Thursday, May 15, 2014

The Creativity Equation and The Equivalence of Ideas

Recently, I was at a party talking with a friend about what it takes to turn a good idea into a great outcome.

As the night went on, our conversation shifted from how ideas are formed to how they are articulated, translated, processed, designed and built into something greater. Eventually we turned to science for understanding and after a few beers we determined that the equivalence of ideas ( light bulb ) is reliant on curiosity ( ? ) and effort ( ! ) and is described by the equation:

Thus, this creativity-curiosity-effort relation states that the proportionality between ideas and curiosity is equal to the effort expended squared.

For example, if a body (usually accompanied by a mind), is stationary or thinking, that body still has some internal or intrinsic ideas. These we call Resting Ideas. Resting Ideas are equivalent and remain proportional to one another.

However, when a body is in motion (relative to a competitor), that body's Total Ideas are greater than its Resting Ideas. Curiosity remains an important quantity in this case because it remains the same regardless of this motion, even for the extreme speeds at which competitors move in the marketplace; thus it is also called Invariant Curiosity.

When a body in motion responds to curiosity with the expenditure of effort, it gains momentum. It is this property that allows ideas to increase in mass and speed. It is this property that turns an intangible idea into something actionable, relevant and lasting.

So there you go. We've solved it. Forming ideas requires curiosity. Creating something tangible from an idea requires constant effort. At the next party I'll be discussing the forces that cause any small, dropped object to roll to the exact point under an incredibly heavy object that is just out of reach.

Special thanks to A. Einstein for his general theory of relativity to which we paid homage (stole outright) when creating our Creativity Equation.

Special thanks also to Guinness for crafting a beer that is both scrumptious and foments intellectual discussions (I've already left a message with their marketing department).

One final note for the real science geeks out there: The relativistic impact of curiosity (?) and effort (!) may increase and decrease in direct proportion to the influencing elements of collaboration (Co), culture (Cu), environment (Ev), inclusion (Ic), diversity (Dv), respect (Re), and support (Su).

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

The Lesson From Inside The Silo? We're All Client Facing.

Years ago, when I was first starting out as a project manager, I thought my primary job was to deliver each project on budget and "protect" my teams. Whenever stakeholders came to me with project changes I would often respond by pulling out our scope documents and pointing to certain paragraphs saying “This is not what we agreed to.” I was siloed within my department, ignorant of the pressures that demanded flexibility and adaptation to a constantly shifting marketplace. My view was internal and myopic.

Fortunately that changed.

A wonderful mentor helped me eventually realize that as soon as you have to pull out documentation to “prove” something to a client, you’ve already lost them. I eventually realized that delivering on budget was pointless if the project didn't satisfy a pressing need for the client. I eventually realized that each of us is client facing — regardless of our role or whether we have direct contact with them —  and our decisions should be informed by that understanding.

We may expect experienced professionals to understand this, but GM is in the news right now because someone, somewhere didn't. They forgot their business was based on satisfying the needs and safety of their customers and let a faulty ignition switch remain in vehicles. This decision led to the deaths of perhaps dozens of people. These people and their families (and GMs business) are now paying a terrible price.

This is an extreme example but a useful one because it reminds us that decisions made by over-weighing inwardly-focused criteria are rarely best in the long run — for our business, our colleagues and most importantly for our customers/clients — the people we hope will pay us to use the products and services we develop and deliver to them.

So how can we prevent this? How can we make better decisions?

By having businesses and project teams shift our thinking. Instead of building cars, or designing software, or creating products and services of any kind, we should instead be building an opportunity based, diagnostic culture focused on creating value — for clients, for the organization, for the end-user.

From the way we communicate to the methods we use to deliver, a focus on creating value helps us adapt as the situation and marketplace demands. Because change happens. Problems arise. And the processes we use must effectively allow for change because we understood change would happen from the beginning. This doesn't mean we don't ever push back, it just means we need to be strategic about it.

If GM had seen the faulty switch as an opportunity to examine their manufacturing and quality processes, they may have been able to improve efficiencies and become a better, more profitable company in the long run. If they had seen the faulty switch as an opportunity to improve customer service and loyalty, they might have been able to build stronger customer (client) relationships and create more long-term value.

Instead, GM found a faulty switch and made the decision to bury it behind cost estimates and legal threats. They apparently forgot we are all client facing. Their decision tragically reflects that.

Thursday, January 02, 2014

Plot or Character? Which is driving your script and where is it leading your story?

Everyone who knows me, knows that I view most guides/seminars/consultants advising how to write a script (or produce a movie, or raise production financing) as - best case - a waste of time. There are a few good ones, but most are designed only to separate fledgling screenwriters/filmmakers from their hard earned cash.

That said, I do think there are opportunities to learn something about the craft of screenwriting. Not from books, or consultants, or expensive conferences, but by sharing our experiences as writers.

Recently, I agreed to read a script by a young writer and give feedback. For the record my feedback consists almost wholly of asking questions of the writer. I never give ideas or make suggested changes. I simply look at what is on the page, try to understand the story the writer wants to tell and attempt to guide the two towards each other.

What I saw in this lovely, yet flawed script was a problem I see quite often: The writer built her story by attempting to map out the plot before she truly understood her characters. The result left me disconnected and created those scratch-your-head moments where the reader wonders why the protagonist (or any other character) is doing whatever s/he is doing.

Crafting your script through plot is almost* always a critical error, because it is impossible to know anything substantial about your story until you've defined the character who will be driving it. This is perhaps the most important lesson we can learn about screenwriting - and something I struggle with in my own writing.

Here's an example.

If your protagonist is a successful male executive who inwardly suffers from an extreme lack of confidence due to a chilling childhood trauma, his reactions to a given situation, the way he drives the story, will be wholly different than if the character is a female executive who suffers from the same lack of confidence due to the same circumstances.

The only difference between the two characters is their sex. But the difference to the story and plot will be immense. It has to be.

So, how can we become better at writing for character and creating deeper engagement with our readers and audience? Here's a technique I recommend (and use):

1. Pick a movie you love - one where the characters made you laugh or cry. Rent it and find the script for it (scripts to many films are available online)
2. Read the script
3. Watch the movie
4. Read the script again

I think you'll be amazed at what you can learn about crafting a story for the screen. And I'm positive this will serve you, your writing and maybe one day, your paying audience far better than any screenwriting book or conference or guru. Good luck. And keep writing!

*nothing is ever 100%... not even this!

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

A Quick Thought on Change Management

A project achieves success by delivering suitable value to various stakeholders — the people or groups that are actively involved in a project, are affected by its outcome, or can influence its out-come (PMI 2000; Smith 2000). 

As a project manager - whether on films, events or software projects - one of my top priorities is delivering that value, and one of the keys to doing so is managing change. Sounds simple enough, but this can often be one of the toughest and most politically sensitive areas for a project leader to manage, so having strategies to deal with this is critical.

Some change of course, is expected, and project teams have to remain flexible and accommodate change if it adds value or provides a competitive advantage. But if someone is habitually making changes to a project there is often something else going on besides just making it better. 

What I will often do in these situations is ask the person to sit with me and talk about what they’re pushing up against. Is this the right thing to focus on? Is it really going to make or break your idea? Will it help us achieve the business objectives? Where are these suggested changes coming from (outside the project team)? And let’s be sincere about it.

This doesn't always work, but far more often than not it helps us discover the origin of the changes. Once we know that, we can address it, manage it and deliver the value.

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Incorporating Diversity Into Project Strategy

I was thinking recently about project strategy as it relates to delivering successful projects with increasingly diverse, global teams, stakeholders and end-users.

A clear project strategy, one that acknowledges and plans for the complexities of the project management process, is certainly a critical factor in achieving a successful project outcome. But a clear strategy is often challenging to achieve. One factor increasing the complexity of a growing number of project activities is geographic and cultural diversity.

Today, it is not unusual to have a project initiated by a team in one country, designed by another team in another country, with prototypes and production occurring in another country, and ultimately delivered to end-users globally. It is similarly not unusual for projects to be unfolded across many business units around the world.

It can be argued that all projects are basically the same regardless of where in the world they take place. After all, they proceed through the same stages from initiation to closing. And the management and control processes within these stages are more similar than they are different.

But the evidence – including my own experience with clients and projects – points to some very significant differences once you cross borders and interact with different cultures. Work processes are different, communications are different, negotiations are different, stakeholder involvement is different and organizational cultures are different. And this doesn't just hold true across borders - many of these same differences can be found by simply walking across the street.

A recent example was a project with international suppliers who had national holidays (and corresponding time off from their organizations) that differed significantly from their western teammates. A seemingly insignificant detail – but a detail that undetected – could have seriously impacted costs, delivery and ultimately stakeholder satisfaction with the project.

To be clear, the implication here is not that diversity is a limitation – quite the contrary. Culturally and geographically diverse teams bring a more global perspective and open some amazing opportunities for creativity and collaboration. But there are challenges.

If we go into new projects expecting our own cultural mores to be the baseline, we are starting out with a half-closed mind and may create unnecessary and costly roadblocks. However, if we go in understanding there will be challenges to working across borders and cultures, we can address them and incorporate them into the project plan. Not only will this  immediately begin building trust within the team, it will help us facilitate a more productive kickoff – and most importantly – a successful delivery.

It's up to all of us to create an environment of inclusion, respect and collaboration.

Sunday, August 04, 2013

SEC Lifts Ban on General Solicitation

SEC Building

For pretty much the entire history of filmmaking, those looking to raise funds for their film projects were not allowed to declare they were doing so publicly. Federal law required filmmakers - like everyone else trying to raise capital - to speak with investors individually, one painstaking meeting at a time. The new SEC ruling changes the game.

On July 11 the SEC voted 4 to 1 (in a somewhat contentious meeting) to approve Title II of the JOBS Act, lifting the ban on general solicitation. This means filmmakers will now be able to globally publicize they are fundraising instead of relying solely on word-of-mouth. The caveat is they must make reasonable efforts to ensure that all investors financing the film are accredited.

Who qualifies as an accredited investor?
  • Institutional investors such as banks, S&Ls, broker-dealers, insurance companies and investment companies
  • Corporations or trusts with assets in excess of $5 million and not formed for purpose of making the investment (look-through rule)
  • Directors and officers of the issuer
  • Individuals with Income > $200,000 or joint income > $300,000 or,
  • Individuals with net worth or joint net worth >$1 million (does not include equity value of primary residence)

There are still a number of rules to follow, but the good news is that this ruling allows filmmakers to engage with investors in a more open and meaningful way via social media, blogs, web sites, press mentions, flyers on light poles... pretty much everywhere. Filmmakers with large followings can now monetize those followings by reaching out to all their fans/followers in toto.

The other good news is that there are currently more than 8.7 million accredited investors in the U.S. The better news? According to an article in Forbes, of those 8.7 million investors, only 756 thousand participate in angel investments. Lifting the general solicitation ban could grow the infusion of early stage capital tenfold.

Unfortunately, Title III of the JOBS Act – which allow unaccredited investors to participate in private offerings will have to wait – it's not due to be ruled on until 2014. But if Title III passes, it will massively accelerate the fundraising process by virtue of greater promotional reach.

There will certainly be a learning curve and one complication to the ruling is a potential pre-filing of a "Form D", which could add time and/or cost to the fundraising process.  But this is exciting news for filmmakers and other "job creators" looking to raise funding and connect to investors. Good luck!

If you want to read the entire SEC document you can find it here.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

5 Elements of Great Communication

To get things done you need to be able to convey ideas clearly and effectively. Below are five elements the best communicators employ to deliver their message, gain buy-in and build respect.

1. Respect your audience. Get to the point. Let people know why they are in the meeting and what you want from them up front. Then provide the background and supporting facts and figures. Letting people know what you want up front provides context, it shows you value their time, and lets the person prepare appropriate questions.

2. Be prepared. Never ask people for their time unless you know exactly what you want from them. Anticipate questions that may arise and do your homework. If you're consistently prepared you'll build trust and teamwork. That said, no one is expert on everything and questions may arise you don't have answers to. Saying "I don't know" when you don't displays integrity and character, and convinces others you're worth listening to when you do know. But don't let "I don't know," happen too often.

3. Relate it to them. Here's the thing, people are busy. They don't care about you. They don't care about your problems or deadlines. They care about solving their own problems and their customers' problems. Help them do that and you'll win them over every time.

4. Create an emotional connection. People need to know what you're saying will matter to them. Connect by giving them your undivided attention and linking your message to something that matters to them. A great technique I lifted from the media industry is to frame your message in a brief, relevant story.

5. Be clear. All the authority and empathy in the world won't help you if people don't understand your basic idea or how you came to your conclusions. Make a clear argument that people can follow, wrap your message in narrative, and be prepared with data and analysis to back up your points.

Bonus tip:

6. Ask yourself this question. Before you approach anyone - to communicate anything - ask your self: What do they want? Knowing the answer isn't the point - you can't possibly know for certain. But asking the question shifts your focus away from yourself and onto the other person. And that is the point.