Solve the right problem

 

Solve the right problem

Moneyball is a great movie based on a true story.

Of Billy Beane and baseball team the Oakland Athletics.

Beane, general manager of Oakland A’s realised that his best players were about to be stolen by the New York Yankees.

The Yankees could pay salaries five times higher than anything he could offer.

And Oakland was losing ground to the competition.

Which frustrated him.

So Beane met with his group of scouts to discuss who they would sign to replace their stars.

“Harry’s got a good arm.”

“Yes, but he’s 36 years old now.”

“I know, but there’s still a lot left in him.”

Billy watched the conversation; it was clear that he wasn’t happy.

And he started to make a gesture with his hand.

Signifying that it was all talk, talk, talk.

The usual stuff.

And Beane knew that usual wasn’t what was required.

He knew that this wasn’t a case of business as usual.

And he told them:

“You’re not looking at the problem.”

His scouts looked shocked.

“The problem we are trying to solve is that there are rich teams, and there are poor teams, and then there is a 50-feet drop-off, and then there is us.”

Beane faced multiple constraints.

The club’s owner controlled the budget.

The team manager controlled the way the team played.

The players controlled themselves.

He continued:

“We’ve got to think differently.”

So Beane – with the help of Peter Brand, a young Yale economics graduate – looked at what problem they were actually trying to solve.

Brand, who’d only just started his career, had some radical ideas:

“People who run baseball clubs, they think in terms of buying players. Your goal shouldn’t be to buy players. Your goal should be to buy wins. And in order to buy wins, you need to buy runs.”

Brand understood the stats: how to read them.

How to find value that no one else could see in the overlooked players.

Using mathematics.

He knew that there was a championship team of 25 people that they could afford.

Because everyone else in baseball undervalued them.

For various biased reasons and perceived flaws, such as age, appearance or personality.

So the Oakland Athletics – the team that had finished the previous season with the worst record in Major League Baseball – set a new American League record.

Winning 20 consecutive games.

With one of the lowest budgets in the league.

Beane and Brand had identified their fundamental problem: their massive payroll disadvantage.

They knew that always doing the same thing is always going to get the same results.

We often quote Albert Einstein (he knew a thing or two about problem-solving).

He once said that if he had one hour to save the planet, he’d spend 55 minutes defining the problem.

And five minutes resolving it.

We often work with clients upstream – at a business, category or brand level – in order to find the right problem.

Using a range of tools, workshops and good old-fashioned digging.

We’re able to talk (and understand) the language of commerce, audience, analytics, market and competition so that we can get to the nub of the issue.

Through this understanding and a relentless curiosity, we find the right problems to apply our creativity to.

— DB

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Work in partnership not silos

 

Work in partnership not silos

John Lennon is one of the most revered songwriters in history.

But when working alone, his songs could be protesting and abrasive – simple melodies with philosophical lyrics focusing on isolation, pain and politics.

Paul McCartney is one of the most revered songwriters in history.

But when working alone, his songs could be criticised for being sugary sweet,  overtly poppy and lightweight.

Even if they were potently melodic.

He was more happy to fill the world with silly love songs.

And even the odd frog chorus.

But together, Lennon and McCartney were better.

They wrote songs that not only revolutionised music but popular culture.

From the off, John Lennon and Paul McCartney decided to publish their songs under both their names.

So all their songs bear the cooperative hallmark “Lennon/McCartney”.

But, some songs were more Lennon’s work; others more McCartney.

Yet even A Day in the Life – a song which on the face of it appears to be a Lennon solo effort bolted to a McCartney solo effort – is an intertwined, combined number.

It was a song that John had started.

Armed with a copy of the Daily Mail for inspiration, he already had the first verse.

Which wasn’t unusual.

One of them would have a little bit of an idea and, instead of sweating it alone, they’d take it to the other.

And work on it together.

Ping-pong style.

Then perhaps the other would write the next bit.

Sitting in Paul’s London music room, the pair pored over the newspaper.

And they just started playing around with ideas.

They worked together on the verse about the politician blowing his mind out in a car.

Paul provided the middle section.

A short, bouncy piano piece he’d been working on independently.

A wistful fragment of adolescent reflection.

And from Paul’s dream, we’re back with John.

And his newspaper.

The headline “The holes in our roads” inspired the wonderfully memorable:

Four thousand holes in Blackburn, Lancashire

And though the holes were rather small

They had to count them all

Now they know how many holes it takes to fill the Albert Hall

When recording the song, the piece was knitted together with a swelling cacophony provided by some of London’s finest classical musicians.

Which producer George Martin said was John’s idea.

Until he later changed his mind and said it was Paul’s.

Which is sort of the point.

When you collaborate, the edges blur.

As do roles and responsibilities.

Lennon and McCartney didn’t follow a rigid formula where words followed music or vice versa.

One wasn’t solely the lyricist; the other the melody maker.

They freewheeled.

Sitting down with a guitar or at the piano, they looked anywhere and everywhere for ideas.

Melodies, chord shapes, some words, or just a thought to get started with.

And then they worked it out from there.

Rather like writing an essay or solving a crossword puzzle.

Which is how we like to work.

We see our whole process as creative, not just the part traditionally labelled as such.

Creative and strategist working together.

One not solely the strategist; one not purely the creative.

By applying strategic and creative thinking to business problems, we create more disruptive strategies and can visualise the possibilities.

This is why we often make a rough-cut film as part of the strategic process.

A combination of words, pictures, thoughts and possibilities.

Quickly pulled together, Lennon and McCartney style.

Because every Lennon needs to find his McCartney, and vice versa.

— DB

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Move people with your vision

 

Move people with your vision

When Bill Shankly took over as manager of Liverpool Football Club, they were a second-rate side, languishing in the old Second Division.

By the time he left in 1974, they’d won three First Division titles, one Second Division title, two FA Cups and one UEFA Cup.

Unrecognisable from the deadbeat side he’d taken charge of in December 1959 – even down to their kit.

Because when Bill Shankly took over as manager of Liverpool, they didn’t play in their iconic all-red strip.

They played in white shorts and white socks, with white piping on their red jerseys.

But Bill had an idea.

Impressed by Real Madrid’s all-white kit, and using his gut instinct for colour psychology, he made a switch so powerful that it’s hard to believe it hasn’t always been that way.

One day, after training, Bill bounded into the players’ dressing room.

He threw a pair of vivid red shorts to one of his players.

“Get into those shorts and let’s see how you look,” instructed Bill.

Because he had a theory: red is for danger; red is for power.

And he didn’t just choose any player to model this new kit, he chose his captain, Ron Yeats.

The 6ft 2in fellow Scot he’d signed from Dundee United, a part-time slaughterman who was as strong as an ox and twice as wide.

The bemused centre-half duly obliged and donned the red shorts, with the addition of red socks.

As he walked down the steps towards the players’ tunnel, he could see his manager, and assistant Bob Paisley, in the middle of the pitch.

And as Yeats approached them, all in red, Bill exclaimed: “Christ, Ronnie, you look awesome, terrifying; you look seven feet tall!”

His stocky presence was made all the more imposing by the all-red uniform.

A move intended to strike fear and intimidation into the hearts of opponents.

Bill was happy.

And on the 25 November 1964, the man-mountain from the “Granite City” of Aberdeen, led out his teammates against Anderlecht in the first round of the European Cup.

All in red for the first time.

The art of theatre was not lost on Bill: he instructed Yeats to stand in the centre circle of the Anfield pitch.

“Walk around him,” urged Bill, as he invited a group of journalists to behold his rough-hewn granite obelisk.

Splendorous in scarlet.

The match was played at a cracking tempo.

Yeats the rock: a huge, defiant red-jasper sentinel in the middle of the defence.

Hunt, St John and Yeats on the score sheet: the captain’s forceful header, the skipper’s first at Anfield.

They shattered the pride of Belgium: 3–0.

And Bill knew that a red glow had been ignited at Anfield that night: one that burned fiercely for more than 20 years.

He knew the importance of getting people to sit up and take notice.

His symbolic move captured their supporters’ imagination, and that of the onlooking press too.

Projecting a very clear sense of who or what you are, and the purpose of what you are doing, is critical to success.

Connecting as much, if not more, on an emotional level as on a rational one.

Through the symbol of reevaluation: a red kit, Bill projected a powerful identity, not just a superficial image.

Bill was sending out a visual message to reinforce the changes he’d made to LFC’s training ground, training methods, footballing philosophy and ambition.

A move intended to amplify these changes.

And, in doing so, intimidate the opposition, inspire the press, captivate the fans and motivate the players.

He’d brought his vision to life so people could see it, understand it and get behind it.

And like Bill, we turn breakthrough thinking into real-world outputs that fuel action and drive change.

— DB

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Work like you’re making a movie

 

Work like you're making a movie

Toy Story 2 is one of the only sequels to outshine the original.

But it was nearly a very different story.

In 1997, Disney executives asked Pixar if they could make Toy Story 2, as a direct-to-video release – not something Pixar were used to.

But a very lucrative model for Disney.

A way to keep characters from successful films alive.

But something didn’t feel right for Pixar.

The creative benchmark for sequels was lower, but they still said yes.

Instantly, they realised that they’d made a big mistake.

Aiming low was unfamiliar territory for Pixar and bad for their souls.

They just couldn’t figure out how to go about it without sacrificing quality.

So while a proven A-team worked on A Bug’s Life, the unproven B-team picked up Toy Story 2.

It didn’t take long for them to realise that a direct-to-video model wasn’t going to work for them.

So they argued for a theatrical release.

And won.

They had a good initial idea for a story, but something wasn’t working.

The early storyboards edited together with dialogue and temporary music weren’t where they should’ve been.

And they weren’t improving.

Worse still, the directors and producers weren’t pulling together.

Months passed, but the reels were still bad.

Finally, with A Bug’s Life completed, the directors – including John Lasseter – had the time to sit down and watch them.

Emerging from the screening room, John summarised: “Disaster.”

Having insisted on rejecting the idea of a B-level product, they were making just that.

Drastic action was required to avert a crisis.

John told everyone to get some rest over the holidays.

And starting 2 January, they began to re-storyboard the entire movie.

A clear message was sent out to the company that to right the ship they’d need all hands on deck.

With a new leadership team at the helm, they set about solving the challenges.

The problem wasn’t the original concept, but convincing the audience that Woody had a genuine dilemma.

Woody the cowboy doll is kidnapped by a toy collector who intends to ship him to a toy museum in Japan.

Woody has to decide whether to go to Japan or try to escape and go back to Andy, the boy who owned him.

You know he’s going to end up back with Andy.

But if you can easily predict what’s going to happen, you don’t have any drama.

So the challenge was to get the audience to believe that Woody might make a different choice.

Something the B-team hadn’t managed to figure out .

So they added several elements to show the fears that toys might have.

Ones that people could relate to.

And Toy Story 2 became a critical and commercial success.

It was the defining moment for Pixar.

It taught them a valuable lesson about the importance of people over ideas:

If you give a good idea to a mediocre team, they will screw it up; if you give a mediocre idea to a great team, they will either fix it or throw it away and come up with something that works.

To make Toy Story 2 it required people at all levels to support one another.

It’s was all for one, and one for all.

Making any movie is tough.

Everybody needs to pull together towards the common goal.

Everyone totally invested in helping everyone else turn out the best work possible.

Egos are best parked: the cast, crew, producers, writers and director need a shared understanding.

If film-making were a solo pursuit, then no writer would hand their material over to a producer or director again.

We create and build ideas through collaboration – just like making a movie.

Building multidisciplinary teams around the problem; only working with the best in the business.

And clients are integral to its success, as part of that team.

We involve the right people in the process, maximising everyone’s expertise.

And use our strategic and creative direction to keep the story on track throughout the entire process.

— DB

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