November 30, 2015

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03/10/08 Growing Greatness

There's an old saying that goes, “It’s hard to remember it's your job to drain the swamp when you’re waist deep in alligators.”

Sound familiar?

It’s hard to inspire greatness when you’re under huge pressure. Inspiration is important in all businesses, but in the film, music, and radio businesses — which all provide entertainment — inspiration is the backbone to success. Uninspired air personalities make for bland radio stations, which yield even blander ratings and revenues. Of course, everyone working in radio needs inspiration; not just the air talent, but every person working within the walls of the station. Inspired people make better employees, and in turn make their customers happier customers.

Pixar director Brad Bird recently collaborated with Chef Thomas Keller on the film Ratatouille. The theme of the film is this: Anybody can cook, but it takes passion to become a great cook. On the film’s DVD, which features an interview with writer/director Bird and Chef Keller, both stress that creative ideas can’t be forced. They emphasize building creative environments that foster a creative state of mind, and note that spontaneity is key to the creative process.

When making the film, Bird was faced with a two-year process of inspiring his team of writers, animators, musicians, story-boarders, and sound engineers on a daily basis. Describing himself as “enthusiastically demanding,” Bird says “It’s a matter of coaching greatness out of people, and it’s all about commitment. Over and over I heard, ‘I love finding and exploring new tastes,’ ‘I love copying animal movements,’ ‘I love hitting new standards,’ ‘I love finding that extra something that makes it more engaging.’

What is the key to inspiring people at your radio station? It’s not about micro-managing, controlling, or pushing. You can’t just walk into the control room and yell, “You’d better be funny or I’ll fire you!” And you can't follow a specific creative process. The key is simply working to help each person improve a little bit here, a little bit there. A gradual tweaking. Bird says that in the animation business it’s important to create a sense of self-improvement among the team, and a sense of urgency. “Our films are never truly finished. We just get to stop at our deadline.”

Every manager is tasked with the dilemma of how to inspire workers to achieve new goals. My father ran a factory that made pots and pans. Every day he would greet his employees: “How many did you hit today, Charlie?” Charlie would answer, and my dad would encourage him: “Do you think you can do just one more each day for a week?” They always hit the goal, and the output grew dramatically year after year. The strategy was not to force huge goals the factory employees did not believe they could hit, but to inspire them one day at a time.

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