Appraisal 2010/2011: Go on, lower your ambition

Posted on June 22, 2010

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It’s appraisal time at the BBC. We’re all having to fill in a tiresome word document, arrange a meeting with our line managers during which we’ll make pledges for the next twelve months in pursuit of feeling all warm and fluffy about ourselves.

Maybe I’m being just a bit too cynical. I’ve been doing rather more thinking for this appraisal than I have in previous years. Could this appraisal be different from all the others?

The writing’s on the wall

There’s a series of posters up on the wall in the BBC’s equipment hire department – DV Solutions. I usually sigh when I catch sight of the myriad of red-gaffered notices attached to the tables reminding me that check-in and check-out procedures are rigorous affairs. It’s the last minute advice the posters on the wall that make me pause for the thought.

Each poster offers key advice about what to do when you’re out on a video shoot. Must-remember points about composition, white balance, lighting and sound are nothing in comparison to the very practical points underneath the heading ‘safety’.

Leave at least 30 minutes to set up a camera, tripod, microphone and any lighting.

And, underneath that …

Lower your ambition

It seems an odd thing to say in a creative organisation. And yet the message is a key one.

No one is denying the individual their creative excursions, but when it comes to actually getting the ideas committed to tape there comes a point where dreams have to be turned into a reality.

And sometimes, that brilliant shot moving left to right while your contributor looks wistfully into the middle distance probably isn’t going to be possible given you’ve only given yourself an hour for the entire shoot.

It’s like de-scoping a project … you know, fun

An hour might sound like long enough but it’s not. So keep the shots simple. Give yourself an easier time. Make the goals attainable. That way you’ll increase the chances of feeling like you’ve achieved at the end of it. It’s the equivalent of prioritising stuff at the beginning of your working day. Or de-scoping a project which has had a little too much input from an over-enthusiastic editor.

It’s this central point I’m thinking as I cobble together my appraisal for the next twelve months. There’s a lot in it. At least it feels like I’ve put a lot in it, even if the boxes on the page won’t look any more stuffed with words compared to previous years.

The key point I keep returning to is the one about ambition.

Ambition isn’t a bad thing

Ambition and the people who have them are good things. How different people pursue those ambitions and what techniques they employ in pursuit of them is a different matter. But the principle of ambition – assuming that ambition isn’t to kill, maim, thieve, tortue or deprive – is essentially a good thing.

The risk is letting over-ambitious plans take overtake the core ambition. The former tends to chip away at the latter. The more ambitious the plans the less chance there is of achieving them. And achieving less only fuels a greater sense of desperation when the feeling the over-arching ambition hasn’t been realised.

I feel justified in being this self-righteous only because as I spend time thinking about my next twelve months, I can cast an objective view over the potential destructiveness of my own ocassionally over-ambitious plans.

Start big, strip it down

There’s nothing wrong with dreaming about the best collection of sequences for a video. Certainly no harm in thinking how marvellous it might be to get a high-profile contributor for an interview. It’s probably good practise to reach for the sky anyway. At least that way, when it comes to stripping things back a bit I’ll still be left with something reasonably ambitious. But resolutely pursuing over-ambitious plans is only going to end in tears. Especially if you’ve only got an hour to get your material together on location.

So, be ambitious. Have ambitions. Just lessen the ambitious plans. Be realistic. Set achievable goals.

But don’t any of this at the expense of tenacity. That particular characteristic is sacrosanct. You’ll need that to turn the plans into something tangible.

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Posted in: UK