I wrote my book so you can change yours.
By Robb Wagner
For years, I was the creative studio chief who missed birthday parties and ball games. My business had a river of projects, which meant I had a mountain of inefficient, costly, exhausting work to keep up with. My workday started well before I actually drove to my studio in the morning and continued long after I drove home, no matter how late that was. There were no family dinners or game nights, and the stress of trying to get our projects done on time and on budget often kept me from sleeping at night. I was drowning in creative work management and overhead.
After the Great Recession in 2009, my creative job became even more complex when the world came roaring back with a voracious appetite for new types of content. This should have been a happy time for me, but the difficulty of keeping up with my creative workload prevented me from feeling that happiness. Then, one of my best clients presented me with a large interactive project. While I believed wholeheartedly in the project, there was a problem: it was simply outside the capabilities of the artists in my studio, or even in my home city of Los Angeles. The talent I needed mainly existed in far away places, like Eastern Europe.
This was a BIG problem. It was bigger than programming 50 video screens at the MTV Video Music Awards in 2005, or developing a 3D concert tour for Michael Jackson. As hard as those projects were, there were solutions to make the big ideas possible. But there was no solution for my new problem. Trying to find, hire and manage a team of artists who didn’t work under my roof would surely add to the complexity of my already taxing job. I decided the project was unproducible…doing it the old way.
I weighed my options. Did I risk losing a great client by turning down the project? Did I ask for more time or money when I knew there was no more time or money? When the answer to both was a resounding “no,” I locked myself in a conference room in do-not-disturb mode and stared at a white wall until it started to come to life as a dyslexic dream (and, yes, I have dyslexia).
Then I started to visualize something. What if I could search the world for freelance artists who specialized in doing the work I needed? Could these specialized artists create all of the high-level assets this project needed? And could my in-house team then use their skills to assemble those assets and create the final product?
As I imagined what it would take to bring it all together, I realized this would require the development of a radical new approach. It would require an entirely new methodology built from the ground up, out of nothing more than a radical idea.
Back then, the word ‘hybrid’ was used to describe a car, not a creative work method. I didn’t realize that I was paving a path for hybrid creative work at scale. All I knew was that I wanted to have great talent working in-house, remotely and from home, all at the same time.
Could this method be successful, or would it be a massive failure? The only way to find out was to jump into the mosh pit (in addition to being dyslexic, I also grew up in the post-punk scene). I accepted the challenge from my client for the budget they could afford and on the schedule they were stuck with. Now I was committed, not even knowing if I could get it all done.
Yet, even though I was breaking new ground here, I wasn’t doing it completely devoid of expertise. In my past, I had developed other creative workflow solutions for projects like Universal Studios’ CityWalk Hollywood. Universal needed a workflow to program all of the video and audio for this new entertainment complex, and I developed the method and the system to let them do that. I knew a thing or two about designing software and workflows, so I sketched out a technology roadmap and commissioned a web development company I trusted to build an MVP (minimum viable product) in a hurry. At the same time, I tasked my in-house producing team with searching the world for the specialized artists we needed.
Meanwhile, we broke down our big project into small ‘jobs,’ and wrote highly detailed job briefs. We also gathered all of the required references and assets and made sure we were ready to give remote artists everything they would need in order to do their best work — from brief to assets to links to instructions, right down to how to properly name a file – without us having to micromanage or even communicate with them on Skype.
We gave our curated artists access to our software where they could review the job briefs and tell us which jobs excited them. There was also a space in the software that let them tell us how they intended to approach the work. We didn’t have to talk with artists about availability, schedule, rates, creative overview, technical instructions or assets. We didn’t have to give artists access to folders or box sites. We didn’t have to mail around links. All of the information was already part of the brief that the artists reviewed. Every link and folder the artists needed were baked right into the software. When artists notified us that they were interested in working on a certain job, it meant that they were interested, capable, and onboard with the job terms. We paired the right artists with the right jobs in a few clicks. Then something magical happened.
Remote artists began turning in great work and my job became as easy as reviewing the resulting assets and giving written feedback, which only took a few minutes of my time.
Did this mean I would be home for dinner tonight? Did it mean I would be able to take my kids to their soccer matches on the weekend? Did it mean I’d be able to get a solid night of sleep, and exercise in the morning before I went to work?
That’s exactly what it meant. My method proved to be the better way of doing high-level creative work at scale, and that’s why it ultimately became our business model.
Instead of investing in more physical infrastructure, which actually loses value over time, I invested in evolving my agile creative workflow and stripping away the complexity of managing creative work. Suddenly, I wasn’t mired in all of the costly, exhausting work that robbed me of my happiness, time and life moments. All of the tedious, repetitive work disappeared from my days and nights. I was not only home for dinner and weekends, but my creative studio was also doing its best work ever. Margins were up while overhead and stress were down.
For the next several years, I tried to tell people about my method, —but the world wasn’t ready for it yet. Anyone who works with me knows I am passionate about knocking down barriers that stand in the way of creativity. I don’t apologize about that. It is the reason why I never gave up on wanting to share my method with others and help people in our industry live their best creative work-lives.
Then our industry was rocked by something bigger than the Great Recession of 2009. When COVID-19 sent the world into an instant and involuntary hybrid hyperspin, I saw creative people suffering. Instinctively, I wanted to help. I would hear people say ‘there’s no playbook for this,’ and it would hit a nerve deep within my problem-solving self. In actuality, there WAS a playbook for this, and I had been following it for the past nine years. But my playbook had not even been written out, let alone published. Its framework was a methodology that was ingrained in my company’s culture and practices. We followed its rules to the letter, but this method had never been organized into a shareable form.
Knowing it was time for that to change, I wrote down my method.
The first draft of my manuscript was a document with a simple black type on a white background. Having spent my entire career as a visual storyteller, this was very unsatisfying for me. But when I began to work with an incredibly talented team to translate my own words into a visual narrative, I was breathless.
“The Stimulated Method,” wrapped in a bold, unapologetic design, is my step-by-step guide for in-house creative teams at global companies to to scale their animation, motion, development and design using my hybrid model. I tried my very hardest to boil down the 10 years of knowledge, insights, rules and counterintuitive mindset shifts I’ve gained through my experience working on real-world, seven-figure creative projects.
These are the takeaways from “The Stimulated Method”:
- Learn best practices for keeping up with increasing demand for digital marketing, advertising and communications assets.
- Achieve a higher level of creative work using fewer resources and less effort overall.
- Gain more control over your budgets and schedules with formulas for remote work budgeting that accurately estimate and control hybrid work costs and timelines.
- Find out how to vet the specialists that will save your company time, protect your budgets and help drive creative success.
- Learn how to create bulletproof remote job briefs, your first step toward mastering hybrid creative work at scale.
- Discover why a system to automate assets, links, information and communication will increase productivity among in-house teams and remote artists alike when they are no longer mired in the repetition of tedious workflow management.
- Understand how adopting hybrid creative work will help your company navigate global paradigm shifts like an economic downturn or a pandemic.
I invented my hybrid method to transform my creative business, little knowing how it would ultimately change my world. After years of being overworked and exhausted from my creative job, I suddenly had a balanced life and I was happier. That’s what I hope “The Stimulated Method” does for you.
Live your best creative work-life.