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Embrace the cutting room floor

February 9, 2012

Billy Bob Thornton, Martin Sheen and Gary Oldman were three of the many famous actors who suffered the same fate in director Terrence Malick's 1998 movie, "The Thin Red Line." They were completely edited out of the movie, despite months of filming.

In the February issue of FastCompany, editor Robert Safian uses Adrien Brody – whose role was also dramatically cut in editing – to show Malick did more than produce a critically acclaimed movie; he taught a lesson on creativity and business.

The Brody Rule, according to Safian, is this: "you can't make decisions based on initial assumptions or the amount of resources extended, but solely on what best meets the needs of the situation." Malick ignored the original shot list, the investment the studio made in each of those actors and personal feelings. He did what was best for the movie. To flourish, organizations should take the same approach.

Check out your family's photo album to see what happens when you ignore the Brody Rule. Those pictures from First Communion, Bar Mitzvah or the trip to Disney World are probably printed on Kodak paper. In 1976, the company claimed 90 percent of photo film market and 85 percent of the camera market. But things didn't stay that way. Late last month, the company filed for bankruptcy protection.

Photos now are captured on digital cameras and smartphones and posted to instagram, Flickr and Facebook. But it's a trend Kodak should have been well-positioned to lead since, ironically, it invented digital photography in 1975. Despite its digital discovery that led to billions in patent royalties, the company never fully embraced a proper digital product strategy. So wedded to its legacy film and paper business Kodak either failed to read the shift in consumer demand or simply refused to adapt. Unfortunately, no one at Kodak had Malick on speed-dial.

But Brody applies beyond product strategy. It also should be ingrained into how we think as marketers and communications pros. We can't hold on to strategy based on old research or simple assumptions about our audience. There are too many tools that allow us to hone in on how our audience thinks, what they want and what they need. So we must continually ask ourselves if our audience insights are still on target. Are we listening to what they are saying in real time and are we prepared to adapt our engagement strategy and messaging so that it resonates? Is our plan still in line with an evolving company strategy or shifting market nuances?

In telling an organization's story – just like making a movie or developing product – the only thing that matters is what best meets the needs of the situation. Anything else should end up on the cutting room floor.

Photo: Jordan Polizzi