Concept vs. Execution

Regardless of planning, execution varies a lot.

Like most creative groups, when we begin a project (whether it’s a video, a design, or a website) we sit down together and brainstorm. We hammer out a concept (based on goals, target audience, media, etc.), then write project briefs summarizing the concept. Then we go to work making it happen.

And this is where things sometimes become difficult. My production teams sometimes seem to believe that once a concept has been developed and agreed upon, that’s it—all that’s left is to execute the concept. Except…even when the concept has been discussed at length and details worked out…there is still much latitude in execution.

As a result, teams will begin production (sometimes they’ll get all the way through), I’ll look at what they’ve done…and say “This isn’t quite working.” That’s when people get ruffled.

“But I thought we agreed on this?” they’ll say. “I thought we worked this all out?” Yes, I reply, we worked out a concept and structure, and even described each scene…but we didn’t work out every last detail.

The teams’ frustration seems to come either from a desire to make every possible decision up-front (so the rest of the project can just roll on autopilot)…or from frustration that I’m not just checking out of the project after the initial concept is developed.

I’m not a micromanager—not by a longshot. But the thing is…

No matter how well-defined the concept is, the devil is in the execution.

Those myriad tiny details can make or break a project—regardless of how beautifully conceived it is. This is a hard lesson to learn for many in the creative industry. People get irritated when the disapproval of a manager or client leads to changes. But this is perfectly normal—and the measure of a successful professional is not how well you can prevent changes from happening (you can’t)…but how quickly and smoothly you can implement the changes and reach consensus.

Much of the time, issues with execution come from divergent ideas on the meaning of the same words. I can say something needs to be sophisticated, and that word is interpreted differently by people. I can say it needs to be sophisticated in an understated way…and that can still be interpreted differently.

So I can say it needs to be sophisticated, in an understated, minimalist way, with clean lines and elegant typography and this can still be interpreted differently. I can say all of the above and also provide mood boards…and it’ll still be interpreted differently.

The point is that anything—short of a lengthy specifications document that mandates every microscopic detail (down to precise colors, precise placement, selection of music, exact length of transitions, etc.)—is subject to wide variations in interpretation. And I don’t have time to write up detailed specs for every project.

So the best we can do is agree on a concept, a style, an approach…then start execution. If that execution isn’t right, we have to tweak it until it is. Sometimes multiple revisions are necessary. And this is usually not a result of inadequacies in the concept or lack of sufficient discussion up-front.

Some might say that mockups and storyboards are where you work out the details. But trust me on this—you still can’t prevent changes. You can take days to develop detailed storyboards for every scene in a video, for example…and when you actually shoot it, things will be different, and there will be countless creative decisions that have to be made on-the-fly.

The bottom line is that creative work is an iterative process, and there is nothing you can do to stop that from happening—unless you just don’t care what the finished product is like.

So my best advice is this: be flexible, be nimble, and be accommodating—until the project is done. You’ll find more success this way than by digging in your heels every time you feel a project taking a different path than what you expected.

And if you’re really talented, you’ll always find a way to preserve the original concept or intent through a variety of executions.

That’s the true sign of a professional.

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