Innovation Isn't Everything

I'm about to contradict myself, you guys. So, uh, sorry about that.

Last week, I waxed poetic about all of the exploration of story and structure we have ahead of us in the new world of transmedia. But now I'd like to warn against exploration for its own sake. Sometimes you need to forge into the jungle. But sometimes you need to stay where you are, to dig wells and clear out the underbrush.

As an industry, we're very driven by firsts. And so a project can't be billed as simply a great transmedia narrative; it has to be the first time somebody has done something, however weak the claim might be. The first transmedia story using temporary tattoos as a puzzle device. The first game to include the option of giving your avatar an innie or an outie. The first graphic novel to use bus advertising as a plot device. The first TV show to include a simulcast livestream of the studio audience.

It's a kind of arms race, and as with other arms races, nobody ever wins. Especially not our audiences.

--Can you imagine how much slower cinema would have developed if every time a group of filmmakers got together, they had to reinvent film structure? If they never learned from where they'd been before, but were stuck in a game of oneupsmanship, trying to invent new angles and pacing and focus techniques for every single film?

And yet that's what we're trying to do.

As usual when I get my crankypants on, I've been guilty of this as much as anyone. I've often said that if I'm not doing something I've never done before on a project, that means I'm not trying hard enough. If you're not stretching, you're not growing as a creator.

But, but, but... that new thing doesn't have to be the whole project. It can be stretching to include a slightly different game mechanic, or using one new medium, trying out a new writing voice. And it doesn't have to be something you've never tried before -- it can be something you've tried, that you think you could do better now.

Refining is a method of exploration, too, and it's just as valuable. Maybe even more valuable than chasing the far edges of storyform. And if you don't have to reinvent the wheel every time -- if you want to stick to a structure that you know works, be it the structure of The Dark Knight or Cathy's Book or How I Met Your Mother -- then you can use all of your powers of innovation to tell a better, stronger, truer, deeper story.

There are so many giants standing around, waiting for us to climb on their shoulders so we can see a little further (and do a little better). Let's stop striving to be the first to do something. Instead, let's refocus on doing it best.

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