A Thought For The Week’s End

The Wikipedia essay on Jim Jarmusch details this director’s relentless quest for personal expression and his obstinate resistance to convention.  Given how critical the notion of originality is to this filmmaker, the following quote from a piece he wrote for MovieMaker titled “The Golden Rules of Filmmaking” may come as a surprise, and yet it perfectly reflects our post-modern, mashup world where we have ready access to so many varieties of stimulus: cultural, personal, historic.

Sadly, I don’t know who did the graphic design but it is aptly energetic and showcases his thinking memorably.  Think great thoughts and enjoy your Friday.

Picture 1

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

International Symbol or Visual Puzzle at the Cliffs of Moher

The Cliffs of Moher

The Cliffs of Moher

I missed two blog entries last week due to an annual golf trip to Ireland.  This year, we went to the West, in County Clare and the Galway area.  After playing a gorgeous round at Lahinch and before an unbelievable plate of stew at Gus O’Connor’s pub in Doolin, we stopped briefly at the breathtaking Cliffs of Moher.  Standing on O’Brien’s tower gives you a 700 foot vantage point on Galway Bay with the Aran Islands barely visible out in the Atlantic.  It’s a spectacular spot and thanks to both our tour guide Tim and Wikipedia, I learned that it served as a backdrop for The Princess Bride, the latest entry in the endless line of Harry Potter movies, and even the hazy cover art for U2’s recent album, No Line on the Horizon.


Sign #1

Along the walk up, the tourist bureau posted a series of warning signs.  It may be true that much like Scotland, Ireland and the United States are two cultures separated by a common language, but really, a few words may have been in order to help clarify the meaning of these imaginative, if over-reaching symbols.

They started simply enough with Sign #1: a triangular-shaped warning that sprinting along the edge may cause both damage to the cliffs and an ungainly posture.  Indeed, this simple visual messaging would easily translate for visitors from most any culture around the world.

Sign #2

Sign #2

Sign #2 however, began the descent into indecipherability.  It could mean ‘please don’t kick the oversized black piano keys’ or perhaps ‘no hurdling gravestones.’  Maybe it means that ‘climbing shipping boxes of framed paintings requires two hands’ or perhaps even something as prosaic as ‘no dancing too close to obstructions of any sort,’ but that seems unlikely given the Irish proclivity for enthusiastic if ungainly dancing.  No, Sign #2 remained something of a mystery to our group, but whatever it warned of, apparently we were able to walk away unscathed and apparently, without egregious violation.

Sign #3

Sign #3

Sign #3 though totally lost it with the implied intent.  ‘No hovering at altitudes higher than the local birds’?  ‘No walking on flaming coals while littering candy wrappers’?  ‘Beware of fire gulls’?  The possibilities for misinterpretation seem limitless and would require someone with expertise in a made up academic discipline like “Symbology”–that’s right, I’m talking to you Robert Langdon and you too Dan Brown–to interpret the meaning of the graphic artist here.

Then again, take another look at the top picture.  See all the non-cushioning layers of shale and sandstone that might provide only a harsh and temporary break in any unfortunate fall over the nearly vertical cliff face that ultimately ends in the frigid crashing sea hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of feet below?  Taking that perspective, it seems Nature already provides all the warning labels one might need to keep all but the most determined visitor from tumbling off.  That’s keeping it simple…

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

Bonus-Guest-Blogger, Mike Dwyer: Improvisational Marketing: “Yes, And-ing” Your Way to Successful Innovation

Picture 1Guest Blogger: Mike Dwyer

Mike Dwyer is the Business Development Manager at Paladin, a recruitment firm focused on marketing, creative and communications talent.  He is also both an incredibly networked ninja master of social media and a charming and personable guy. He uses his deep understanding of LinkedIn, Digg, and other social networks to meet many “passive” job seekers with relevant experience.  He also recently started utilizing Twitter to gather information on specific topics that fascinate him.  Like the best leaders in this space, Mike is generous with his knowledge and expertise, helping many–including Element 79–truly learn the advantages of social networking.  Mike can be found on Twitter @cruiter , via email at mike.dwyer@paladinstaff.com , or most anywhere interesting things are happening, particularly The Playground Theater in Chicago where he performs improv comedy.

When I tell people I’m an improviser but not a stand up comedian, they say things like “you must be good at thinking on your feet” or “I bet you do well in public speaking or presentations” or “I just love that Dane Cook.”  Hmm…let’s be clear: improvisation is “the practice of acting, singing, talking and reacting, of making and creating, in the moment and in response to the stimulus of one’s immediate environment and inner feelings.”  Thanks, Wikipedia.

You can improvise almost anything you do, from cooking to comedy, exercises to explosives.  Improv teams are comprised of anywhere from three to eight people on stage.  Typically these teams rehearse every week (“But it’s improv, why rehearse?” is one of those if-I-had-a-penny question), honing their craft through classes, practice and performing live shows.  Most well-oiled improv teams you see have been rehearsing and working together for at least six months.  My team has been a member of the Playground Theater for seven years and still performs twice a month.

Group Mind:

“You guys were performing off of a script right?” is another if-I-had-a-penny question.  The secret to improv is adhering to a few basic rules while reading the expressions and gestures of your team members.  In time, you develop a “group mind” from working together, something improvisers learn to take for granted.  The ability to know what people are going to say before they say it isn’t ESP; it’s based mostly on conversation and getting used to others’ work style.  Improvisers start conversations on stage that stack up as the scene progresses and they are always grounded in agreement.  In other words, they follow the concept of “Yes, And…”

“Yes, And…”

Agreement!  Not a contractual commitment, but a verbal concession – an “I see where you’re going, I like it, and I’ll take it further,” if you will.  Essentially, a “Yes, And” is a statement that you take from one to build the next thought and eventually, an entire conversation.  Again, here’s Wikipedia:  “Accepting an offer is usually accompanied by adding a new offer, often building on the earlier one; this is a process improvisers refer to as “Yes, And…” and is considered the cornerstone of improvisational technique. Every new piece of information added helps the actors to refine their characters and progress the action of the scene.”

The Lesson:

I don’t proclaim to be a business and marketing Ninja, but I do try to reuse and recycle any life experiences to be more successful in my career.  Improv has proven to be an invaluable tool at doing that. Taking risks on my feet, being more open to suggestion, and most importantly, having a positive mindset grounded in agreement have all been valuable to group ideation off the stage.

Paladin is a marketing and creative staffing firm with over twenty years of market presence in the US.  We are at the forefront of the massive media shifts within the print and newspaper industry and in the trenches of the wholesale budget cuts in the marketing C-suite.  For better or worse, this is the current state of affairs. We can look at these circumstances in two ways: (1) a call for you as a business person to roll up the tent and head for the islands (or if you are on my budget, back to Iowa); or (2) a call for you to be creative and flexible within your organization.

Here are some ideas to help you to act like an Improvisational Marketer in your next meeting, sales presentation, or brainstorming session:

  • The team is #1!   Support your team members and work hard to create trust.
  • Say “Yes, and…” rather than “Yes, but…”  It’s more powerful to build on Agreement.
  • Develop a Group Mind.  Literally warm up the room with a quick improv warm up game.  If you need some ideas, check the Improv Encylopedia.
  • Limit your descriptive words in explanations. Try to have a quick beginning, middle and end for each thought.
  • Trust your instincts.
  • Fall, then decide what you’re going to do on the way down.

Essentially, improv and flexibility are one and the same.  If you are a marketer today, your ability to be flexible and rely on your team – which may range from a Brand Manager with seven years of experience to your twenty one year-old intern who has a 1000 friends on Facebook and Twitters about what products she buys – could prove invaluable to your organization’s success.

By Mike Dwyer, Business Development Manager, Paladin