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  • Writer's pictureKevan Oswald

The Pixar Pitch

Every Pixar film shares essentially the same DNA:

Once upon a time____________. Every day, ____________. One day ____________. Because of that, ____________. Because of that, ____________. Until finally ____________.

Example: Once upon a time there was a widowed fish named Marlin who was overly protective of his only son, Nemo. Every day, Marlin would warn Nemo of the dangers of the open ocean and implored Nemo not to swim away from the safety of the reef. One day, Nemo ignores his father’s warnings and in an act of defiance swims into the open ocean. Because of that, he was captured by a diver and ends up as a pet in a fish tank of a dentist in Sydney. Because of that, Marlin sets off on a journey to recover Nemo, enlisting the help of other sea creatures along the way. Until finally Marlin and Nemo find each other, reunite, and learn that love depends on trust.

From a sales perspective, this is a great tool for pitching an idea. However, this formula can be easily applied to just about any idea that needs a little background and perspective in order for it to gain traction or help people more clearly envision future possibilities.

Once upon a time there was a company that sold running shoes. Every day people would buy their running shoes but year-over-year sales remained flat. One day the company decided to develop a MROC with runners. Because of that they learned that their customers were demanding a shoe with much greater cushioning. Because of that, they developed a new running shoe with twice the typical cushioning. Until finally sales dramatically increased the following year.

The Pixar pitch is one of the tools for moving others that I garnered from reading Daniel Pinks book, To Sell Is Human. However, it wasn’t the title that caught my attention so much as the subtitle: The Surprising Truth about Moving Others. Sales and marketing share a common objective—to move others to action. Using anecdotes to organizing his “truths” about moving others, Daniel’s book is a pretty easy yet solid read. The following are a few additional “truths” about moving others from his book that caught my attention.

Attunement: Attunement is the ability to bring your own actions and perspective into harmony with others. This motivator depends on your ability to understand another person’s perspective and see the world through their eyes. This means understanding how someone is thinking and feeling, not just one or the other, both are critical. Daniel goes on to share studies of how mimicking someone’s mannerisms and even a gentle physical touch can enhance attunement, and this influence, on a subconscious level.

Clarity: Related to attunement is clarity. To illustrate the impact clarity can have on moving others Daniel shares a story of mid-twentieth century advertising executive Rosser Reeves. On his way back to his Madison Avenue office from lunch, Reeves encounters a man begging for money. The man had a cup beside a sign that read: I AM BLIND. Reeves proceeded to bet his colleague, who was with him, that he could increase the amount of money people gave the blind man by adding four words to his sign. Reeves colleague accepted to bet. Reeves then introduced himself to the man, explained what he wanted to do, the man agreed, Reeves added his four words and stood back and watched. Almost immediately people started plucking dollar bills from their wallets and putting them in the blind man’s cup. The four words Reeves added changed the sign to read: IT IS SPRINGTIME AND I AM BLIND. His point—clarity depends on contrast. We understand something better when we see it in comparison to something else as opposed to isolation. Once understanding is reached through clarity, others are more open to see their own situation in a revealing way that allows them to identify problems they may not even realize they had.

The Off Ramp: However, even when something is clear and properly framed by perspective, people need to be given details on how to act. Daniel shares an anecdote of different letters sent asking college students to donate food to a food drive. A letter detailing where and how to donate significantly outperformed letters simply asking for donations. People need to be given and “off ramp” as he calls it, in order to ease their motivation into action.

Make It Personal: People are moved when they can relate to something on a personal level. This means picturing themselves in the situation, but also picturing how the situation affects others. Daniel shares a now famous experiment involving Radiologists. Like a lot of professions, repetition of the same thing day-in and day-out can make a job seem more mechanical than meaningful. Reading X-rays, CT scans, and MRIs all day every day can fall into this category. In order to make looking at CT scans more meaningful, a group of radiologists were shown three-hundred CT scans accompanied by a photo of the patient. Three months later, unbeknownst to the radiologists, they were asked to look at eighty-one of the same CT scans again, only this time without a photo of the patient. In each of the eighty-one CT scans, the first time around the radiologist had discovered an “incidental finding” (abnormalities on a scan that aren’t related to the aliment for which the patient is being treated). The second time around 80% of the incidental findings were not reported. Viewing the people as human beings, rather than just a CT scan, dramatically improved the performance of the radiologists by making their job more personal.

Make It Purposeful: Finally, making it personal works better if it is also made purposeful. People need a reason. Daniel observed a sign in a park near his home in Washington D.C. that read “Pick up after your dog.” The objective of course was to encourage people to clean up their dog’s messes. However, the effectiveness of the sign was greatly increased by changing it to say “Children play here. Pick up after your dog.” By giving people a reason for the rule, empathy was triggered, making it purposeful.

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