1. Gatsby’s Green Light
AKA “Wait & Hurry Up”
(as opposed to “Hurry up & wait”)
Before the Beginning, everything is on hold — waiting, waiting, waiting for the go signal, the green light to get started. The proposal is in, they like the idea, they like you, they like everything but you’re still waiting for the “go” signal. We wait, like Gatsby gazing across the water at the green light, dreaming of Daisy and an orgiastic future.
Of course, the moment the project is finally given the “go,” the client immediately displays a sense of retroactive urgency regardless of how long the wait for the green light.
2. Blue Skies
“Nothing but Blue Skies From Now On!” sings the refrain.
Client and team now envision the Grand Plan, a white-bright future where the project solves all the targeted problems and is loved by all: management, trainers, and trainees alike. Everyone agrees on goals & objectives, roles & responsibilities, milestones & timelines and desired project outcome.
This is a dream state. Enjoy it — you will awaken very shortly.
3. Elfman Moment
Danny Elfman (award-winning musical composer) once said that soon after signing every major contract, the same thing would happen to him: he would go blank. Completely, totally blank, a terrifying feeling that all inspiration — and his talent — had dried up forever. He simply could not do the work. Then, just as he would pick up the phone to call the client, apologize, return the advance and negotiate an end to the contract — he would get the Flash, the Inspiration, the Idea. At that moment, he would hear The Theme.
Now, he sees this moment as a regular part of the creative routine, and no longer panics. For many projects in your career, this moment may be the most terrifying of all.
These next two moments, Back Up & Wiggle, and Mop the Ceiling!, can occur interchangeably at any time during the iterative development phases of a project. They differ primarily in intensity of issues. Please note: both phrases are derived from real-life incidents, so the back story is provided.
4. Back Up & Wiggle
This moment occurs when you discover you need to change course, reverse direction and/or return to a prior version to make significant adjustments.
Back Story: Once upon a drunken camping trip, 3 people — a couple and the fellow’s brother — sought refuge from the rain in a hay barn. The brother took a far corner to give the couple some privacy. A few minutes later, he heard giggling and talking but tried not to listen. Still, he couldn’t help but hear his brother say, “Back up and wiggle,” and then she grunted and laughed, followed by, “Good, good…back up, yeah, a little more…there, wiggle.” This went on for awhile and his imagination, well, took flight, filling in details that we will not.
The next morning the brother discovered that, actually, she was trying — with helpful directions from her husband— to wiggle her wet drunken way backwards into a tight mummy-style sleeping bag. All too often, client review comments and post-review team directions can feel very much like this: “Back up…wiggle…a little more…”
5. Mop the Ceiling
You unexpectedly face project catastrophe, a crisis that halts everything until the immediate problems are dealt with: “Mop the ceiling!”
Back Story: Once upon a time, I was a jerk. A soda jerk, that is, in the mid-70s at Nothing Strikes Back, the world’s only black-light ice cream parlor on the Drag in Austin, Texas. We used a nitrous oxide-powered dispenser to create fresh whipped cream. When we switched to a standing tank (rather than the little cartridges), we used a hose with slip-lock coupling to connect the tank to the dispenser. One time, as I slipped the dispenser back into the cooler, this hose disengaged. Resulting in a geyser of whipped cream shooting up over the counter, splattering against the ceiling, and raining down in a wide circle. We 3 jerks and the two customers all jumped back and watched transfixed as the gas ran out and the geyser subsided. Looking at the whipped cream globs dripping from the ceiling, Derek turned to Dave, the new guy, and said, “Well, what are you waiting for? Mop the ceiling!”
Dave cracked up, shaking his head, saying, “Mop the ceiling? Oh, man, I’m gonna love this job!”
NOTE: This drastic type of situation is not due to the predictable changes, course corrections or adjustments typical for a project. Those are covered under “Back Up & Wiggle.”
6. Rabbit time
Time to “pull the rabbit out of the hat.”
You’ve explained how the magic will work and how all these parts are in process and in production and everything will look much, much better when it’s completed. Finally, they insist on seeing proof of the magic, saying, in essence, “Show us the rabbit.” No more stalling, no more excuses, no more justifications, rationales or reasons — just make it work.
7. Emerald City
“You’re out of the woods, you’re out of the dark, you’re out of the night…”
Break into song as if you were right there with Dorothy skipping along the home stretch of the Yellow Brick Road. The Client likes — no, LOVES! — the project. After all the dreams & designs, reviews & revisions, wiggles & mopping, rabbits springing from hats, it is finally time to wrap it, launch it, put this baby to bed and celebrate!
Then, take a deep breath and get ready to start all over again.