Record-Breaking Storytelling

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What the Black Panther filmmakers can teach us about collaboration

As creative beings working in industries where we’re surrounded by different backgrounds, personalities and talents, we have the opportunity to be inspired regularly and in countless ways. Personally, I wouldn’t have 1/10 of the imagination (or get nearly as much accomplished) if I didn’t exchange ideas with a diverse group of designers, user experience experts, strategists and more on a daily basis who bring countless unique flavors to the table. There isn’t much that survives, let alone flourishes, in a vacuum—collaborating with them makes my work better, plain and simple. Even King T’Challa, the Black Panther himself, needs his diverse crew of allies to help him protect Wakanda while simultaneously bringing its magic to the masses.

When it comes to addressing business problems for our clients, we all have great ideas we think could be ideal solutions for them. Yes, there are times when we all need to be inside our own heads to process, iterate and articulate things before we’re ready to share our work. But at some point, we need to let other people in—and in most cases, the sooner the better.

But what if we never collaborated? How limited would our world view, our thinking, and our results, be?

The process of creative collaboration is no less crucial at what’s commonly considered the highest and most lauded levels of storytelling. At this year’s National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) Show in Las Vegas, creators of the movie Black Panther discussed the importance of collaboration at every stage of the behind-the-scenes storytelling process under the leadership of the film’s director, Ryan Coogler. Despite the differences in their areas of expertise (editing, visual design and sound), they all shared a common passion for working together—not in silos—to create the best possible audience experience.

The Black Panther team summed up (in no particular order) how they ultimately created one of the highest grossing movies of all time—surpassing “Titanic” with over $1.3 billion in box office revenue.

  1. Establish the end goals, and make sure all participants are clear and in agreement.
  2. Choose a leader to take you on the journey to the finish line.
  3. Develop a process and criteria for creating the kind of work everyone can be proud of.
  4. Commit to the cause and find the best path for the journey ahead.
  5. Trust each other, follow through and create a safe space for all to contribute.
  6. Make every effort to communicate clearly and be willing to give and receive constructive criticism.
  7. Encourage fluidity but not flakiness—be willing to change course if needed, but don’t be afraid to ask why of your team when making choices.
  8. Have confidence in your abilities. Be an expert and demonstrate your opinion.
  9. Be willing to iterate, even if you think you’ve come up with the “right” answer.
  10. Have no fear.
  11. Invite input from others, regardless of their discipline or rank—and consider all sources. They feel and think what they do for a reason.
  12. Take action that benefits the “inside” and the “outside.” You can’t please everyone all the time, but you can help ensure the work environment and the experience you’re creating for the audience don’t conflict with each other. Results don’t lie.
  13. Always strive to deliver more, and a better product than the original ask.
  14. Mix disciplines, genders, ages and ethnicities for diverse, creative thinking. There’s no limit to great ideas or where they can come from.

Combining these collaboration rules seems like an obvious win for any business—especially in marketing, where we must do what it takes to make an impact on the brands we serve. Our common goal is to create the best possible solutions for our clients, regardless of what those solutions might be. It’s how we stay relevant, and how customers stay loyal. That’s our bottom line. So why not make collaboration the key to greatness?

Wakanda Forever, indeed.

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