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A Winning Creative Bracket

What most of my brackets look like....

March Madness is upon us once again, and it's time to fill 'em out! Like spring training in baseball, hope springs eternal, because before the first tip-off, we all have the perfect, error free, office pool -winning, Warren Buffet-billion-dollar-paying bracket. And then it happens. They actually start playing the games! With every wrong pick, we recalibrate our hope.. Avoid a big mistake and perhaps you can right the ship, get back on track. Watch one of your final four teams go down in flames early and you know the madness is pretty much over for another year. But fear not! By next March enough time will have passed to make you believe the perfect bracket is once again within your reach!

The March Madness bracket process is a good metaphor for the creative process. Before the first camera is turned on, before the first clip is stored on the hard drive, there's an idea, a perfect vision dancing around in your head. You can see it, you can feel it, you can even see others, potential customers, other businesses, your peers, the news media, they are all watching and applauding! You don't know how you will get there, but you know how you'd like it to go. And then it happens. Production actually begins. Reality sets in. The budget gets cut. Your calls for Morgan Freeman to voiceover the brilliant script you've written have gone unanswered. You find out that Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence are not interested in pro bono work at this time , and the Eiffel Tower location permit process is proving to be extremely difficult. You lose some games along the way, but you soldier on until the final edited buzzer. So what can you learn? We think there are a few strategies you use when building a successful March Madness bracket that you can take to your creative planning process.

I know a friend who has had great success, always at the top of the office pool standings.. His secret? He picks his teams from the inside out. Unlike most, he starts with his final four and works his way out to the first round. He engineers his bracket backwards. This is a great strategy for your creative vision. Instead of worrying about the details early, focus on the essential takeaways. The process might not unfold exactly the way you want it, but what are the MUST have points that you want your audience to leave with, what does that creative final four look like? Is it Morgan Freeman you need or is it what he represents- a strong yet understated voice that speaks with quiet authority? Is it the Eiffel Tower, or is it a breathtaking view representing endless possibilities? Just like March Madness, the later rounds are worth more. In the creative process, identify what you're championing, and then work out the details to get you there.

Another strategy for creative success is the willingness to take some calculated risks. Just like a winning tourney bracket, you have to identify a few places where you go against the status quo to give yourself a chance at greatness. In a winning NCAA bracket, everyone knows the upset picks are the difference makers. You won't last long picking 16 seeds over 1 seeds, but the inverse is also true. If you just pick the favorites, at best you'll be running even, because the safe choice only gets you to where everybody else already is. So if you have the courage to take a few smart chances creatively, it can pay off in a big way. So yes stick with what works, but realize always doing that creatively probably ends you up in the middle of the pack.

Finally, remember this. Whether you pick all the winners or not, the tournament does crown a champion, every year, without fail. If you can enjoy the creative process, appreciate your creative winners, humbly accept your missteps, champion the good fortune of others, and come back for another creative round with unbridled enthusiasm, you can't lose and you will win eventually. The creative process, and laying out the roadmap should be fun. Also remember being lost sometimes makes for the best stories. The only way you can be positive you won't win a March Madness bracket is if you don't fill one out. The same is true creatively. Don't let the daunting task ahead or past failures stop you. If your vision is never acted on, if your creative idea stays just an idea, you'll never get to the final four, and the road there will be a lot less interesting. Embrace the madness. Because a stomped on, wrinkled, ripped up, beer-stained bracket is still a better story than the one left blank. KP

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