Demos need details

In Creative Selection, Ken Kocienda describes a backlot scene from Singin’ in the Rain, set on a Hollywood backlot intended to look like a city street. 

Immediately before Kelly dunks himself under a gushing downspout draining water from the roofs of the “buildings” he is dancing past, he skips past La Valle Millinery Shop, an enticing-looking storefront with several fashionable women’s hats on display. Of course, this wasn’t a real shop. The storefront might have been a cobbled-together flat with nothing behind it, or there might have been a studio office through the “shop” door, perhaps for an MGM bookkeeper or clerk. We don’t care. We’re too charmed by the singing and dancing. Compare this fake hat shop with another prop seen earlier in the number, when Kelly jumps up on a lamppost on the edge of the sidewalk. Unlike the hat shop, that lamppost prop needed to be real, or at least real enough to support the actor’s weight. Were other lampposts on the backlot similarly well built? We don’t know, but again, we don’t care.

He likens this to software demos:

In the same way, software demos need to be convincing enough to explore an idea, to communicate a step toward making a product, even though the demo is not the product itself. Like the movie, demos should be specifically choreographed, so it’s clear what must be included and what can be left out. Those things that aren’t the main focus of a demo, but are required to create the proper setting, must be realized at the correct level of detail so they contribute to the whole rather than detract from the vision.

This operationally feels the same for all sorts of creative work, which is why some articles, speeches, or podcasts can grow into books (including mine!). The authors made something that convinced the people they were serving that their idea is worth exploring.

Working on these details is a very strategic, conscious, decision-making process, and the complete opposite of obsessive creative energy. You don’t want to get carried away by your passion, because that’s a waste of limited creative energy and resources. Instead, you’re focusing on making something that makes another person feel something.

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