Quoting John Lasseter – “YOUR CONNECTION WITH THE AUDIENCE IS EMOTIONAL. THEY CAN’T BE TOLD TO FEEL A CERTAIN WAY. THEY HAVE TO DISCOVER IT THEMSELVES.”
Now, wait a sec. I realize that I didn’t properly set the context last time (or, in film terms, “establish the scene”) for this particular thread of posts.
The world that I inhabit often has me acting as liaison between business and technology, gathering the needs of both sides, and working towards an optimal solution. These two communities rarely empathize with each other. I’ve often seen the relationship between the groups degrade to where out of context are facts used as weapons. Does this sound familiar?
Business: “It doesn’t work.”
IT: “You didn’t tell us about (something), and that what’s breaking it.”
Business: “It’s late.”
IT: “You changed your mind, and we had to start over.”
For me to do my job, I need to earn the trust of both parties. That’s the first step – that’s what let’s me get to the real facts, and ultimately, the truth. I need those to develop a workable solution.
Step 2 requires me to bring the parties together, to have both sides support the proposal. This, as you can imagine is trickier. Remember Billy Wilder from last time – “Stories unite, philosophies divide”. What I’ve discovered is that creating a narrative to present the solution works much better than presenting my findings (which are, admittedly, my interpretation of their facts), and the solution.
Back to our regularly scheduled post.
Who Is John Lasseter?
John is Chief Creative Officer of Pixar and Walt Disney Animation Studios. Parents around the word owe him a debt of gratitude, for John, the writer/director of Toy Story is arguably the reason that modern children’s animated movies are so engaging for adults. His track record since, both as writer/director, and as executive producer of all things Pixar, is unmatched.
Disney bought Pixar, and when they did, John was given the responsibility to revive Disney animation. Disney had not had an animation hit in the 12 previous years – remember Brother Bear, Home on the Range, and Chicken Little? Me neither.
The Disney brass wanted to shutter the Disney animation brand. John Lasseter could have done that, and if he was a different type of man, probably would have. For Disney fired him early in his career. But his love of classic Disney animation is what made him choose his career path. So, he added executive producer of Disney animation to his list of titles, and proceeded to bring us Frozen, Big Hero 6, and Moana. He also brought back the vision and heart of Disney, which had been lost to focus groups and finance.
In an interview in Wired magazine, John said, “YOUR CONNECTION WITH THE AUDIENCE IS EMOTIONAL. THEY CAN’T BE TOLD TO FEEL A CERTAIN WAY. THEY HAVE TO DISCOVER IT THEMSELVES.”
I think this applies to business communication as much as it does to cinema.
“Your Connection with the Audience is Emotional”
In business, we talk of “finding the pain points”, we talk of “winning” and “losing”. Much of our day to day business language can evoke a strong, sometimes primal emotional response.
“They Can’t Be Told To Feel a Certain Way”
That fact based business/IT exchange from above is ALL driven by emotion. You can’t tell someone how they should feel (though we all try), and what someone feels will win over someone else’s facts every time.
“They Have To Discover It For Themselves”
John Lasseter and team manipulates us into feeling emotional and caring about drawings. They artfully craft a journey where you develop empathy for the protagonist, and makes it so that their struggles relate to your struggles. The character’s discovery becomes your discovery.
I’ll add in another quote from an early film pioneer, Ernst Lubitsch. “Let the audience add up two plus two. They’ll love you forever.” I found that my best presentations and demos are those where people can hardly contain themselves because they want to ask a question. Which I will have answered if they only waited for one or two more minutes. When that happens, I know that they are along for the journey, that they are putting together two and two and coming up with my four.
Now, I’m not saying that it’s trivial to translate the narrative approach to a business context. I am, however, suggesting in a world where there are ever more ways to divide one other that it’s worth a try.
Often, we’re scrambling just to get ready. Pasting facts on the page is the easiest to do when you’re under time pressure. But, take a few moments to consider the journey that lead you to your facts and conclusions, and think about the experiences you had and people you met along the way. Weave some of that into a story, and I suspect you’ll find a more receptive audience.