Is Lean For Creatives?


Back from my trip to Malmo last week and reflecting on my Buff keynote speech and workshop with twelve amazing companies at Media Evolution City. One thing really struck home; opening yourself up to new ways of doing things is very hard. If we want to try new things; then we need the tools to do so. As well as that; we need examples, case studies. We need to learn from a diverse range of voices and experiences. We need to have conversations beyond and outside our cosy circle. And most of all we have to SHARE.

New things are hard. We get blinkered, doing the same things, the same way all the time and often shoot the messenger when new possibilities are communicated. But by not looking up and sounding out new ideas, opportunities are missed. Seeing what other industries have learned and how this might help you, is very worthwhile. The big idea from the past week in Malmo is to try. Try, try, try again. Test your ideas and your assumptions and learn from the people who matter the most; your customer. We get so involved with our vision we forget the person we are communicating with.

So many companies are actively redefining and disrupting every conceiveable type of business. Take for example Machinima, a platform built harnessing YouTube’s distribution and broadcasting potential, showcasing fan generated content, films and animation. The smartest step for them business wise, was not building a platform. Instead, Machinima concentrated on the core, their community and great content. Machinima wisely left the distribution vehicle to a platform already built and serviced by Google, YouTube.

Business is all about making smart and strataegic decisions, knowing your user and knowing your core business; that golden nugget. The rest is history. Machinima have conquered the 16 -35 year old male demographic in nearly every country. Now large studios send exclusive trailers and material specifically for Machinima’s audience to build buzz and traction for new releases.

Business models can be borrowed and tested. Learning and practice from one industry might just save or reenergise your own. Companies like beActive thrive in this testing, tweaking world and use multiple platforms for different projects and audiences. They never fully commit to a platform unless the audience is there. beActive have many years experience doing this; coming from a wish to tell stories in 140 characters. This practice has produced amazing results from Sofia’s Diary to Beat Girl.

Innovation and taking chances are where it is at. One constant is change. Maybe it is time to test some things. Bring your film idea, business idea or animation sketches out into the open and talk to your target market. As a good friend once said  “never underestimate the value of pizza and beer”!  Over a coffee many things can be discovered. A few testers and a few conversations will give insight and value beyond your wildest dreams.

No, it does not have to be perfect. Nothing in this world ever is. Perfect is not the goal; learning is. Making it better is. Getting to a better product or service your user really WANTS is the objective. Yes it is scary. Yes, your idea might be taken. But if you execute on your idea faster and better than your competitors; along with having a committed, energetic community, you get to market first. Simple as that. The more you take on these lean practices, the easier it is to do them again in the future.

The challenge now is to bring this methodology out of tech and into the creative world. If games companies, SAS companies and healthcare companies can do this, so can creatives.
From my workshop with a cross-section of industries, games, broadcasting, app developers, communications, non-profit, film makers and product designers, it is completely possible to put these strategies to work. In every case last week, we saw amazing benefits from working through some case studies and applying this thinking to each individual business.

I am back in Malmo for Nordic Game in May and the challenge for these twelve companies is to put the workshop into practice. A follow up session is planned and I’ll report back on their progress. For me this work begins and ends with the customer. Solving the customer’s problems and making everything we do better.

Most of all, I’m excited, very excited. There is a sea change happening all around us and it is fantastic to be part if it and leading the charge.

My thanks to  Cecilie, Julia and all at Buff and MEC for entrusting me with the keynote speech on Buff’s 30th birthday; it was an honour I will cherish. Thanks to Heidi at MEC for organising the workshop and to the participants for being so open, enthusiastic and positive. Thanks to all for allowing me to bring them on a new journey. I’m still buzzing after both events. Big thanks to Mark who was back at base for help and research. Every business needs a great team!

I am interested to hear your thoughts and experiences, comments and feedback more than welcome!


  1. Cathy Fitzgerald

    March 26, 2013 @ 10:11 am

    Hi Mary

    What a great post and I found it great to hear how so many companies are prioritising communities/audiences first.

    I found these lines of yours great too, and have equally applied to my own practice that crosses on and offline art-land-ecology-politics practices

    ” One thing really struck home; opening yourself up to new ways of doing things is very hard. If we want to try new things; then we need the tools to do so. As well as that; we need examples, case studies. We need to learn from a diverse range of voices and experiences. We need to have conversations beyond and outside our cosy circle. And most of all we have to SHARE.”

    I learn from much from the online conversations (a particularity of art ecology policy etc work) i enage with and ‘share’ my work and ideas too.

    Thanks for articulating, practising and sharing this so well Mary!

  2. Mary Carty

    March 26, 2013 @ 11:46 am

    Thanks Cathy for the encouragement, I really appreciate it. We need to help more creatives along this journey. Cheers for sharing your work, very, very inspiring!


  3. beActive: Anatomy of a Lean Creative Company

    May 9, 2013 @ 2:44 pm

    […] a low-budget film franchise. Every time I think about beActive and their approach, I think of Lean. For me beActive is one of the best lean creative companies. Their approach to concepts, projects, […]

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