Pixar Story Rules

#1: You admire a character for trying more than for their successes. #5: Simplify. Focus. Combine characters. Hop over detours. You’ll feel like you’re losing valuable stuff but it sets you free.

#7: Come up with your ending before you figure out your middle. Seriously. Endings are hard, get yours working up front.

#11: Putting it on paper lets you start fixing it. If it stays in your head, a perfect idea, you’ll never share it with anyone.

#16: What are the stakes? Give us reason to root for the character. What happens if they don’t succeed? Stack the odds against.

#18: You have to know yourself: the difference between doing your best & fussing. Story is testing, not refining.

#19: Coincidences to get characters into trouble are great; coincidences to get them out of it are cheating.

These are some of my favorite “rules” from the Pixar storytelling process, as told by Pixar story editor Emma Coats. #11 really rings true for me, since I let far too many ideas bounce around in the old noggin without ever putting pen to paper. But all of these “rules” are solid, solid advice for storytelling. And since it’s Pixar, I’ll listen to just about anything they have to say on the topic.

Pixar story rules (one version)

When Steve Jobs Excuses You From a Meeting

There’s an interesting series of posts beginning at Fast.Co Design (or whatever they’re wanting it to be called) by Ken Segall, a former creative at Apple’s agency of record TBWA/Chiat/Day, about Simplicity and how it made Apple successful. The second one is up today, and it’s about how Steve Jobs handled meetings, and in particular one meeting when he kicked out a poor marketing executive the author calls Lorrie. It’s interesting in that Steve, despite what you might think about his personality and approach, was quite good at utilizing meetings because he kept them small. So when he looked across the room and saw “Lorrie,” he simply told her she could leave, because she was not needed.

That’s masterful editing. It’s so easy to overcomplicate things, to involve too many people because you think you need them, or they’ll help with one thing or another. But things move so much faster and are so much cleaner when you strip away the fluff; be it a product, a process, or a meeting. Recognizing this fact is one thing, but telling someone to “get out” is another…which is why everyone is not Steve Jobs, and why every company is not Apple.

TIL The Beatles Saw a LOT of Early Rejection

In early 1962, The Beatle’s manager Brian Epstein–who had “discovered” the boys the previous November at a lunchtime performance (I can’t believe that was a thing) at the Cavern Club–got them an audition for Decca Records, and they were promptly turned down. Shortly after, they got in front ofGeorge Martin, who was famously unimpressed, particularly with their original drummer Pete Best. Amidst all of this, the original bassist Stuart Sutcliffe died of a brain hemorrhage. That’s some serious turmoil and disappointment for the biggest rock & roll group of all time. And time moved quickly for them, but it wasn’t always up and to the right. Even The Beatles had to adapt, tweak, and change things. They had to overcome obstacles. They had to bring in Ringo, and get George Martin to at least say “I’ve got nothing to lose.” Success isn't imminent, it’s earned. Even if you’re The Beatles.

The Infatuation with "New"

New as a marketing tool isn’t really, authentically “new,” its a manufactured new. It’s a carefully planned and controlled launch to capitalize on the emotional response to hearing about something before anyone else does, or trying to catch up if you were late to the party. But that feeling only lasts a short while, which means the marketers have to really blast out of the gates to make it work. And in a world where there is so much other “new” stuff going on, it’s getting harder and harder to command that attention. (Its a natural human response to be taken with something new, we do it every day. Try a new app, and promise yourself “I’m going to use this every day”…but 2 weeks into it, you taper off. This blog is a perfect example, if you look at the frequency of posts from when I started to now, it maps that attention deficit perfectly.)

New also benefits from control, if you can control the release so the emotional response only has one outlet–you pulling out your wallet–then you’ve done your job as a new marketer. But if I as a consumer can have even a little convenience, that means others can too, which eliminates that rush to be first in line, or the fear of missing out.

Decentralization has been the enemy of the old guard forever. Whether its the VHS format or the Internet, as soon as people don’t have to wait in a line around the corner you’ve lost. Unless you’re Apple, and you’re incredibly good at building up a launch, then controlling supply and release perfectly to maintain that frenzy. But Apple uses all of those tactics to deliver a GREAT product, so there’s a hype of anticipation rather than participation. And given no one is Apple except Apple, the rest of the business world is grasping at maintaining “new” stuff.

We see it as a toy company more than most. The big players LOVE new, until it’s old. Tickle me Elmo, Furby, silly bands. It’s a well timed build up, it’s hyped, supply is controlled and a frenzy occurs. It gets free press, stores sell out and have room for the next “new” thing coming down the pipe. I think that’s just about the most wasteful model in marketing. And thank goodness the Internet is starting to disrupt it, because it wastes money, time and energy on irrelevant garbage that is designed to be discarded come January. What decentralization has done is turn the focus back to the product, and its long term value. The industry is still largely hit-driven, but there has been more emphasis on whether or not the product will continue to be interesting after the infatuation has worn off. That’s what we try to do here at Zylie, is focus on how to build ON the value, not replace it with another meaningless trinket. For Zylie, that means more stories, more friends, more experiences and more things to connect children to the adventure. For the kids who already have Zylie, we hear from their parents that we’re hitting that mark. But we’re always looking to improve it, and raise the bar. People should expect more from a product, and we expect more from ourselves.

Trade Shows

Trade shows are wacky places. Most people are way out of their element, and those who are in it are typically insane. It’s a big, awkward, over-the-top experience that’s both harrowing and hilarious. We went into the New York International Gift Fair with the goal of meeting several key sales reps, a few national accounts, and a whole bunch of indie retailers. I think the most value we got out of the show was actually the feedback on our sales pitch…after you give the same spiel 100+ times a day, you start to notice what points people react to, and how to hone it. Even though we’ve been giving variations of that speech for over a year now, it still amazes me how much you can learn by just sticking your neck out and telling a complete stranger why your brand is awesome. Especially buyers, since they have a very keen eye for what works and what doesn’t on their shelves.

But the show itself was a trip. You walk past booths early in the morning and all the staff are huddled together chanting a sort of pep rally mantra, pumping themselves up. You see crazy inventors in Tivas and cargo pants next to slick salesmen too engrossed in their Blackberrys to even look up at buyers passing by. You see elaborate stunts drawing huge crowds, while the mom and pop products next door are quietly killing it with the next big thing. There’s tons of competitiveness, but also a strange camaraderie around the ridiculousness of the surroundings, and an understanding that you’re all there to accomplish something.

The characters we met spanned the spectrum of personalities. If someone made a show about these events, it would kill. There’s endless material, endless characters. Call it Expo, base it on a couple of hired hands who go from trade show to trade show selling everything under the sun. Gold Jerry, gold.

But the valuable lesson is that amid all that insanity there is a great lesson in running a startup, and that is that you have to be out there, always. You have to figure out how to present your thing, and just pound that pavement, because people don’t just stop and listen, you’ve got to draw them in. And that’s only 1/3 of the battle. Then there’s the pitch, which is a mix of a good product and a good story. And then, of course, there’s the close. That’s the hard part, unless you crushed the other two thirds. Then it’s easy. And that’s just about everything. Now that we’ve learned, it’s off to Toy Fair in two weeks to make things happen.

Public Parts and Lightweight Social Identity

I loved Twitter the moment I first read about it. I was a bit late to the party in Summer of ‘08, but as soon as I heard what it was, I signed up. When I was first getting acclimated to the service, I was awestruck by its potential. I could tweet @ bands I liked, and they would tweet back. I could tweet at investors and entrepreneurs and they’d tweet back. And most interestingly to me, I could see what the world was talking about. It was a public stream of consciousness, but it had context and could be segmented however you liked. Facebook, on the other hand, I didn’t care for. I was one of the last holdouts of my classmates and friends when I got to college in Fall of '05. I was finally forced to join, and I played around with it a bit for a month or two. But I didn’t like how cliquy it felt, and how manufactured the content seemed. When you’re creating content for a specific set of people, you cultivate an image. You try hard to filter things about yourself so you appear a certain way. The photos, status updates, wall posts, comments etc all reflect that tendency. Which is why default-public outlets are so much more interesting.

Fred Wilson had an interesting post yesterday about one’s “Lightweight Identity”, regarding a commenthe made in passing on a panel discussion last month (40-minute mark), and I totally agree that your “public” identity is the best identity you could have online. It’s the most honest. Though it may be filtered (some might say it’s the most filtered because you’re speaking on the lowest common denominator of levels), it’s filtered for everyone, not a specific group. It avoids a lot of the distortion that comes with manipulating your identity to fit a niche. Now, some people do tailor their Twitter identity to be vastly different from their real one, because not everyone reads Twitter yet. But I think increasingly that problem will flatten out as Twitter and other public identities become the new resume, as emphasized by Union Square Ventures during their hiring process. When you realize everyone might be reading your 140 character blurbs, you might want them to match your real personality so there’s not a glaring discrepancy when you walk in for an interview or meeting.

Albert Wegner, another USV partner, talks about “Public Parts” in his post today, referencing Jeff Jarvis’ new book of the same name. Jeff is a “Publicness Advocate,” as opposed to the oft-cited “privacy advocate.” I’m in the same boat, and I think as we see more and more reasons why Twitter is the new norm, more people will hop on board.

Louis CK Reddit AMA

Read this AMA earlier this morning, was completely blown away not just by the fact that Louis edits his own episodes on a Macbook by himself, but how open and honest and freaking awesome the guy is in general. He answered 50+ questions in a few hours, remembered PA’s from sets he’d done years ago in Canada, answered deep questions about the nature of learning, and still managed to be absolutely hilarious. The guy is a legend. Read the whole AMA exchange here: link

More Than Half of UK Children Own a Toy Based on a Virtual World

The study of 500 kids showed that an amazing 55 per cent of children owned a toy from at least one of these games. The most popular was Disney’s Club Penguin, with 32 per cent of children owning a branded toy from the online world.

This is a huge statistic. Virtual worlds are an interesting development for the toy industry. Whereas normally the physical toy is in demand because it acts as the portal to imaginative play, that system is reversing here. Children are buying the physical toy as a manifestation of their imaginative play online, anchoring their virtual experience with a physical totem. I think that’s a bit of a warped process, because it delivers very little ongoing/lasting play value for the child…it’s merely a keepsake. What we see as interesting here at Zylie is playing off both the tactile and virtual experiences, building both worlds simultaneously so the child can connect with the same character online and off, and interact in ways exclusive to either medium, making the combined experience much more valuable and rewarding. Still, it is remarkable how quickly Moshi Monsters and Club Penguin have converted such a large portion of their users into customers.

link to Dubit Research article

Style Guides

This is Mailchimp’s interactive style guide, open to the public at VoiceandTone.com. I love looking at company’s style guides, it gives you an interesting window into how a company considers itself.Foursquare’sBrandBook is another good example, but Mailchimp’s is far more complete, and deals with nearly every interaction or experience a user has with its brand or product. Take a look, and learn something about not-boring corporate communication.

Not Everyone Is Crushing It All the Time

Betabeat has a good article this morning about the realities of what people are deeming “startup depression.” Foster Kramer interviews YouAre.tv’s Josh Weinstein on his 25th birthday about how people deal with it and the stigma that surrounds it. I’ve mentioned before that I think there needs to be more realism in the “startup” conversation, that this “we’re going gangbusters all the time” facade is unhealthy both for those inside and outside the looking glass. For those inside, it creates an unrealistic bar that you measure yourself against 100% of the time. If you’re not winning at everything, if your numbers aren’t doubling every week, if VC’s aren’t banging down your door, if Google isn’t sending you truffles to coax an acquisition, then you’re not doing it right. Starting something requires ridiculous optimism and nearly insane positivity, but there are times when that runs out and the roller coaster hits a trough. And in those moments, you don’t want to pretend like everything’s peachy keen, you want support. And that’s what a community is for. For those outside looking in, this mentality distorts the game. People freaked out over how Bloomberg misrepresented the hell out of the Techstars incubator program in their reality show, but this does the same thing, and sometimes there are real consequences. It’s important to exhibit the difficulties of the slog, because that’s a MAJOR part of it. Like Edison said, genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration. But it is getting better, stories like Sugru’s are cropping up more and more, and that’s a great thing.

I’d encourage you to read the BetaBeat interview, which was conducted in General Assembly (naturally). It’s still early for a discussion at Hacker News, but I’m sure one will brew up shortly.