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December 19, 2014


The ability to see an idea through conceptualization to product is quite literally the true test of anyone doing anything in business.

By way of 800-CEO-READ sponsoring the incredible and growing Milwaukee Film Festival, our staff was able to take in a few handfuls of film throughout the 15-day festival this past September and October. I was particularly lucky to see Iain Forsyth's and Jane Pollard's beautifully shot and edited 20,000 Days on Earth on the big screen with fully majestic theater sound. The film is about Nick Cave and his creative process. I love Nick Cave. His Milwaukee Theater concert this year was bucket list for me. I probably would have enjoyed any film about Nick Cave. But this film was more than enjoyable, it was brilliant, wonderfully capturing the Cave ethos, and it offers plates full of food for thought for anyone tasked with being creative.

It turns out, too, that the making of the film is a lesson in the creative process as well. Dan Solomon's Fast Company piece is a must read for film and Cave lovers, but also for anyone working a creative process.  

20,000 Days On Earth—so named because, as the conceit goes, it opens on the 20,000th day of Cave's life—wasn't intended to be a genre-busting documentary on the creative process from the get-go. In fact, according to co-director Jane Pollard, the original mandate was a bit more conventional. "We thought what we were going to see was the creation of an album from the first scraps of lyrics to its being performed onstage," she says. That would have been interesting, perhaps, to Cave's obsessive fans, but it's not exactly something that we haven't seen before starting around, say, The Beatles' Let It Be. But as the directors began working on the film, the project started to shift."It becomes less about the making of a record, and far more about the seeing through of an idea," Pollard says of the film's narrative, which focuses mostly on just a pair of songs from the 2013 album by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Push The Sky Away in its documentation of the writing/recording/performance process. "That's what we wanted the film to achieve—to make you feel the way that we feel, through knowing Nick. Nick's the hardest-working, most progressive, and most interesting artist that we've ever met."

The seeing through of an idea -- the ability to see an idea through conceptualization to product is quite literally the true test of anyone doing anything in business. And often it means retooling, reshaping, or completely blowing it up and starting over. The makers of this film, and I'll argue any filmmaker, need to constantly re-evaluate where the film is going. We've all seen films where it was quite clear that it was more important to the filmmaker to execute his or her vision than it was to make a great film...or in a more organic way of saying it, let the film go where it needs to go. Seeing through an idea doesn't mean simply executing the original idea. It means navigating along with the idea, tweaking or changing when the idea needs to change. That's the big take away for how you approach ideas in your daily business life. 

Another quote from Solomon's piece, again from Jane Pollard, should also be hung on your cubicle or office wall. 
It's not only what the film is about," she says. "It's what the film is. The film was that kind of half-baked small idea—'Let's make a sort of new kind of film. A film that engages in the mythology of music, and attempts to be as imaginative and as inspiring as that act, rather than an observation of it."
When you're making a product, designing a service, or launching a website, are you designing the product to be as inspiring and meaningful as the experience in which the user is using your product? Art and film can be very different processes than general business. But art can help us realize that seemingly mundane, everyday experiences, can also be truly meaningful. And if we can create a product or experience that replicates or supplements that meaningful experience, pure gold! 

Sticking with today's theme of looking at pop culture for inspiration, this piece comes from a site where musicians talk about music that isn't their own. The site is Talkhouse, and here we have Amelia Meath of one of this year's breakout acts, Sylvan Esso, talking about her expectations for Nicki Minaj. After a lot of nuanced internal discussion, Meath concludes: 
To clarify, Nicki is doing an absolutely great job at being herself. She is owning. I am the one limiting her, deciding she needs to be something and then being disappointed when she does not deliver. I am acting like a teenage boyfriend. I am so used to other pop personalities making themselves consumable and two-dimensional that it almost feels like a personal affront for someone in her position to be an openly multi-faceted human being. Those take so much more work to identify with and then not be bothered by. I always feel like I want more of our pop stars, but what I really want is less.
We hosted and event with Jay Baer last week here in Milwaukee. Part of the presentation focused on how more than 70% of buying decisions now happen before a customer ever communicates with the seller. Buyers utilize the hoards of easily accessible information available to them before ever talking with a salesperson, so buyers no longer rely as much on getting that information from the salesperson. Baer was basically saying that you have to find creative ways to get information to prospective buyers, and you have to find ways to be useful to them long before you ever have a chance to talk with them. After the event was over, I overheard one attendee not buying in. He said something to the effect of, "I don't agree. At some point you just want to talk to the customer. That's always going to be the most important part of a sale." 

What this event attendee clearly overlooked is that potential customers don't care if "at some point you just want to talk to the customer." Customers want their Nicki Minaj to be what they want their Nicki Minaj to be. They want to consumer their Nicki Minaj how and when they want to, and you can't sell or tell them otherwise. Amelia Meath is a thoughtful, smart, artist who appreciates things like craft, nuance, and dynamics. She also likes pop music and wants her pop stars the way she wants her pop stars to be, just like customers want the product and the buying experience the way they want it to be, not the way you want them to have it. 

"He's a ghost, he's a god, he's a man, he's a guru. You're one microscopic cog in his catastrophic plan, designed and directed by his red right hand."


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