How / can we learn from our creative mistakes?

We all know the supposed benefits of learning from our mistakes.  However, movie producer Nora Ephron – producer of chick flicks such as Sleapless in Seattle and When Harry met Sally – questions whether we can learn any lessons from the duds.  In an article by Gerald Wright in the SMH, Ephron’s argument is: if, after a movie she realises that an actor was miscast, she can’t say she’ll never miscast again, because at the time she thought she was casting well.  Similarly, as a a writer she cannot learn not to write bad scripts in the future, because at the time she didn’t think she’d written a bad script.

Ephron’s quotes raises some important issues about evaluating the business outputs of the creative process and raises implications for managing performance when creative outputs are not delivering the desired outcomes.

The first set of issues are around the audience.

Is the creative professional creating for themselves or for the audience and do they really know their audience, or are they making stereotypical assumptions?  Think of the difference between the Commonwealth Bank ads with the American ad agency and the Qantas “I still call Australia home” ads.  Which one patronises you and which one makes you feel proud to be a potential consumer?

As a designer of learning experiences for senior managers, I constantly face this issue.  I am usually hired on the basis that I have specialist experience which indicates that I know what a “good learning experience” is.  Or, in the language so popular today, I know what a delightful/great/wow [insert fad word for the day] learning experience is.

But my first questions are always around: who is the audience, what do they already know and believe and what do they want from a learning experience?  Unfortunately, the response I get back is often “you’re the expert, you should know”.  Luckily, my background with the Solution Focused approach has given me lots of tools and phrases to push back and gently respond, that while I know what good or even best practice is, I will always be learning about what will work for this audience.  This allows me to avoid the trap of presenting an expert’s view on training and gives me access to members of the learning audience so that I can craft relevant experiences.

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