I have been reading the book, Creativity, Inc. by Ed Catmull, Co- Founder of Pixar Animation. In the book, Catmull talks about the elements necessary to foster both creativity and productivity. An important concept that comes out of this discussion is the existence of the “unmade future.” In the context of Pixar, this is the idea that a movie does not exist inside of someone just waiting to be unearthed. Rather, creation is a step-by-step and purposeful process and the movie (or any creative endeavor) is only a result of that process.
A few may stumble into creative success without process, but this creativity is not often sustained or repeated. This is largely because those creators refuse to continue to create out of fear of failure. They have no mechanism for repetition. Therefore, to successfully create, consistently, observation and reflection is required. Additionally, self-awareness, adaptability and courage are necessary ingredients. In most cases, creativity also requires collaboration.
“The most creative people are those that are willing to work in the shadow of uncertainty.”
Catmull goes on to explain how only 40% of what we observe in the world comes in through our eyes. The rest is a mental model our brains create to help make sense of the input. This model is largely built from past experiences. It is important to remember though, that the mental model is only a tool and like a weather forecast—it can be wrong.
This exploration into the creative process is a relevant discussion for event managers and venue operators because at its core, event planning is a truly creative activity. In a previous article, I examined how different personality types play a role in the event management process. Related to that, I believe there are different types of creativity. The interplay between these creativities is delicate, but critical. These differences may look like this:
- Venue Managers can suffocate event concepts presented by the event organizer in an attempt to standardize the operational experience. Exerting known operational processes to an unknown event idea makes the event prospect feel safer. The venue is both the figurative and literal box the event is trying to squeeze into. It is important to remember though, that the figurative box is a mental construct only. This model can and should be challenged.
- Event promoters sometimes need the guidance of others to create structure. For a creative endeavor to get off the ground, it needs to be actionable. Best practices exist because of learned experiences. It is helpful to use conventional wisdom as a frame of reference, but not necessarily a guide. Sometimes, that figurative box is a helpful tool in making the vision functional.
Finding an agreed upon “figurative box” is really the venue sourcing exercise. Catmull says that balance is the critical state for facilitating a truly creative environment. “Achieving true balance means engaging in activities whose outcomes and payoffs are not yet apparent.” Balance then, is a dynamic state. It is never ending and teeters back and forth.
I am nowhere near articulate enough to explain this desired state of balance as well as Catmull did, but I think this is what I was acting on when I first started Stylehawk Events. I have always been aware of the different perspectives people bring into the event planning process. When I would lead building tours, I worked hard to listen carefully to the event organizers’ visions without telling them how to hold their event in my building. My past experiences are valuable and relevant, but they may be limiting in the early development of an event concept. Similarly, a truly unique event idea beyond my imagination may be so novel because it is unexecutable. This is the intersection where great events are borne. If I had tried to impose my operational bias at the outset, I would have snuffed out the creative opportunities. Conversely, an unfettered event concept may be fatally flawed without parameters.
In my work as a venue manager, I observed that there is often a gap between the goals of the venue and the objective of the promoter. This gap can create discord. Risk-averse behavior is often the desired state for event facilities. The goal is to generate revenue for the venue with the least amount of effort and risk exposure. This isn’t good or bad. It is just a business tactic based on solid strategy. Event venue operators work in complicated environments. For example:
- Beyond a sincere desire to keep people safe, venues are often the “deepest pocket” in the equation and therefore fear any exposure to litigation.
- Staff in “gatekeeper” positions are rarely incentivized for taking on fresh event concepts (in fact, they may be punished by creating extra work for their staff and additional risk for their organization).
- High workloads and limited support may suppress the willingness to take on new challenges.
- Venue stakeholders and anchor tenants have high and often unpredictable needs and expectations. Priority scheduling is a self-preservation process, rather than an efficiency model.
However sound this strategy is for the venue, it can be limiting for the promoter. The promoter relies on creativity, originality, and exposure for success. In concept, Stylehawk was established to support event organizers in a way that facilitated creativity by building a framework for success that also satisfied the venue’s desire for safety. This would then trigger ancillary but significant benefits like cost savings (economy of scale) and freedom of time so promoters can focus on higher yield activities as well as additional rental event opportunities for venues. Brilliant, right?
Something happened though…
I learned first-hand about the power of confirmation bias. Confirmation bias is the “tendency to interpret new evidence as confirmation of one’s existing beliefs or theories.” The brilliant business concept behind Stylehawk worked well enough as a freelance endeavor, but has slightly missed the mark as a fully-formed business. Stylehawk Event Services is still a startup. More simply stated, Stylehawk is still going through the creative process. True to form, finding balance has been dynamic. My past experiences told me that bridging the gap between event venue and venue organizer is an in-demand service.
Some clients really get it. They have experienced this gap and have felt the effects. Our contributions to their events have been enormous. Others, however, may observe this gap as a challenge, but don’t see it as a problem that needs to be solved.
Like all creative endeavors, Stylehawk needs to straddle the threshold between the known and the unknown to be successful. I need to push beyond the construct I created around my past experiences to really meet the needs of event organizers—to solve the biggest challenge event promoters face in their business. Through observation, candid self-reflection, and in consultation with some really smart people, I finally found something that existed in plain sight, but that took me over a year to see.
Time and again, I have heard prospective event promoters say:
“I am comfortable with my event operations process…but what I really could use some help with is generating more event revenues.”
Ahha! By taking a step back, I see that from the outset, my job has been to help my clients create the most successful event possible. Success can be defined by many metrics, but perhaps the most telling is profitability. For all of the noble and entertaining reasons events exist, we know that events that are not profitable are not sustainable. So, for Stylehawk to be sustainable, I need to make events profitable.
To do this, we amplify the efforts of talented event promoters by providing expert, concierge-level service and powerful, operational systems to increase event revenues and decrease event costs. Stylehawk guides our clients down the path of profitability by taking a holistic approach that focuses on three targets:
- Event Operations
- Ticket Sales
- Sponsorship Sales
With this approach we are changing the horizon for our clients. It is a game-changer, rather than an incremental improvement opportunity. The value proposition is so much clearer. Stylehawk makes events profitable. Functionally, my business is to help event organizers navigate the creative process in a systematic way and then provide structure and support. Embarrassingly, my business was faltering because I failed to engage in that same process.