It might be your most creative, groundbreaking idea in years, but if the people responsible for implementing that idea don’t know (or understand) your vision, that idea can fall flat in execution.
A lighter shade of pale
The script for the original pilot of the television series Star Trek called for a green-skinned “Orion slave girl,” so during pre-production, test footage was shot of an actress wearing green makeup (in order to see how that green would appear on color film). After the first batch of test footage was developed and returned for viewing, however, the actress’ skin appeared normal flesh tone — no hint of green. The makeup artists applied a darker, denser shade of green and shot a second round of test footage. After that test footage was developed, same result . . . no green was visible on the actress. This cycle was repeated for several days, with the makeup artists applying increasingly more green, trying (unsuccessfully) to find a green makeup that would actually be visible on film.
After three days, the makeup artists finally decided to walk over to the studio’s film processing lab and ask the processing technicians if they had any ideas why green makeup was not visible on color film. What the makeup artists discovered was that every time the processing lab started developing some test footage and the actress began to appear green, they quickly “corrected” the color so her skin tone would appear normal. The lab techs were never told that the actress was supposed to be green, so they did everything they could to remove the green tint from the developed film.1
It’s just a fantasy
Walt Disney and the team behind the original Disneyland in Anaheim, California, sought to create a “storybook appearance” for the park’s Fantasyland. This was accomplished in part by designing Fantasyland architecture and buildings (such as the iconic Cinderella’s Castle) to lean, slope and have the semi-fluid appearance often seen in fantasy illustrations or animated Disney films. When the non-Disney contractor started actual construction, however, he “corrected” the many “mistakes” he found in the Disney architectural plans and instead began framing the buildings straight. After the Disney artists explained the intent of those “mistakes,” the contractor was able to bring to life the whimsical architecture that the artists originally envisioned.2
The business world is filled with examples of great ideas that failed during execution because the intent behind the original idea wasn’t fully understood (or worse yet, was never communicated). The more unorthodox or out-of-the-box an idea is, the more important it becomes to effectively communicate that idea to every member of your team. (This is simple human psychology — the further an idea is outside of a person’s normal frame of reference, the more likely that person is to assume there is a mistake.)
What great ideas have you seen falter because those implementing the idea didn’t understand the full intent?