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Info You Can Use: Pixar Pitch

Yesterday I linked to a recent post by Barry Hessenius about gatekeepers and he mentioned that Hollywood had developed a pitch system where people without the connections to get a real meeting were afforded a short time to pitch an idea.

Apropos to this, Daniel Pink made a short video about six new pitches for selling yourself, ideas, etc.

He talks a little bit about how email subject lines are really pitches and makes some suggestions about rhyming pitches (which I can see will be effective you if you don’t go full Seuss). He also notes that questions are much more active and engaging than making statements.

He uses the example of Ronald Reagan who famously asked if his listeners were better off now than they were four years prior. Pink notes that this can get listeners filling in the blanks to convince themselves in ways your statements can’t connect with them.

He takes pains to make the point that the word pitch may imply something is traveling in a single direction, but in reality pitches today are interactive. You invite someone else to have a conversation about something with you.

The pitch I liked the best was the first one he introduces, The Pixar Pitch. This one is most suited for the arts because it is all about storytelling. Pink says this is the formula Pixar uses while planning and plotting their movies.

It runs something like this:

ONCE UPON A TIME____________, EVERY DAY___________, ONE DAY____________, BECAUSE OF THIS_____________, BECAUSE OF THIS_________________,
UNTIL FINALLY_____________________.

He notes that we don’t see life as a series of logical propositions, but rather a series of episodes and so making your case in this manner can create a powerful connection with your listeners.

This formula can be the basis for press releases and marketing materials. I took a look at the trailer for Pixar’s Finding Nemo and it follows this formula pretty closely. You don’t even need to know the formula to have your inner narrator describe the scene to you “Once upon a time there was a fish named Nemo and his dad, everyday they happily swam together under the sea until one day…..”

Obviously, newspapers would get a little tired of you if your press releases explicitly used this formula for every show, and if you can clearly see a more compelling approach to use, go with that, but the formula can under gird what you are trying to communicate about events.

If you are having difficulty getting your ideas to connect with people, don’t you think it is a good idea to check out Pink’s short video and see what might resonate with you?

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Info You Can Use: Reward Disloyalty

H/t Daniel Pink who linked to a story about a “Disloyalty Card” being used by independent coffee shops in Singapore. If you go to one of 8 coffee shops and pick up a card, go to any of the other 7 to get stamps and then come back to the original, you get a free cup of coffee.

I know some arts organizations who have tried these sort of programs to encourage patronizing other organizations with mixed results. What appealed to me about this approach was the rebellious, counter culture feel of it. I had this image of a program that encouraged people to be disloyal to movie theatres and Netflix.

What probably works for the coffee houses is that they can create a bit of an edgy or cool vibe with their stores. If arts organizations are going to try this, they either need to have the same vibe or link it to a series of shows that have that sort of feel. No one is going to feel like they are walking the path less traveled if they find themselves in a staid, completely conventional experience.

My impulse would be to avoid using it during something like a First Friday event where it might look more like a bingo game where people breezed through to get their cards stamped. That doesn’t seem particularly productive. An opportunity to do it across the course of a few months to a year could encourage people to make a more deliberate progress- see a show one weekend, walk through a gallery the next month, go to a dance concert and take visiting friends to the contemporary art museum.

It doesn’t appear that the Singapore disloyalty program requires you to visit all 8 of the coffee shops, just frequent more than one. Even disloyalty programs need to be convenient so it doesn’t make sense to force people to wander all over the place just to get a free cup of coffee. The same would likely apply to a similar program with the arts. Even if all the participating venues were in close proximity, it wouldn’t really be effective to force people to frequent places that didn’t appeal to them.

Structuring the program to encourage people to try a few new things is good. There should be a variety of disciplines represented, but they should get credit for going back to the places they liked rather than only rewarding them for hitting every place once.

Heck, it probably shouldn’t be confined solely to places that were built with the intention of housing art. Get the coffee shop or bar that hangs work by local artists involved. Even better–approach the bars and coffee shops with some opera or classical music performances like the Yellow Lounge program in Germany I wrote about a few years ago or Opera on Tap. Getting these sort of performances into the mix would make for an interesting disloyalty program.

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Give The Gift Of Autonomy For Christmas

So the big tragedy of non profit arts organizations is that while we are the champions of creativity, we don’t really provide all our employees the most conducive environments for being creative. Sometimes good things happen despite us. Because the workload to personnel ratio is usually slanted in favor of the work load, there often isn’t a lot of opportunity for people to stand back and do some creative problem solving that might result in the alleviation of some of the work load.

A recent post on the Drucker Exchange criticized the industrial age view that long hours and great effort equates to productivity when that simply is not so any more. Andrew Fuqua recently made a related post on the benefit of “slack” in the work place. His post was generally about the computer programming industry, but there were many lessons non-profit arts organizations can take away.

One of the things he says a programming company should do is, “managers must stop assigning tasks.” Instead, it is up to teams to decide how the work will be done. Of course, for non-profit arts organizations, this assumes there are enough people to comprise a team rather than 1 person (or half person departments). But essentially he says, managers shouldn’t be making assignments, handing out work or be an individual contributor.

“Well, gosh, then what should a manager do? Well, I’ll tell ya! You could manage more people. You can still step in when the team needs help (but not too quickly). You are still an agent of the company, handling legal stuff, signing off on expenditures, etc. You can still manage risks, especially if you are a skilled Project Manager.”

Even if that doesn’t sound like something that is viable given the size of your organization, there are other things he suggest that are definitely applicable.

“Keep an eye on the system, looking for improvements
Ensure cross-training is happening (not by making assignments, but making the team handle it)
Understand the dynamics of the organization
Understand how value is created
Protect the team from interference
Make the organization effective; learn to look at it as a system
Support the team
Clear roadblocks
Watch interpersonal interaction — watch when one team member pulls back, withdraws in a brainstorm (for example)
Help the team learn TDD by making room for them to learn (time – remove the schedule pressure while they learn)
Understand the capacity of the team (also a team and scrummaster job)
Think through policies, procedures and reward/review systems and improve them (what messages do they send?)
Understand what motivates knowledge workers (see the previous reference to Pink) and let creating that kind of environment be an imperative”

Arts organizations can definitely benefit from looking at the dynamics of the organization and looking at themselves as a system of interrelated and interdependent parts rather than different segments performing different functions. This approach will help the organization understand where the value they possess lies. It may not only be the stuff you are selling tickets to, but in the expertise that is possessed by the group.

You will see a lot of these factors mentioned as valuable in management texts. The one suggestion Fuqua makes that jumped out at me was in regard to watching when a team member pulls back and withdraws in a brain storm. That can say a lot about the interpersonal dynamics of the organization. It may be viewed as one less person providing opposition to your ideas, but it could be damaging to the organization long term to have someone feel disassociated from the rest of the organization or team.

You might note that Fuqua references Daniel Pink and his talk about what motivates knowledge workers. That motivation is autonomy which repeated studies have shown is more effective than cash rewards.

One of the things Pink talks about is a Australian software company, Atlassian, which periodically gives their employees 24 hours to work on whatever they want. The only proviso being that they share it with the entire company at a party they throw at the end of that period. Apparently the practice has contributed to the solving of a number of problems and the creation of new products.

Imagine what might be produced if you let a bunch of creative arts people loose of their everyday constraints for 24 hours with the promise of beer at the end!

One of the things I know is very important to a lot of people I work with in the arts is professional development opportunities. Again, this is something Fuqua references. Often the biggest thing inhibiting arts people from getting the professional development is the funding. One solution to this problem goes back to my comment a few paragraphs ago about understanding that the value possessed by the organization may not solely reside in the product you are selling to the public.

Your organization may possess expertise that is valuable to other arts organizations and for profit businesses. You might arrange for a cooperative professional development day where all the arts organizations get together and have their staffs provide learning opportunities for each other. You might be able to likewise trade your expertise to area businesses in exchange for training or advice.

Best of all scenarios–your organization (or cooperative of arts organizations) puts together training programs to sell to businesses based on your expertise. Perhaps seminars in team building, creative brain storming, or the selection and lighting of visual art in commercial office spaces.

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Solving Other People’s Problems

Daniel Pink recently wrote a piece in The Telegraph about how people are more effective at solving problems if the problems are not their own. In a recent study, those who were told they were solving a problem for someone else found more effective and creative solutions than those who were told they were solving the same problem for themselves.

In another study, people were asked to choose a gift for themselves, for someone close to them and for someone they barely knew. The less familiar the person, the more innovative the gift that was chosen.

Over the years, social scientists have found that abstract thinking leads to greater creativity. That means that if we care about innovation we need to be more abstract and therefore more distant. But in our businesses and our lives, we often do the opposite. We intensify our focus rather than widen our view. We draw closer rather than step back.

That’s a mistake, Polman and Emich suggest. “That decisions for others are more creative than decisions for the self… should prove of considerable interest to negotiators, managers, product designers, marketers and advertisers, among many others,” they write.

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And while much of our business world is ill-configured to benefit from Polman and Emich’s insights, the rise of crowd sourcing and ventures such as Innocentive (which allows companies to post problems on a web site for people around the world to solve) suggests that the moment may be right for reconfiguring the broader architecture of problem-solving.

Pink offers five suggestions for either seeking the independent viewpoint of others or try to disassociate oneself from their business. A commenter, Lowell Nerenberg, talked about mentally calling on the spirit of his dead father to help him with his writing which I thought was an interesting approach.

What popped most prominently to mind, however, when I was reading the article was the question- If this is true, why aren’t non-profit boards more effective at leading and finding better approaches to doing business? While non-profit boards do essentially run and have ultimate ownership of an organization, most board members have a generally disassociated view of their relationship to the organization. This is essentially built into the basic design of non-profit boards. They generally don’t meet to discuss the business of the organization more frequently than once a month. According to the research, they should be fairly well positioned to generate creative solutions to the problems their organization faces.

And maybe they do come up with grand ideas. From what I gather from the research Pink references, no one looked into how often a solution generated by an outsider was actually compelling enough to be implemented. Good ideas may be generated, but perhaps there are impediments to actually putting them into effect. People may not feel confident enough in the idea to champion it. There may not be sufficient collective will to effect the necessary changes, especially if some sort of sacrifice was required. Or perhaps the board might feel it is the place of the senior staff to provide leadership in bringing about the change.

Operating under the assumption that non-profit boards of directors do possess the mental distance necessary to generate creative solutions, we get back to the oft mentioned discussion about training/creating a board which is knowledgeable and empowered about its role and responsibilities and is providing effective guidance and direction to the staff.

If the board finds it is too close to the problems of the organization to address them, then obviously the counsel of disinterested parties mentioned by Pink is likely to be necessary.

One implication of these studies I don’t even want to consider is that the nosy neighbor who is always butting into your business and giving unwanted free advice might actually be saying something of value. (Though likely they are too closely involved in monitoring our lives to enjoy the proper perspective of distance.)

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