Sunday, July 24, 2011

What makes a leader a creative vision leader?

Lot's of passion and opinions on the subject but it's all so new!
Our highly convergent media world, is exploding with the rapid growth of new mobile formats, new publishing formats, new gaming formats, flash tribes, persistent tribes, Social everything, hypermediation, transmediation and a list of new concepts and titles that is growing faster than Wikipedia can keep up with.

In the newly emerged Transmedia industry there are new models, ideas and definitions being presented on a daily basis that suggest specific structures and processes that you can build or hire-in (sometimes for very large consulting fees). The creative and commercial results of all this activity, to date, have been occasionally good but generally mixed at best. No one has found the magical secret recipe, if one even exists.

If the rise of the audience is showing us anything its that systems need to be extremely flexible and able to adapt to each IP's unique needs in a way that is authentic to the specifics of its audience.

To be clear, I believe that over time, good insights and best practices will emerge from the tsunami of opinions. Change is ultimately extremely healthy and as long as there are articulate professionals aggressively gaining and sharing their knowledge, successes and failures, the debate will eventually yield "tools"that can be used by those trained to use them.

So who or what can I build my I.P. development program on?
If you are an intellectual property owner or steward, considering how to proceed with development, from a creative standpoint, it can seem like an overwhelming set of choices and decisions.

For today's post, I'm not going to comment or vote on definitions, structures or tools. I'm going to focus on a single role within the swirling possible choices for development. A role I believe needs to be at the center of any creative decision-making on any new Intellectual property.

That role is the Vision Leader.
The Vision leader is the accomplished and trained creative human being whom understands your I.P. on a personal, instinctual, and gut level. A person who cares deeply about every aspect of the narrative because it is personally meaningful to him or her. The vision leader is independent of what specific cross media development model you subscribe to for your I.P. expansion project. He or She will be your creative center no matter how you proceed.

Based on the work I've done across many different I.P. corporations over the past 25 years, I suggest the following broad guidelines in terms of how a vision leader fit into the parent organization and how they interact with partners, consultants and talent:

  • Voice: Vision leaders need to have a seat at the high level management meetings where strategic decisions are being made about "what" to do with the I.P./Franchise. Some corporations and companies don't have creatives at the highest levels or segregate them out of certain strategic planning discussions. The creative/audience voice is critical to have as part of the discussions in a world that has made a paradigm shift to audience empowerment.
  • Authority: Vision leaders need to be the cross-media nexus for high-level creative decision-makers across all media formats. This is easier to do as a licensor than as a corporation with internal divisions/formats. Fundamental structures and issues of Centralized brand management need to be addressed and adjusted.
  • Resources: Vision leaders need to have clear access and a budget to utilize company research efforts and to conduct exploratory creative work if needed. Vision leading is all about excavating creative opportunities that grow the I.P. in authentic ways. Without exploration that is agnostic of single media concerns, the role can become a simple yes/no function that doesn't generate insights into narrative possibilities.

In terms of who the vision leader works for or reports to I think there are lots of different possible combinations that can work. The chart above isn't an org chart. It's about the dialogue and creative decision-making at the highest level.  Broadly, this role is most effective at insuring true creative quality when all questions of a high-level creative nature come to his or her office for input and decision. This in no way disempowers specific media creatives, brand management or transmedia producers from doing a fantastic job however it is defined.
 I don't recommend that the vision leader role get combined in the same person with one of those other roles, or any other roles for one simple reason.

Truth: "You always get the behavior you incentivize for"
You need to have a high level creative authority in the development and franchise expansion mix whose primary job is to advocate for the Narrative, the Art, the quality and connectedness of the experience and...most importantly, the audience. That person is your vision leader.

If that person is also managing schedules, deliverables, talent contracts, or any of the hundreds of other specifics of a single or multiple media execution, then they are being measured or incentivized to place those concerns above others and will change their decisions in subtle and profound ways that will not be the best for your overall creative franchise health. It's also why I believe it's important not to combine the vision leader role with any of the various descriptions of a Transmedia producer.  However you define it, Transmedia Producer is a big job with a great deal of management and coordination duties. Combining the vision leader with that role, I believe, sets up conflicts of advocacy. 

In entertainment, great commerce happens because the audience falls in love with the Narrative and finds it meaningful and empowering. It is the role of the Vision Leader to be the primary voice for all of that and for creative consistency and narratively authentic growth.  The vision leader does not have to be the author or the writer.

Description of a vision leader's qualities:

  • Understands narrative - preferably, someone who is trained in some form of quality storytelling/creating but can be someone who's life work has proven that they do this on an instinctual level.
  • Communicates and Advocates well - A vision leader's primary job is to advocate for the authenticity of the narrative in all its forms.  He/she is the voice of the audience in the room.
  • Can see and expand on possibilities - A vision leader must be someone capable of engaging with new possibilities and accepting, adjusting or rejecting them based on what is good for the "growth" of the IP, not just for where it has been.
  • Is highly creative - The vision leader is not the source of all ideas in a Transmedia world but must be able to engage with and be additive to those ideas.
  • Is concerned about the commercial success of the property - Though the vision leader's primary role is to be the steward for the creative aspects of the I.P., he/she must be fully engaged in the process of commercial expansion and success as well.
  • Is a member of the community he or she is creating for - My previous post "are you a member of the community you create for?" covers this subject in greater detail. If possible, finding that person who feels the I.P. has deep personal meaning for them, can bring a whole different level of creative management to the project.
  • Ideally, is conversant in development in a number of key formats - This is very additive but not necessarily a price of entry of the individual is very good at all other measures and is collaborative and able to work well with key creatives for each of their own media formats
The thoughts on vision leader I present here are conclusions I have come to from many years of working directly for, and/or helping various large entertainment and entertainment product companies to expand their Intellectual properties to do much more than the single media or product category that birthed the I.P.

There are many points of view on all aspects of this subject and I hope my perspective helps in stimulating the discussion.

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