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!