My writing professor, the incomparable Mick Casale, would ask, “What is your film about?”
Once he got the answer, the follow up question would be, “What is it really about?”
In The Creative Habit, the legendary choreographer Twyla Tharp calls this “the spine.” Take my first short film from NYU for example—In That Moment (5 minutes, embedded below) is about a guy who’s working as a living statue in Central Park and and his encounter with a woman who piques his interest.
But what is the film really about? It’s about the regret chances not taken, moments when fear makes you pick the safe choice, and times when you instantly regret a decision you can’t take back.
If you’re a founder, this question is relevant because you should know what your company is really about. On the face of it, you might be a marketplace—but ask yourself, what is your company really about? You should know that answer.
- Nana is “about” helping people get their appliances repaired, but it’s really about providing economic empowerment and agency to blue-collar workers
- Uber is “about” getting from point A to point B, but it’s really about changing the way people travel, eat, and work.
- eBay is “about” being able to quickly sell something to someone you don’t know, but it’s really about global economic empowerment.
- Twitter is “about” sharing what you’re thinking, but it’s really about allowing people to learn, find friends, and challenge their worldview (although it is unclear if that ever happens).
- Core is “about” meditation, but it’s really about taking charge of your mental well-being.
What the film is really about is its spine. For a company, the long-term vision is the spine that holds the company up, provides clarity and guides decision making around design, branding, expansion plans, who you’re counting among your competitors.
At the earliest stages, the spine of your company may not be visible to everyone. Tesla’s first expensive sports car was easy to dismiss for both consumers and investors. But what is Tesla’s spine? Making transportation sustainable for the planet while being joyful to the consumer.
The spine is the deeper intent behind what you’re doing. Not every customer needs to understand the spine to use and enjoy the product, but it’s important for everyone at the company to understand the larger vision.
With that, I’ll leave you with In That Moment.