A bird does not sing because it has an answer.  It sings because it has a song.

05 November 2012

Creating a Scene

I recently attended a session facilitated by my friend Grant Stewart, whose assorted credentials include acting.  He shared a quote from one of his acting teachers that, with a little adaptation (which was indeed the point of the session), applies to a broad range of situations.  The saying goes, "the energy released solving the problem creates the scene."

In the context of acting, you have a situation, some characters, and a problem (that which creates the motivation for the actors to coexist on the stage and do something).  The process they go through -- the words they speak and the actions they take -- seeks to resolve the problem, and in so doing, releases the energy that "creates the scene," or in other words makes their performance worth watching.

It also makes their performance worth giving.  The question "what's my motivation?" is perhaps the most definitive of all questions that come out of an actor's mouth.  To step onto the stage and release the energy of the scene is the point and purpose of acting.

Suppose we expand this idea into a more general situation.  Pick a problem, any problem -- a project with a deadline, a need to innovate products or services, a complex misunderstanding -- and consider what has to happen.  You have a problem that must be solved, and the energy released solving that problem creates... what?

If you are successful, the release of energy creates a team.  It creates a sense of accomplishment, a source of pride, joy, and excitement, a clarity of purpose, and a cohesion among the people who worked together to solve the problem.  It also creates a feed-forward loop that puts that team in an even better position to succeed with its next undertaking.

Here's a shock -- when I was listening to Grant talk about this, I was thinking about the x2 launch.  It was a perfect example of a team being created and strengthened by the energy released solving a problem.  Just off the top of my head, here are a few reasons why I think it worked as well as it did, and perhaps some ideas you can take to a current team or problem you are facing:

  • Ownership. In a stage production, especially one with a limited budget, every person in the theatre knows exactly why he or she is there.  Whether playing the lead role or sweeping the stage, each member of cast and crew has a critical role that they understand and embrace as essential to the success of the show.  The x2 launch was the same way.  When I arrived at the mail room at 5:31 PM  from a dead run across the building with a package that had to go out TODAY, Chris took the package, smiled, and said "no problem." Chris in the mail room understood that his role was just as important as mine, which was just as important as Michael Seedman's or Casey Cowell's.  We all had to be equally committed to make the magic happen, and we all were.
  • Open doors. It was a well-known policy at USR that if you had a good reason to do it, you were not only allowed, but expected to hijack a meeting. The day I crashed into the VP of Sales' office with some key competitive intelligence we had just received, nobody gave a second thought to why the lowly coordinator thought it was OK to interrupt the managers; they tossed their agenda out the window and turned their meeting into a strategy huddle on how we would respond to the new information.
  • Clarity. Unlike a Shakespeare play, a business venture doesn't benefit from endless layers of flowery prose. "Synergizing our assets to marginalize our competition and conceptualize a profitable go-to-market strategy that maximizes favorable outcomes for our key stakeholders" elicits exactly one behavior: head-scratching. "Being first out of the gate with a kickass product that will turn the world on its head" is a goal people can get behind. We understood what we needed to do to launch x2, and every person at every level quickly figured out roles, responsibilities and specific tasks to get it done.
Certainly these weren't the only reasons why we were successful.  But these three pieces of the USR culture puzzle sure would fit into some gaping jagged holes I have seen in other organizations.