Winnie the pooh

Why is listening so important right now?

KidsKnowBest's Pete Robinson contemplates the benefits of taking it all in, with insight from Norway's Prime Minister and Winnie the Pooh.
April 14, 2020

Work still needs to continue, despite the pandemic. But planning for the long-term is difficultif not impossiblein this current climate. How do you plan for tomorrow when we still don’t know the length or severity of the crisis?

As someone whose career is based on listening to people, this sharp transition has been problematic. Of course, we can listen remotely. But for me, it’s hard to beat face-to-face.

As anxiety heightens with every number, future projection and conversations we can’t have with our networks; listening is evolving. The echo chamber increases while we wait for hope, or if you’re anything like me, seek conspiracy and pull the curtains tighter. I believe listening well is the key for surviving and repositioning so we can hopefully grow as organizations and individuals. Listening well has always been good practice regardless of the situation and now it’s crucial to our survival.

There are three conversations we should have right now.

 “It isn’t much good having anything exciting, if you can’t share it with somebody.” – Winnie the Pooh

1.  A conversation with your audience.

Mette Frederiksen and Erna Solberg, Prime Ministers of Denmark and Norway, respectively, recently took time out to listen and speak to their youngest compatriots. They spent the time answering kids crucial COVID-19 questions. It’s a reminder of the importance of having a conversation with audiences; not just talking to them but giving space for questions to flow both ways. At KidsKnowBest we have Lootee, a poll app that allows kids to complete polls on their favourite TV shows, holidays, family or more hard-hitting topics. Lootee gives kids the space to have their voices heard.

Opening up and listening to an audience is fundamental to looking at how creators’ text is interpreted by audiences, and how text depth supports creativity and ultimately fandom. As we traverse the turmoil of pandemics and recession, we can focus on super-serving fans. How do you meet the needs of someone who genuinely needs your messages? You saw this loop in a non-pandemic time” Social media-first brands, YouTubers, and creators receive daily feedback. That cycle of content-feedback-content provides a seamless evolution and alignment, and is a reason they continue to be popular. Creating a space where you expose your creations, and get feedback, sounds scary, but creates a rich universe.

“Could be worse. Not sure how, but it could be.” – Eeyore

2. A conversation with people who don’t think like you.

The world isn’t as cohesive as we’d all like right now, and hopefully that will be remedied. In the meantime, as creators and platform makers there is an opportunity to empathize with those who think differently. Don’t turn them off.

Gigglebug Animation specialize in fun and simplicity. They captured my imagination with the simple premise “giggling is infectious.” The team is right, but that clarity comes with rigour. As part of their creative process, the Gigglebug creatives pitch nuggets of ideas, barely formed and completely raw to a “Brain Trust” twice a year. They present barely formed ideas to a small group of executives, creatives and non-creatives, who are not part of their process and who are used to receiving more fully formed pitches and ideas to contemplate. It is, I am sure, a deeply unpleasant experience for Gigglebug. But it means that before the producers evolve characters, narrative or style, they are forced to think about some of the big whys behind an idea: Why does the story deserve to be told, who will care, what is the the audience fit, use case, execution and distribution? Last year, about forty seedlings were pitched, but only four were deemed worthy of further development, including The Alien Vet, Harriet’s Hack Shack, Big Head Racers and Cake Face. Each will be get prototyped (through a micro-bible or a demo with a focus group) before a date for shopping at the market is set.

“Don’t underestimate the value of ‘doing nothing,’ of just going along, listening to all the things you can’t hear, and not bothering.” – Winnie the Pooh

3. A conversation with yourself.

There is no better time to listen to yourself. Away from the office, phone muted, social media ignored. One thing I love about kids media is that we are here because we genuinely care about making something kids and families will enjoy. At Kidscreen Summit this year,  I had the joy of listening to Simon Nicholson, the lead writer of PJ Masks. The way he contemplates characters and relationships, especially those between villains and superheroes is intense. I imagine him absorbed in his thoughts as he looks out of a window, and then I think, when was the last time I just stared out of a window and thought?

Sometimes thinking, not doing, helps.

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