steps they need to take in order to compete in this new socially-driven marketplace. Many have heard about disruptive technologies, but the core ingredient to the marketplace disruption process is what I call disruptive creativity.

I’ll lay out how disruptive creativity drives success using the New-Different-Better-More (NDBM) principle below.

NEW

The introduction of new products and services only lasts 90 days in today’s society. Once day 91 hits, the item or service is no longer new. It’s therefore the goal of every marketer and salesperson to take advantage of their opportunity window. However, to be successful the product or service must be new.

The definition of “new” gets a little slippery when companies attempt to come out with something that already exists. If the offer is a first for a certain group of people or demographic, the product or service might be considered new regardless of preexisting competition. A safer release would be of a new product or service that can easily be differentiated from the competition based on it being unique, superior, or of greater value.

DIFFERENT

Offering the same thing as the competition will not drive business growth. By only shifting the color, model, or offering leaves little room to distinguish a company in the noisy marketplace. The product or service must be positioned using something that clearly differentiates it from the competition.

The best type of difference in products or services include an intuitive interface or process; additional or unique features; and, easily obtainable benefits from using the product or service. Clarity can also drive delineation from the competition by using mascots or the endorsements from celebrities and public figures.

BETTER

Building the better proverbial mousetrap is an age old scenario that has perplexed businesses for decades. The first company to market always gets a greater share of business, but so does the company who finds ways of improving on the product or service. The groundswell of early adopters drives more development monies into businesses, but it’s only the company who determines how to make things better that survives for the long haul.

In today’s society, better must also be disruptive. The goal of every new product or service must be to reinvent how the marketplace will embrace the offering, while displacing the competition. Survival today means changing the playing field to favor the company. In the same way, the company that convinces the client to let them help write the RFP going out for bid will be able to seed the document with requirements that match their strengths.

MORE

Buffets have been successful for decades because the hungry person sees them as being far more beneficial than ordering a simple meal. Discount restaurant coupon books also give a great perception of a two-for-one value since most people dine with a friend or loved one. The idea of getting something more from a package or offering grabs the potential customer’s attention.

The “more” can be an increase in value, quantity, or add-on benefits. Many online sellers offer bonus products within a certain ordering time constraint to increase the product’s worth. When the offering includes a how-to book, the “more” can be additional details that brings overt clarity to the reader’s next steps, compared to the competition’s short, high-level book that alludes to the right answers.

The NDBM principles are a direct extension of disruptive creativity in action. By creatively putting NDBM into practice, a business can position itself well within its market and drive away or absorb competitors. The key is making sure each step of the NDBM elements are built creatively and not copied from another business. The company’s style must shine through when presented.

Copyright © 2018 by CJ Powers