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Your One and Only Job: Production Assistant

June 19, 2013

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In the movie business, “production assistant” is the purest of entry-level, grunt-work jobs.   Here’s one description of the work involved:

“Job duties could include things like “locking up” (making sure no one walks on set) and calling out “Cut” and “Rolling” as they come across the radio.  They could be “running talent” or background, helping distribute paperwork and walkies, picking up trash, managing the craft service table, fetching anything people ask for, going on coffee runs, and doing whatever the ADs tell them… which could be just about anything.”

Whatever their activities, what production assistants are really doing is making it possible for the assistant directors (ADs) to do their jobs, which make it possible for the actors and directors to do their jobs, which make it possible for the producer to do her job, which is to make a movie.

Every company is a production assistant, and every customer is a producer.

Thinking of customers – consumers, after all – as producers, clarifies the path to customer discovery.   Here’s why:

When you think of customers as consumers, a hulking, shape-shifting ambiguity, like a special-effects demon out of a Harry Potter movie, blocks the path to discovering demand.  After all, here’s what you want to discover: what drives customers to choose your thing, among the zillions of things they can do and things they can buy?  Is the key driver their age or sex?  Their religious background?  Their left-handedness?  Their desire for higher social status?  Their job title? Their careful analysis of price and features? Their love of the color orange?  Not only are there infinite possible decision drivers, there are infinite categories of possible drivers, and the buying decision may very well arise out of some combination of these infinite, uncategorizable factors.

Even worse, you can’t figure it out by asking them.  People don’t know why they do things.  Some of them spend years in therapy trying to figure that out.  Remember the last couple of things you bought yourself: do you really know why you bought them?  Well enough that you could write down a formula to accurately predict your future buying behavior?  The last three things I bought were:

1)    Twisted Berry fruit & veggie blend juice

2)    Milano melts mint chocolate cookies

3)    Sweet chipotle jerky

I have only the vaguest notion of why I bought (and ate!) those particular things.  And that’s questioning my own brain – the results get worse when you have to communicate with someone else.

So, you’ve got an ambiguous mess of un-sort-outable possible drivers for buying behavior, and an extremely problematic method for sorting them all out.  Good luck market researching your way past that demon.

But think of your customers as producers, and – expecto patronum! – the demon dissolves and the path magically clears.  Here’s why:

Every customer has a job to do.  Remember: customers are people, or aspects of people.  It doesn’t matter if you’re selling B-to-B or B-to-C.  In either case, you are presenting your product or service to human beings who make decisions within their context (whether the context is social or workplace or family or anything.)  It doesn’t matter if you are selling a game app to a teenager or an airport to a city.  In either case, someone has a job to do (whether it’s entertaining themselves or landing airplanes.)  Just like a producer has to produce a movie, your customer has to produce an entertained self, or a landed airplane, or whatever it is.  And you?  You’re their production assistant.  Your job is to enable them to do it.

Your first job, though, as a startup, is to figure out what they need to produce, and what’s stopping them from having produced it already.  That’s what customer discovery is: discovering what your customers need to produce, and what’s stopping them.   The first half of this formula is essential, but the second part is the key.  Think back to your job as production assistant.  Your boss, the assistant director, needs to get a great shot, but knowing that is only half the battle.  Maybe he can’t get that great shot because the wind machine isn’t blowing hard enough, or there’s shit on the sidewalk, or the actor didn’t get his favorite coffee in the morning.  There are still a million possibilities, but because you know what the job is, you can test for and eliminate impediments.  So now, you’re confronted with a lot of work to actually do that, but you’re no longer confronted with the demon of ambiguous motivations and impossible questions.

Now, you are on a path to becoming the thing that enables your customer to produce what they need to produce.  Stardom’s right around the corner.

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