Sunday, January 13, 2008

Hard work is hard, but the work goes much better when you know who it’s for and your creativity’s clever

Yes, this is a post about Dr. Seuss—the documentary The Political Dr. Seuss, to be precise. I began the night with no more than a passive appreciation for the film's subject, but I gained a new respect for everything that’s packed into those little books. After watching it with a few friends Saturday night, I’d highly recommend it to anyone interested in history, writing, creativity, education or politics—just about everyone, that is. The title is a little misleading, however, in that politics are just part of the story. In fact, my three biggest takeaways had nothing to do with politics, and everything to do with the type of stuff that’s right in SBB’s wheelhouse:

  1. Hard work is hard... Theodor Geisel, the man behind Dr. Seuss, would write as many as 500 pages to get the 60 he needed for one of his books. In the process, he’d also throw away 90% of his drawings. The lesson? If you want the end product to be great, you have to revise, revise, revise. And don’t fall in love with your first draft. Or your second. Or your third.
  1. But the work goes much better when you know who it’s for... One of the many things I learned from the film is that during World War II, Geisel made training films for the U.S. Army. But they weren’t just any films: they were animated movies starring a character named “Private Snafu.” The Army had called upon Geisel after traditional videos starring soldiers (who couldn’t act) and actors (who couldn’t act like soldiers) had received a poor response. Seuss realized that entertaining, fun films would be much more memorable than the boring, serious fare his audience no longer responded to. (Geisel was apparently 60 years ahead of Made to Stick.) The lesson? Know your audience, and don’t be afraid to try something new if it’s aligned with your audience’s needs.
  1. and your creativity’s clever. The Cat in the Hat began as a replacement for the outdated reading primers used in schools in the 1950s. Limited to a small list of words that would reflect the vocabulary of younger readers, Geisel had a hard time getting started. His solution? He decided to use a working title that incorporated the first two words on the list that rhymed—“cat” and “hat,” of course. The lesson? Creativity in problem solving is just as important as artistic creativity.

There’s a lot to like about The Political Dr. Seuss—and you may have a chance to see it for yourself very soon, thanks to a Fort Wayne organization that shall for now remain nameless. Once the details are finalized, I’ll post the date, time, and place.

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