Cutting For Creativity


Make sure that when you are cutting costs, you are not cutting out the very foundation beneath you.

Nobody likes to make cuts–including Disney Cast Members. One often sees a budget, time and labor cuts as a way of stifling quality. But if one looks at Disney’s experience, such cuts have sometimes been the impetus for better work. How could that be?

Making cuts in the budget or simply having to live on less is not uncommon to the Walt Disney Studios. Like other great inventors of the 20th Century like Henry Ford and Steve Jobs, Walt and Roy’s humble beginnings began in a garage. There they made do as creatively as possible while putting together the first Mickey shorts. When Walt says, “It all started with a mouse” remember that what that really means is that it all started on a shoestring budget, with little to spare.

Years later when Eisner and Wells showed up at Walt Disney Productions productions, Disney animators were concerned that the end of animation was a matter of time. Thanks to Roy E. Disney’s personal interest, the animation division was saved. But it came at a price. one move made during that time to build the film division and save costs was to move Disney Animation off property.

Though grateful to still have their jobs, the artists were surprised that suddenly they would no longer be on property. Their new digs were simple by any stretch–think of heading to a warehouse. I doubt that their move to such simple settings was strategic in any way. But the effect may have been the best thing that ever happened to them. Stripped out of their comfort zone, they hunkered down and rebuilt Disney Feature Animation. The end result was a renaissance of Disney animation classics. The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast, and The Lion King became blockbusters we have all come to know and love.

Ironically, out of that success, the Walt Disney Company took from those box office receipts and built Disney Feature Animation a brand spanking new facility back home at the original Burbank studios, as well as out in Florida at the Disney-MGM Studios. Yet their state-of-the-art surroundings did little to help the end product. The quality of their hand-drawn product went down hill to a point where 2D animation completely died for a time.

I once did an article for MousePlanet titled Making Do With Less–Disney Style. You can find it here. There I shared a story Michael Eisner used to share with executives. It was about a scene from a film starring Bette Midler and Shelly Long called Outrageous Fortune. The long and short of it is that screenwriter, Leslie Dixon, was asked to redo the scene so that they didn’t have to pay for the cost of creating an entire apartment set. The screen writer was averse to such changes, and complained. Still, she was required to “get creative” and find a better, less costly solution. The end result was a fairly creative scene.

This is not to say that cutting costs is always the shortcut to creative success. The Walt Disney Company offers many examples small and large (some DCA size) that are evidence that there comes a time you have to make the investment necessary. But I do think that when budgets come, the best thing to do is to seize the day and make the best of it. I think that it takes  creativity and innovation to figure out how to do more for less.

Take a look at Cirque du Soleil, a company whose roots are in Canada. Cirque is world-renowned in creating a circus experience unlike any other.

If you haven’t gotten a copy of The Spark: Igniting the Creative Fire That Lives Within Us All, you simply must. Created by Lyn Heward and written by John U. Bacon, this easy read offers plenty of great idea for not only taking your business to new heights, but your life as well. One section was really intriguing. In most organizations that there is a tension (and sometimes a war) between the creative people and the number people. Cirque looks at budgets and deadlines from a different perspective. One creative executive put it this way:

“Oh, we have budgets and deadlines, all right…Without them I don’t think we’d be half as creative as we are. They force us to come up with solutions we’d never come up with otherwise. Constraints on time, money and resources can be incredible motivators! Some of our most inspired ideas have arisen from some of the most Spartan situations.”

What do you think? Do you agree that a budget or deadline can be the impetus for creativity and innovation? Is that how your organization operates? If not, why not?

Just as Cirque du Soleil has changed the paradigm around circus entertainment, perhaps we have an opportunity to change our paradigm on how we view timelines and cutbacks. Let’s face it, we will all face a time where we have to do more with less. What makes us truly creative is how we respond under those circumstances.

Ask yourself:

  • How hard is it to be creative when you have to make cuts?
  • Do you find those cuts constructive?
  • How can you turn that cut around to your advantage?