There’s a scene from the movie Dirty Dancing that I want to talk about (didn’t think I’d ever be typing that combination of words).
The other day I found my wife lip syncing her way, word-for-word, through Dirty Dancing yet again, and there was one particular scene where I felt a powerful affinity with Johnny Castle – Patrick Swayze’s snake-hipped, be-mulleted lothario dance instructor (and local member 179 of the House Painters and Plasterers Union).
To clarify, I am neither snake-hipped nor am I a member of any kind of union. I don’t have a mullet and as for dancing – imagine how a puppet’s limbs move when the puppeteer sneezes, that’s me.
The scene I’m talking about comes where Johnny is ‘tutoring’ his blossoming love interest, ‘Baby’, in the dance studio, when up rocks slimeball grandson-of-the-boss, Neil Kellerman:
Neil Kellerman: “My grandfather put me in charge of the final show. I want to talk to you about the last dance. I’d like to shake things up a bit. You know, move with the times.”
Johnny Castle: [enthusiastically] “I’ve got a lot of ideas. I’ve been working with the staff kids on a cross between a Cuban rhythm and soul dancing.”
Neil Kellerman: [slimeball-ey] “Whoa, boy. Way over your head here. You always do ‘the Mambo’. Why not dance this year’s final dance to…[pause for tension]…‘the Pachanga’?”
Johnny Castle: [Flatly] “Right.”
Neil Kellerman: “Well, you’re free to do the same, tired number as last year if you want, but next year we’ll find another dance person who’ll be only too happy…”
Johnny Castle: [defeatedly] “Sure, Neil. No problem. We’ll end the season with the Pachanga. Great idea.”
Neil Kellerman: [to Baby] “Sometimes he’s hard to talk to, but the ladies seem to like him. See that he gives you the full half-hour you’re paying him for, kid.”
I felt affinity with Johnny’s sinking heart in this scene. He’s the passionate creative, always on, always driving his craft forward. Respectful of its history, but desperately wanting to be part of shaping its future. He’s intuitively in touch with his target market, and knows, just knows they are ready for something disruptive. For Johnny, little else trumps the dance, and he has seen the effect impassioned, cutting edge, thrilling dancing can have on people.
Whereas Neil, well he’s the manager. He’s got other priorities on his mind. For him, dipping into a bit of frivolous creative thinking gives his brain a welcome break from keeping staff in line and checking the table cloths have been ironed. It’s not that Neil isn’t passionate – he clearly loves running a hotel and being the boss. And it isn’t that he can’t be creative either – he’s called on to solve problems every day. It’s just that to him, those problems are important, heavy problems, whereas dancing poses fun, weightless problems.
For anyone who makes a living coming up with ideas, someone saying to them: “We want to shake things up a bit,” is like sticking a needle in their arm and pouring in a can of Redbull.”
For Neil, Johnny’s dancing is only one of many metrics by which he will measure the success of the End of Season Dance, including happy guests, staff doing their jobs well, catering going smoothly, and perhaps the future of the hotel – and his continued ascendency – being assured.
For Johnny, he has only one metric: the creation and successful performance of the final dance is everything.
For Neil, ‘shaking things up a bit’ means staying on the same tracks, but maybe driving a different coloured train. For Johnny, ‘shaking things up a bit’ means inventing the jet engine.
For anyone who makes their living coming up with ideas, someone saying to them: “We want to shake things up a bit,” is like sticking a needle in their arm and pouring in a can of Redbull. The adrenalin surge is awesome, because someone is finally asking you to slip the constraints and knock their socks off. It doesn’t happen often, and sometimes for very good business/political/budgetary/strategic reasons that the creative isn’t always appreciative of.
We have less of a class system these days, but lack of respect for others’ disciplines through unfamiliarity or ignorance is still rife. And no, I’m not just talking about designers.
With their combined attitudes Neil and Johnny can never be reconciled in their expectations of each other, so they will inevitably never be satisfied with their relationship. Set against the backdrop of a far more class-driven 1950s society, Neil looks down upon Johnny as something below ‘staff’ – he’s the hired help, and Neil resents that the hotel relies on Johnny’s talents; whereas Johnny perceives Neil’s arrogance as endemic in the rich and privileged.
We have less of a class system these days, but lack of respect for others’ disciplines through unfamiliarity or ignorance is still rife. And no, I’m not just talking about designers. If Johnny was out doing his own show he could do whatever he wanted, but he wasn’t. He was doing Neil’s. As creative support, it was Johnny’s responsibility to establish just how ‘shaken up’ Neil was prepared to be. He didn’t ask, and he wasn’t interested in Neil’s myriad other concerns as a businessman.
…at the end of the season when the guests get home, will they recommend Kellerman’s because of the table cloths, or because of the hot dancing?
On the other hand, because Neil was a pillock he not only lacked respect for Johnny’s talents – he more fundamentally lacked respect for Johnny as a fellow hard-working human being. Something that we sadly see all too often to this day. Consequently, he was also entirely ignorant of the creative process and unaware of the opportunity having someone like Johnny around presented for the hotel’s profile: at the end of the season when the guests get home, will they recommend Kellerman’s because of the table cloths, or because of the hot dancing? Coming up with the Pachanga was not a master stroke of creativity, it was a failure of leadership.
The Double Diamond
At EllisJames we subscribe to the Design Council’s articulation of the Design Thinking process. They call it the double diamond, and this is how we interpret that:
This has proven to be a very effective process, and it makes it inherently clear that the ‘brief’ is far from the start of the journey, coming instead halfway towards the solution.
If we pop back to Neil and Johnny, Neil feels it his place to do all the creative thinking and to come up with the brief for Johnny then to deliver. In doing so, Neil is compromising the Discovery and Definition stages of the Design Thinking process. These critical stages are where the strategic goals of a project are articulated and brought to life. Consequently, he’s dismissing any consultative value that Johnny could offer if he had been involved right at the beginning.
But that’s a movie right? About a dancer and a rich kid
Well yes, but for us too it can be frustrating when our invitation comes later on in the process, because a large part of how we define ourselves is about the value we can add before that – the empathy, the investigation, the research, the ideas, the divergent thinking, the disruption and the play. It’s not just about our sense of identity; it’s also the effectiveness of the outcome, and therefore it becomes an issue of value for money for our customers.
At one point in the last scene of the movie, Neil’s grandfather laments to his band leader:
“You and me, Tito. We’ve seen it all, eh? […] Lots of changes. [But] it’s not the changes so much this time. It’s that it all seems to be ending. You think kids want to come with their parents and take fox-trot lessons? Trips to Europe, that’s what the kids want. Twenty-two countries in three days. It feels like it’s all slipping away.”
If anyone was in need of some new ideas it was Max Kellerman, but as we’d already discovered, the Kellerman way was to move with the times, not ahead of them. He’s not the only person to have seen a glimpse of the future and failed to imagine a way for him to remain part of it though, is he?
“A digital camera is a nice idea, but what about our film business? If we sell cameras that don’t need film – who the hell are we anymore?”
Kodak actually invented the world’s first consumer digital camera – in 1975. But they couldn’t get approval to launch or sell it because of fears for the impact it would have on the film market. Management was so focused on the continuing success of film that they missed the digital revolution they’d had a hand in starting. They filed for bankruptcy in 2012.
“We’re not sending our DVDs in the post? We can’t trust kids to send them back to us.”
Blockbuster was the unrivalled leader in the home movie rental market, dominating the sector in multiple countries. They adapted with the switch to DVD from tape, but failed to innovate into delivery. When Netflix started up, Blockbuster considered them ‘niche business’. Blockbuster filed for bankruptcy in 2010 and Netflix is now…well actually Netflix is now under threat from Disney.
“You think kids want to search these days? No – they want all that’s important to come to them, and have it all in one page.”
Yahoo! was BIG in 2005, but if focused on media over search, ignoring consumer trends and the opportunity to innovate user experience. They also missed a chance to buy Google in 2002, and to buy Facebook in 2006.
“Kids might want touchscreens, but we’re for grown-ups, and they like keyboards.”
If you were in business, you had a Blackberry. Blackberrys had push email and brilliant security. And a keyboard. But they failed to acknowledge the innovations happening in user experience. They refused to adopt touch screens and focused on protecting what it already had.
Sometimes it seems to be fear that holds people back from getting the thoughts of professionally creative people early in a process. It shouldn’t be that way. It should be fun, energising, life fulfilling:
“Fear causes hesitation, and hesitation will cause your worst fears to come true.”
Thanks for reading. If you’d ever like to talk about the subjects in my articles, please let me know – the coffee is on me.
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All the best