Such a great deck. Slide 80-100 are the best but there’s knowledge nuggets throughout. I’d consider coming back to advertising if it was at an agency that believed in and practiced this methodology.
So it’s still early in the year and people are still making new years resolutions, of which most will never work. Why? Because the resolution is so abstract. Take an exercise goal: I want to get in shape this year. It’s such an abstract goal with no attached measurement. Run a sub 3-hour marathon, blow a VO2 max of 72 or complete 700km in 7 days from Geneva to Nice. That’s a finite goal. Okay so we have a concrete goal, now forget about it and focus on the process to get there. There are many tiny incremental steps that need to happen to get there, focus on those not the goal. If you complete the incremental steps then you’ll surely accomplish the goal.
The real reason I’m talking about this is because I’m experimenting with applying this to the creative process where goals can often be abstract. Pure panic sets in when, as a creative, you focus on the goal. For example if we focus on delivering a website on February 19, or coming up with a great idea for a new campaign then we’ll never get there. We need to focus on the steps that have worked in the past to achieve this goal. The goal needs to become finishing the incremental steps. If we push this concept further then we need to divide up our time based on process not outcome. If we have three hours to come up with a great idea don’t focus on the idea, focus on the steps to get to that idea. So I’ll spend 30 minutes researching, I’ll spend an hour jotting down random ideas, I’ll spend 30 minutes grouping ideas, 30 minutes flushing out one group and 30 minutes honing in on one idea in that group. Developing this process is personal and only comes with experience. Over time creative confidence goes up because there’s a system in place to creating ideas. I’m not just mashing the keyboard praying for inspiration, I’m putting in the time and work and if your truly put in the time and work then you’ll get to the goal.
As a creative director my job is to help creatives refine their process to help them put in the time and work. Also it is good to have a clear goal so they can see success as opposed to a moving target that is only held in the whimsy of the Creative Director.
To bring it back to athletics, I know that I will be able to ride 700km in 7 days through the Swiss and French Alps because I have a training plan in place. I just need to complete two short rides, one interval ride and one long ride a week with core work on off days and I’ll surely be ready for the Haute Route Race in August.
Put in the work, stick to the process and you’ll accomplish your clearly defined goal.
And remember that the brain is a type of muscle to that can grow and strengthen over time through training so it can accept more and more complex creative work if it is continually challenged, pushed and trained. Also wearing spandex helps in any brainstorming session.
So my holiday break work is to take a bunch of great ideas and turn them into full stories. This is what I do more and more in the new work that I’m involved in. There’s a lot of smart creative people with great ideas but far too few storytellers and even fewer interactive digital storytellers.
As I struggle through this process I keep thinking about a screenwriting professor I had at NYU. He challenged us to come up with 50 ideas a month. At first I thought that was impossible. There’s no way you could dream up 50 screenplays in a month. But what he asked for was, ideas, not full blown screenplays. Ideas are simply the kernel for a larger story. Unfortunately, in contemporary filmmaking there a way too many feature films that are just ideas stretched out to a feature length without the storytelling discipline applied. This is emblematic of a lot of content creators. Let me give you an example.
An idea: A guy goes to the store to get a bottle of wine. As he leaves the store he drops his wallet. The wallet is recovered by a beautiful woman. When he meets up with the woman to retrieve his wallet they fall in love at first sight.
Not a bad idea. Could be a cute romantic comedy about fate and chance encounters. But it lacks any story at this point. To create a story from this idea we need to introduce some conflict, some drama, some emotional hooks, some back-story, some character arc and all that good stuff that we learn as writers. Unfortunately, in our disposable content culture few great ideas get this far. Here’s that idea pushed a bit further.
Story: A guy goes to his regular liquor store to buy a bottle of wine for his one year anniversary dinner with his girlfriend. Despite being a wine expert he asks the beautiful new clerk for advice. He tells the clerk that we has a special dinner with his mom who is from out of town. He takes the clerk up on her advice and grabs a bottle for twice the price he was planning on spending. Caught up in his crush for the clerk he accidentally leaves his wallet at the store. The next day, after a mediocre anniversary dinner, he realizes that he left his wallet at the store. His heart flutters with anticipation to see the beautiful clerk. He goes back to the store and the clerk immediately recognizes him as Mr. Chateau Pontneuf with the mom from Miami. The romantic connection is clear but is it worth cheating on his girlfriend?
Okay so still lots of work to do but at least we’ve added in some conflict; his moral debate on cheating on his girl, some backstory; he’s from Florida, some emotion; the crush connection between him and the clerk.
But I’m not just talking about film here. This discipline needs to be applied to anyone making content. Advertising creatives used to be called, “Idea Men,” but that’s really only a good skill if you only write headlines and 30-second TV spots. The real Mad Men need to create whole campaigns with multiple media touch points that all tell a great story. I also see it in the tech scene. There’s a ton of smart people with great ideas but they really need the mentorship of a VC to really draw out the larger story of their product, brand, business strategy and positioning.
There’s a lot of great ideas but very few of them make great stories and it’s really story that we have always connected with.
Okay enough pontificating and procrastinating, time for me to get back to work.
Well the time has come for me to sorrowfully say goodbye to the DDB family. I will greatly miss the debates and creative stimulus that flowed through the walls and permeated through some amazing and often award winning work.
It all started, oddly enough, over three and half years ago when I was showing some weird media installation work at a small art gallery. As the show was wrapping up an acquaintance of mine, Blaine, approached me and said, “I like it but I don’t get.” After waxing poetic on every influence from McLuhan to Richard Serra to Banksy, Blaine who shared my interest in graffiti and public and private space, invited me to meet her boss. The boss, Yvonne, was also interested in this emerging, more social media landscape. After a few chats and debates, I was brought on by DDB to help form Radar DDB, with the sole goal of figuring out how advertising works in social media.
Since that time, thanks to some great clients and heaven sent hires we’ve been able to build a talented and endlessly dedicated team of experts. Now that we’ve franchised the model out to the other global DDB offices and operational merged with Tribal DDB I feel okay about leaving and tackling a new challenge. But just okay. I don’t feel great about it because of the amazing people and potential to keep doing even more great work in the future.
But alas, I have the unique opportunity to continue my number one life passion of storytelling with some amazing new collaborators. As anyone who reads this blog will know, I gave up a career as a narrative filmmaker once the media landscape began to change in 2004. Since then I’ve become obsessed with finding new ways to tell visual stories. I wrote my masters on oral storytelling and remix culture but that simply scratched the itch. My time at DDB has given me a wealth of experience and technical knowledge that now needs to be combined with my academic theories. This is why I feel very fortunate to be given the opportunity to work with the National Film Board of Canada to help tell stories in the most innovative way I can. This is my passion and their mandate.
I will continue to work with some of my other clients to help them push the boundaries of how we tell stories in this ever evolving media landscape. There’s so many talented content publishers in film, TV and gaming that just need a little love from a creative Internet kid like me to fully reach an audience that is hungry to interact with their media in less of a monolithic and linear way.
I’m just as stoked on where media and communications are going now as I was in 2004 when I first left film, as I was in 2007 when I first joined DDB, and as I was when I finished my masters in 2008. I have been remiss in not blogging more but I will endeavor to share some more thoughts with you, the occasional reader, because I feel it’s important to air out some ideas in order to innovate. If you’re at all interested in #storytelling, #transmedia, or #innovation, then don’t hesitate to drop me an email (jameschutter at gmail) so we can keep the dialogue going. I can’t wait to start sharing some new work that will hopefully keep storytelling evolving.
As regular readers of this blog will know, I’m just a little obsess with creative productivity. Without getting too self-analytical, I think this is because I spent years in fine arts and academia where waiting for Ms. Inspiration to sweep you off your feet is a little more acceptable. One of the best skills I’ve learn in advertising is to treat creative like a product. We sell ideas. So if we can’t conceive of and produce these ideas then we’re screwed.
During the past year or so I’ve really buckled down on staying extra productive to stay ahead of the technology and media curve with new innovative ideas. Here’s some “tools” that have helped me. Hopefully they will help you.
In brief Nike + gets me out of bed in the morning, The Thrive Diet sustains me throughout a 12+ hour work day, Inbox Zero keeps the stress down and Action Method Online keeps me on track.
Working long days in front of computer can be very detrimental to you health. As much as Apple designs ergonomic hardware, we are not designed to sit at a computer for 12 hours a day. We are meant to move and be active. Unfortunately, I need to force myself to move each day. I do this by going for a short run every morning with the help of Nike +. As a creative advertising nerd I think Nike + is pure genius. It satisfies so many areas of a great creative concept. It changes behaviour, it’s useful, it satisfies a social good and it integrates into my personal life. I’m training for a marathon so the Nike + coach system guides me through all the steps so I don’t have to manage a big spreadsheet of training logs. When Lance Armstrong’s voice came through my headphones and congratulated me on my fastest mile to date it gave me at least enough motivation to keep going. It sounds lame but at 6am in the pouring Vancouver rain every little bit helps. So a quick run in the morning gets me fired up for the day.
The Thrive Diet is a dietary system developed by Brendan Brazier a vegan professional Ironman triathlete. I’m far from vegan or a Ironman triathlete but his system of eating has helped me eat for maximum energy and focus. The main lesson I took from his book is that we eat foods that put a lot of stress on our body and mind. The foods are either hard to digest or they spike our energy levels unnaturally so we’re always on a yo-yo of mental clarity. For a time I adopted his take on a vegan diet and it was scary how much energy I had. I’ve since relaxed my diet to just include way more vegan options but not restricting meat when I want it. I find myself reading this book over and over again, which is pretty amazing for a book on nutrition.
A co-worker got me hooked on Merlin Mann’s philosophy on email management called Inbox Zero. Again I won’t explain it all but the core that I took away is to always keep your inbox at zero. Don’t let emails pile up and don’t ignore emails. If you have time to look at an email you have time to either delete it, delegate it, file it or deal with it. This stops you from reading and re-reading emails over and over again. Emails in my inbox become a nagging annoyance that make me feel guilty for not dealing with so I always keep my inbox at zero. And don’t tell me that your email is too out of control to get a handle on it. I dealt with over 4200 emails in a three hour period while I watched a hockey game. I bulked filed and deleted liberally. I figured that if the email was more than two weeks old then I probably missed the deadline anyway so I just moved on.
The most recent strategy I’ve adopted is to manage my time with the help of Action Method Online which was developed by the Behance Network and Scott Belsky. It’s really built to keep creatives on track and to help us actually make something. In the digital space some projects can seem overwhelming at the start but AMO forces me into dividing everything into small action steps. As long as I’m completing action steps then I’m moving the project forward. If you’re not creating then you’re not a creative and this helps me make sure that projects get done. Action Method also has a nice iPhone app that syncs to the web interface. This is particularly handy for jotting down “next steps” at the conclusion of any meeting. I hate being that guy who doesn’t remember what he said he’d do for the next meeting and this integration helps me keep a record of what is expected of me.
There you have it. Let’s collaborate on something.