Lessons from Hollywood: How to Solve Problems as a Team

Robert Mohns, Principal Digital Marketing Strategist
Posted on Aug 25, 2017

My brother-in-law is a screenwriter. One of the things he says he’s learned about Hollywood is “When there is a problem, it feels really good to be the one to ‘save’ the project. Everyone wants to be the person that saved it.”

Man, is that familiar or what! Something isn’t working. You think of a fix. You tell the team to make it so, and they do. Boom! Done. It’s so satisfying.

But… was that the best solution? Often, the answer is no. Great artists aren’t great in isolation — they have colleagues who influence them, who question their work, who challenge them to do better. Greatness is a group achievement.

As the client or project leader, what you should do is identify the problem, then ask your team to solve it with you.

Here are five guidelines to help your team solve your problem, whether it’s a flawed script or a flawed website design.

1. Be humble

When you’re a subject matter expert, it’s easy to assume you have all the answers. Unfortunately, expertise isn’t transitive.

A movie director knows how to work with actors to get a great performance, but as Quantum of Solace showed, that doesn’t mean that same person can write a tight, gripping script.

For that web page, remember that you are the product expert, but that your team has expertise ranging from user psychology to visual design to copywriting. If you let these people work together and with you, instead of issuing solutions, you’ll get their very best creative problem solving.

2. Be goal-oriented

What is the goal we’re trying to get to? Let’s say in that hypothetical movie script, the bad guy will team up with the hero in the third act, and we need the audience to buy it. That’s the first goal: belief.

In our web page, we want to get the visitor to want to talk to one of our sales team. Again, that’s the first goal. A reasonable next goal to set would be the good old fashioned “Request a Demo” button.

3. Be clear on the problem

“This isn’t working for me” is useless feedback. It provides no information on the problem to solved. Before anything else, you have to understand the problem.

Don’t jump ahead and start defining solutions yet, either. Make sure your entire team knows – and agrees on! – what the problem is.

Bad movie feedback: “Mister Badguy should tell some jokes.”
Good movie feedback: “Mister Badguy is untrustworthy.”

Bad web feedback: “Make the ‘Get a Demo’ button brighter.”
Good web feedback: “We want the visitor to click ‘get a demo’.”
Great web feedback: “I want the visitor to ask us to call them.”

4. Be challenging

Being humble doesn’t mean to roll over and accept whatever your team says without question.

If your writer adds a clever quip for the bad guy, go ahead and ask how that makes Mister Badguy more sympathetic. They’d better be able to tell you exactly how their change will solve the problem. (Because it might not. It might just make Mister Badguy even more unlikable.)

When your web designer (or, say, me) tells you to change the copy on your button, they should be able to explain how the change will affect the user’s behavior.

5. Be wrong

This is the tough one. Sometimes, the thing you identified might not be a problem at all. Perhaps Mister Badguy is supposed to be unlikable, because the hero is kind of a jerk and needs someone even worse for contrast. And maybe the “Get a Demo” button shouldn’t be important, because what you really want the visitor to do is watch a video, or tell a colleague about you.

Challenge your own assumptions about what you’re doing, and whether you’ve even picked the right goals. Not only will this force you to be clear about the problem, I guarantee it will increase your team’s respect for you. (Who doesn’t like that?)

Now go fix it!

It doesn’t matter whether you are making movies, websites, cars, rockets or dish towels. There will be problems, and you will solve them, and you will not be alone. It’s a team effort.

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