Turning up to Thursday's Pause Fest opening night I was initially unsure how Commoner fit amongst the various tech geeks, 3d modellers and other digital wizards swanning around ACMI's Optic bar.
In fact, aside from our own enthusiasm, I couldn’t convincingly explain why we were in attendance.
Commoner fits in the cracks between start up, digital agency and established live action production studio. Often we have a foot in all camps, with much of our 'nimble' video production solely intended for digital delivery.
That's not to say that we ignore traditional media outlets, but invariably our focus almost always returns online.
One of the great things about attending a festival like Pause Fest, is that it serves to reorientate the team and, hopefully, provide evidence that as a budding creative organisation still on its learning curve, we are more or less on the right track.
It can be reassuring to hear that successful teams have been through the phase we are in, and that our late night skype calls discussing strategy over the last 6 months were actually fruitful.
Overall though, there were three key ideas that resonated with me during the festival:
- Invest in personal projects that build reputation, increase skills, and help retain staff
- Diversify your team skills by advocating a major and minor skill
- Develop strategies that embrace challenge
The importance of play
In the business of new ideas, creativity is paramount, and we are not going to allow ourselves to be creative unless we make time for it.
This doesn’t amount to ultimatums being applied to ourselves such as, ‘I must be creative within the next 40 minutes, or else’. Rather, it is a reminder to dedicate time to thinking outside the scope of day-to-day work.
In one way or another, the topic of play was touched on in pretty much every panel or QA session over the weekend. Some agencies, like Sixty40, built the idea of spending time on personal projects (projects for love over money) into their culture; the name Sixty40 refers to the groups ideal balance between commercial and independent projects.
"By creating commercial work in parallel with independent projects, we keep pushing ourselves both creatively and professionally and both types of work benefit." Mark Simpson, Sixty40
Others like Tim O'Neill of web agency Reactive, built the approach into their production workflow, where by resources are set aside to better realise 'investment projects', regardless of client budget.
"Great design is an investment in your agency's brand and reputation." Tim O'Neill, Reactive
Nigel Dalton, CIO of REA Group, told the story of his teams purchase of a 3D printer which, through the act of play alone, led to the discovery and adoption of a new time management methodology (the Pomodoro technique) which increased productivity between 25% and 30%.
Each of the stories highlighted that the benefits that flow from making the time for ‘being creative’ are not always obvious and manifest themselves in surprising ways.
The major and minor
Dave King of The Royals, spoke about his agency's commitment to hiring and developing 'slashies' - people who exhibit major and minor skills. He said the strategy works for them because it allowed the group to break out of set roles when responding to a brief.
The message was don’t pigeon hole yourself as a particular branch of creative; see what else you can do. Small studios know all about multitasking, but the same can be true for creative approach.
My favourite motion sequence from the festival, by Speakeasy Collective
Personally, I really like this idea as it offers a transformative element to ones career. I like the idea that everyone is capable of a good idea, and it feeds into one of the core ideas that were discussed at the festival, that of diversity (which could be a post in its own right).
Don’t limit your thinking, and don’t let yourself fall into easy categorisations as a producer, as a writer, or programmer. Small teams tend to wear lots of small hats, so push your boundaries and find another way to contribute.
A challenging strategy
"The best strategy is one that embraces challenge and inspires an urgent and compelling need to dislike the status quo." Erminio Putignano, PUSH Collective
In arguably the best presentation of the festival, Erminio Putignano took the audience through his impressive portfolio of work at PUSH Collective and elsewhere. Through a series of case studies set around Melbourne, Putignano made a compelling argument that good strategy must contain challenge.
A strategy shouldn't just 'fit', it should inspire those in your team the need to realise a future potential, as if the present situation was suddenly rendered unacceptable.
For a small studio that may not be always be working on the most creative brief, it means giving your all; push to make this project the best thing you’ve ever done within the limitations at hand.
To me, this also means not scaling down expectations on yourself because the subject matter is dull.
Time and time again through the festival this point was rammed home. That strategy is a story that compels action and redefines perspective. And that beyond all the technology, gadgetry and pretty colours, it is the skills of the storyteller that counts most when trying to capture people’s imagination.
In bringing your product to market, it needs to have a narrative, a means of connecting.
Which is good news. As for us, storytelling has always been paramount. An engaging and real story is the king of the castle when it comes to delivering a message that resonates with a fragmented public characterised by short attention spans and a low threshold for average.