A ‘Keeping It Real’ Lesson From Elon Musk

For the last few months I’ve been buried neck-high in a book-writing project with some very intelligent, very interesting clients. In the course of researching content for the book I’ve been watching quite a few interviews with various entrepreneurs and industry leaders. (You know you’re a researcher when the makeup of your YouTube recommended videos list takes sudden hairpin turns. They used to recommend videos of kids dancing to Beyonce. Now it’s all Richard Branson and direct mail marketing.)

Anyway, last night I watched this video, featuring Elon Musk being Elon-Musky: all buttoned-down eloquence and even-keeled charisma.

“Authenticity” has become a terrible word, but he has it, and I appreciate it. Listen to what he says from about minute four to eight about navigating a period of acute anxiety. It’s real talk about making a hard decision and a huge investment and then waiting to find out whether the roof is going to fall down on your head or not. Nobody is so intelligent and strategic that they can bypass moments like these.

As the group therapy people say, “Thanks for sharing, Elon.” I really mean it.

[Author: Kristin van Vloten]

June 10, 2015

The Easiest Pitch Ever



There’s nothing quite as sweet as watching a client-slash-friend attain the platform, position, or project that makes maximum use of his strengths. Stephen O’Shea is one such client-slash-friend and he’s a doozy.

Stephen recently became the Executive Director of the Arts Council of New Westminster, and he’s all over dat media, making great use of that plainspoken charisma that served him so well back in the days when he was only a wee rock star. Check him out applying a mild burn-sauce to the city of Surrey, BC, on CBC Radio’s On the Coast. Check him out getting props for his indie-music cred in the New Westminster Newsleader, and for his infectious enthusiasm in the New West Record.

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April 16, 2015

Robert Evans’ Paramount Personality


Robert Evans produced ‘The Godfather’ and ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ and for these two reasons alone, I love him.

Even if he were not responsible for bringing the iconic pictures of Hollywood’s true golden age to the masses, Evans would still be the walking/talking definition of swagger. The man has remained a steady shade of burnt umber for six full decades. His voice cruises along at roughly the same pitch as a fully deployed dishwasher. It soothes colicky babies and encourages regular ovulation.

Robert Evans inspires awe, baby.

He’s a perfect example of a phenomenon I’ll call Paramount Personality, named in honour of the legendary studio that Evans commanded for so many years.

Paramount Personality is when the essence of a potent figurehead so saturates a company’s identity that the two entities are hardly distinguishable.

This has happened with Facebook/Mark Zuckerberg, Huffington Post/Arianna Huffington, and about a zillion other contemporary and classic cases. I’d argue that it’s probably one of the more effective ways of ensuring that a corporate brand remains timeless.

This is because people do not bond with corporations. They bond with other people. The monkey brain is strong. We want to make that eye contact that communicates infinite volumes in nanoseconds. We want that big, strong, splendid ape to wink at us and assure us that he knows exactly where all the best bananas can be found.

Watch the clip Robert Evans created with ‘The Graduate’-director Mike Nichols. Paramount Studios was on the verge of being snuffed out, and the burden was on Evans to save his company. Evans decided that this artful piece of communications shrapnel might do the trick. He screened it for his Board of Directors, et voila. Paramount Pictures was spared. Under Evans, it became the biggest studio of the era. 

It’s interesting to me that Evans created a mini-film rather than presenting to the Board in person. He selected one of Hollywood’s greatest directors to film him striding manfully around an office that he drolly concedes is a set. Evans, the former actor, delivers a masterful, Reaganesque pitch without once revealing a flicker of desperation or doubt. He keeps one or both of his hands in his pockets at all times. He manages to seem so casual yet commanding. He’s not a disconnected authority figure, but instead seems to be a living extension of the industry he represents. Flashy but human, charismatic beyond credulity yet still somehow authentic—just like our favourite movies. Robert Evans is Hollywood.

The story he tells is extremely clear: even though I don’t spend all that much money, I make genius films. He obeys the principle of recency and primacy by book-ending the three-minute clip with his two most salient points. At the beginning of the clip, he communicates the first point (‘I don’t spend all that much money’) in a brilliantly concrete, memorable, and funny way, by acknowledging outright that the palatial office in which he is being filmed in is not actually his. With a twinkle in his eye that could cut glass, he explains that they couldn’t fit the cameras in his own modest headquarters. At the mid-point of the clip, Evans subtly transitions from ice-cool Class President mode into that of Passionate Advocate. As he argues his second point (‘I make genius films’), Nichols zooms into Evan’s face so that the producer’s utter sincerity and belief in the power of his own product can course directly through the screen into the viewer’s soul. It’s no wonder the Board was persuaded.

Robert Evans made a movie to save his movies. He was an executive who personified for the dazzled masses (and shareholders) the same emotional promise as the actors he paid, made, and bossed around. Somehow Robert Evans fit the mould of Paramount Pictures or Paramount Pictures fit the mould of Robert Evans. Either way, the Paramount Personality makes unexpected things happen when his eyes manage to lock with yours.

[Author: Kristin van Vloten]

April 30, 2014