Being selective

Ira Glass hosts a great radio show in the US called This American Life (check out the podcast) that presents real stories culled from regular Americans. He is a master storyteller, with a great sense of how to find the right structure and details to make almost any tale engaging.

Your Daily Awesome points to a sequence of interviews with Glass discussing the art of storytelling. All of them are worth checking out, but segment #2 (“On finding great stories”) resonated with me. In it, Glass says that he and his team reject between a third and a half of all the story leads they work on. There comes a point in the process, he says, when they realize that the story just isn’t working. Then, it is time to…

… be the ambitious, super-achieving person who you’re gonna be, and kill it. It’s time to kill! And it’s time to enjoy the killing, because by killing you will make something else even better live… Not enough gets said about the importance of abandoning crap.

Anyone who becomes successful in producing any type of cultural artifact, be it radio stories, paintings, books, or websites, will eventually find him or herself confronted with the fact that he or she has too much going on, and that at least some of it is crap.

Can we muster the courage to abandon the things that aren’t working?

I’m frequently called on to make decisions about the projects my team will be working on. BootStudio is a small agency, so we don’t have unlimited resources to devote to all the projects we get invited to bid on. Additionally, taking on the “wrong” project (one that we don’t have the resources or skills for, or one for a client who doesn’t have the budget or necessary infrastructure) could lead a small team like ours into trouble.

Knowing which opportunities to “kill” is a big part of my job, and it often comes down to intangible decision points. Are we the right people for this job? Do these folks give us the “right vibes”? Does it look like we can communicate well? Are they being clear on what they need and what they expect from us?

I hate to pass up on potential work (and I don’t consider any request for our services to be “crap”), but when I do, I always think that killing this particular opportunity may free us up to work on other projects where we can do a better job and perhaps add more value.

Here’s the entire segment: