Hollywood’s inspiring model for rapid ideation
Written By: Chase Ryan Friedman
In an effort to survive and thrive through the endless waves of industry disruption, many companies find themselves assembling internal strategy teams or hiring outside consultation in an effort to innovate in an increasingly competitive marketplace. Those who have looked beyond the confines of their organization and industry often find uniquely disruptive perspectives to be the most valuable in disrupting the status quo. One industry in particular has been doing this for over a century, leading the world in creative development and ideation by convening the best and brightest storytellers from around the world. Let’s take a look at how this model can both inform and guide business leaders to implement diversity of thought in their organizations for innovative success.
THE WRITER’S ROOM
For decades, the TV industry has been using a unique approach to creative ideation and problem-solving, commonly known in the industry as the ‘Writers Room’. For every scripted show on TV, there exists a uniquely curated group of screenwriters tasked with developing concepts, breaking story, and rapidly producing production-ready scripts on an extremely tight budget of time and resources. Consider the countless scores of series produced over the years, now consider the innumerable hours of episodic television produced, each tasked with the daunting task of generating unique storylines full of conflict and drama while delighting audiences with un-expected plot twists and story advancement. Not too dissimilar to the efforts deployed by commercial organizations in trying to appease and maintain their demanding customer base. Because if you can’t deliver, someone else will… and in the world of TV it’s as easy as one click of the remote. Imagine how a bespoke mix of creatives and subject matter experts, working in concert on a particular challenge, might address your organization’s most intractable challenges. Of course, they’ll need the proper guidance and leadership, which leads us to…
At the helm of these carefully constructed writer’s rooms is the CEO/CSO equivalent, the ‘Showrunner’. It falls on his/her shoulders to rally the troops, inspire out-of-the-box thinking, and ensure the entire show remains on course week after week. Whilst enjoying your favorite cable drama or streaming series you may have asked yourself ‘how do they come up with this stuff?’. As you can see it takes a small troop working in perfect alignment and synergy, led by the showrunner’s vision to ensure every word, every line of dialogue remains true to the central conceit of the show. The same objective is true for the CEO or CSO to maintain alignment with the organization’s core vision and mission statement.
The key to sustained success in the writer’s room begins and ends with convening the right mix of talent. It requires a nimble and agile ability to vacillate from symbiotic collaboration one moment to challenging one another’s core beliefs the next. It may sound chaotic, but it has proven time and again to be the perfect environment to foster unparalleled creativity. If a showrunner was to staff his/her room full of seasoned veterans or alternatively un-proven spec writers, this would create an echo chamber of similar experiences and perspectives (aka: ‘groupthink’ for the corporate world). In most cases, you’ll find that many of the accomplished writers in the room are on their second career. Many are ex-attorneys, doctors, engineers, construction workers… you name it. The more disparate life experiences to draw from, the better. This is something more organizations should be embracing in pursuit of a diverse and collaborative culture where ideation and innovation can foster.
RAISING THE STAKES
When scores of cast, crew, studio and network executives (sounding familiar to one’s own stakeholders?) expectantly await your latest stroke of genius – it takes quite a toll. How can one be expected to be ‘brilliant’ week in, week out? Juggling the constraints of budgeting, logistics, and network oversight (aka Board of Advisors) while maintaining clarity of vision for where you are going and how you’ll get there. The reason this model has worked so successfully is that this motley crew of eccentric egos, creative minds, and storytellers is given the necessary freedom and runway to ideate freely within a collaborative and supportive environment, and nurture ideas without the typical bureaucratic constraints often associated with other departments in the organization. You’ve hired this team to think blue-sky, to disrupt the status quo and deliver true innovation. I think you’ll find that most successful and memorable shows on television have often been the ones that have been awarded the greatest latitude to defy convention and the freedom to go where no other show has gone before. Try to embody the same approach with your internal team and you’ll be pleasantly surprised with the results.
Beginning weeks, if not months, before the series or season goes in to production, the Showrunner will begin assembling their troop of writers, each with their own unique voice and style to lend dimension to unique characters, narratives, and concepts. This begins a tireless mad dash to output anywhere from 8 to 30 (depending on the show & network) fully developed production-ready scripts by season’s end. If you are looking to ideate and output innovative creativity at scale, look no further than this proven model – it’s an iterative machine for an otherwise blue-sky process to storytelling. Keep the creative possibilities expansive, while identifying clear deliverables on a time budget. It’s often in the waning hours before a writer’s deadline (and oftentimes a healthy dose of whiskey) that the most impactful ideas and ‘story-breaks’ come to fruition. They key takeaways here… start early, define clear objectives and timelines, then iterate on these best practices to establish a successful cadence and rhythm for consistent productivity.
PUT IT TO THE TEST
There are countless books, seminars, and workshops promising their own unique ‘keys to success’ – whether it be for screenwriting, leadership, innovation, and countless other disciplines - most of which you’ll find are quite derivative of one another. The reality is, there is no one penultimate process or formula that will guarantee a successful outcome. It’s often an amalgamation of multiple sources, insights, and a ton of trial-and-error where one begins to identify their own unique process that is both effective for conceptual ideation and efficient in delivering results. That is the foundation on which our organization is based. Our goal at RL Leaders is to empower organizations with the right mix of creative and subject matter expertise to thrive and innovate amidst the backdrop of uncertainty and urgency. Our Deep Applied Creativity™ methodology is inspired by many of the same principles that guide the writer’s room and has proven time and again that creativity is often the perfect remedy for complex, intractable challenges. Whether you are looking to overcome systemic challenges in your organization, or mapping a strategic path forward for your Fortune 500 company, we recommend taking a page out of the Hollywood playbook – as they have been innovating for decades, right before our very eyes.