The cinema vs. the editing suite

The cinema vs. the editing suite

The cinema vs. the editing suite

Working together in the editing suite is far better for a business than watching a presentation in a cinema.

Jonathan Yudelowitz

When you attend a presentation in a company’s boardroom, you’re in a cinema of sorts. The presentation is highly finished, as a movie is. It is designed to impress. It is also, like a movie, something that you can enjoy or endure, but not something you can change. In fact, you can do very little except sit there politely until it’s over. It is a fait accompli.

More and more, I see most business practice taking place in this cinema. Meetings are characterised by people sitting along a table looking, not at each other, but staring at a screen.

The PowerPoint has become the thing. Slick presentations have their place, of course. But a business that operates predominantly in this cinema setting has a problem. All those graphs and icons tell people what is good, what is bad and what the numbers mean. But the setting doesn’t allow people to think for themselves – or to contribute to the finished product.

And, make no mistake, they aren’t a random collection of people. They are highly paid, intelligent and valuable staff members. The business can only benefit from tapping into their participation, input and buy-in.

Instead, the cinema tells them what someone else thinks.

But who is that person? The person taking credit for the presentation isn’t necessarily the person who put it together. Who did it? What brief were they working to? What value judgements did they use? What assumptions did they impose on their information? We have no idea. And now is not the time to ask. The show must go on.

When things are rushing past, it is difficult to know what’s really going on. Are you being manipulated? Is the proposal feasible or improbable? Is the presenter working with conviction? Is their logic coherent? Most meetings amplify this way of working, which may be the reason so many businesses lurch from crisis to crisis.

Like a movie in an actual cinema, everything important was decided some time ago – and in a different place.

The editing suite.

At YSA, we are often confronted with the world according to the cinema. Our work is to take you into the editing suite. This ‘venue’ comes with different rules of engagement.

1)  Slow things down.

In the editing suite, things are not slick or finished; images and icons do not flash past incessantly. Things are slower, more considered. Here’s where the raw ingredients of your movie are worked with. This is where to continue my analogy, you give everyone the chance to look carefully at the day’s rushes: the facts of the situation at hand.

2) Tell your story.

The best way for you to convey the facts of a particular experience to your colleagues is by telling your story.

The traffic was awful. I arrived late at the client. When I got out of my car, I looked at how I was dressed. I was wearing a skirt, stockings and high-heeled shoes – for a meeting on a mine on the West Rand. I walked into a room – I can hardly call it a boardroom. I was supposed to introduce a new programme. The guys were just all over the show. The presentation I had worked on until midnight – nobody paid it any attention. The more I tried, the more they wouldn’t listen to what I had to say. I went home feeling crap.

If being ever-so-clever is what happens in the cinema, storytelling is more authentic. It reclaims something we do naturally. We learn it as children. It’s part of our upbringing. You can feel the power of storytelling, even in this simplified example.

3) Be clear what’s at stake.

When telling your story, be authentic. Take time to unpack what was at stake for you. Be clear. What you were trying to achieve? How did you feel?

Be clear, too, what was at stake for the business. Why was it important?

There’s a good reason for this. It’s how you start a meaningful conversation.

4) The art of conversation.

Compared to the cinema, where, barring a few polite interjections, only one person speaks, in the editing suite, there is time and space for everyone to have their say.

As important, the venue demands that people listen – a skill that requires as much from people as talking does.

If mute listening characterises the mood in the cinema, conversation characterises the atmosphere in the editing suite.

At YSA, we are reintroducing the art of conversation to business. Stories are a wonderful method of doing that.

5) Can I identify with your story?

Everybody in business thinks agreement and alignment are critical for moving forward. They are important, but what really gets business moving forward is identification.

Can I identify with what you’re saying?

Your job is to get the people in the room to identifywith your story. Let’s say you felt marginalised. We’ve all felt marginalised. We’ve all had the experience of being an outsider. It’s a universal experience.

When something just makes sense, it feels right.

It is not a question of whether you were right or wrong.The agreement is not the issue. In the cinema, there are the two-by-two matrices of business. The labels and the value judgements. The right and wrong. The heroes and villains. The stars and dogs. You’re a this, I’m a that.

In the editing suite, what’s important is whether I can identify with your experience. Do I buy your story? If I feel sceptical, I will ask questions until I’m assuaged.

There is a point we need to get to. Can we identify with each other? Can we identify with where we have come from? Have we really heard each other?

Then, can we decide what to do?

6) Work with the facts.

When you share the facts with your colleagues, they live your experience. The facts include how you felt. When people know how you felt, you bring them along with you.

Compelling details make for compelling listening.

At first, an abundance of facts may feel overwhelming, but, remember, these are the rushes that will, when put together, form the finished movie. The facts matter. They will create a real-life context for your colleagues. The richer the context you paint, the better their involvement.

The process of working with the rushes is remarkable.

  • People will want to make sense of the situation.
  • They’ll want to collaborate.
  • They’ll want to grapple with the possibilities. What should they do? What’s at stake?
  • They’ll become judicious. They’ll become careful about what they select from this, what from that. Especially with controversial issues.
  • They’ll want to trade-off between the options in a responsible way. What’s appropriate, what’s not?

When you are working with the facts, everyone understands what’s at stake. You know where you stand. You know who’s going to gain from a particular outcome and who’s going to lose.

You can be brutal. You can take the scissors and say, “You know what. Now that we’ve slowed it down, I can see what isn’t working.” You can take some really tough decisions. You may not necessarily agree with each other, but you can agree on what to do.

For any business grappling with its challenges, working in the editing suite is a million times more valuable than sitting in the cinema.

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