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Killing Your Darlings, The Pixar Pitch and Siya Kolisi

Have I ever told you about my chronic affliction CFE? If you Google it you may not find it, as I think it’s a common malady but one that I have managed to name. Stop me if you know this: Chronic Food Envy. The perpetual FOMO of food, where it doesn’t matter what I order, your meal always looks better. The buffet is therefore my worst enemy, and I am most comfy in Spain, where tapas small portions are the norm. Yep, I am a true Enneagram 7.   


This condition kind of denotes my work, too. Especially my writing. Stephen King, in his seminal work “On Writing”, has a lot of gold for aspiring novelists. One of his greatest tips, though, is "kill your darlings". You see when you write, you create scenes, you create characters, you craft moments that you fall completely in love with… but, by the time you’ve done your umpteenth draft of the book, that scene/character/moment needs to be cut, as it no longer serves the story. It’s super hard, but it means you are serving your story and your reader, not yourself. Which is really the point, right?  


One of the most successful movies of all time is Frozen, the Pixar animated juggernaut that redefined the genre. If you delve into the story, you will find that it was an absolute mess in its first iteration, and only through a massive overhaul did the writers and creatives manage to turn it into the inspirational story it became. This is common. As a creative, you birth something that actually doesn’t work, and then you need to redo the whole thing.   


I’m going to share a section of my new book below, but it’s a part I’m going to cut out. I need to kill this darling because I’m going with the Rassie dream sequences to set up the learning. It’s hard, though. I love this scene, it’s a made-up conversation between Rassie Erasmus and Jacques Nienaber that may or may not have happened… we just know the results of their planning. It was kind of fun speculating that some of what they did was intentional towards changing public perception, one of their key strategic imperatives.   


I want to give a nod to Dan Pink and his book “To Sell is Human”, which introduced me to the idea of the Pixar Pitch. There’s some gold in there about mapping out your customer journey too. Enjoy!  

“Well that went well,” remarked Jacques Nienaber.   


They were sitting in Rassie’s hotel room in Johannesburg. They had, as a coaching team, left the players to blow off some steam. Within a week there would be another test against England – but for now, it was a good start to their coaching tenure.  


Rassie toyed with his beer. “The reaction to Siya as captain has been incredible,” he remarked. “I didn’t expect that.”  


“Didn’t you?” smiled Nienaber. “Come on Rassie. You must have known it would cause a stir. First black captain, and all that.”  


“Sure. But man… it’s way beyond what I thought…” the head coach took a sip. “Tell me again about that movie.”  


Jacques Nienaber smiled. “The Incredibles. The superhero movie by Pixar. They are bringing out a sequel this week… I’m going to go watch it with the kids after this tour is done. We all love those movies, even though they are now too old.”  


“And what’s the movie about?” asked Rassie.   


“All those movies have the same plot, Rassie,” answered Nienaber. “This one happens to be about superheroes.”  


“Tell me again,” retorted his old friend.  


Nienaber indulged him. “They have a formula. It goes like this:  


“Once upon a time…  

Every day…  

Until one day…  

After that…  

And after that…  

Until finally…”  


Rassie nodded. “Classic fairytale stuff.”  


Jacques Nienaber loved this topic. “Yes, but it also reflects the classic Hero’s Journey. I told you before – you should read Joseph Campbell’s book, then you’ll spot the pattern all the time. Harry Potter, Star Wars, even Dances with Wolves… all those movies.”  


Rassie sat bolt upright. “Hey, do you think the formula applies to what’s happening with Siya and the Springboks?”  


“Hell yeah,” replies Nienaber. He was now animated. “Let’s plug it in!”  


He grabbed his notebook and started scribbling. He smiled as he progressed, then looked up at Rassie. “Ok, here we go…”  


“Once upon a time, Siya Kolisi grew up in poverty in the Eastern Cape.  

Every day was a struggle for the family, and there were no opportunities for a better life.  

Until one day, a talent spotter offered him the opportunity to go play rugby at an elite boys’ school in the city.  

Because of that, sport allowed him an amazing life of luxury, travel and opportunity as he rose through the ranks to play for his country.  

And because of that, he became a superstar and captained the side, and became a role model of leadership, humility and family values.  

Until finally, he won rugby’s ultimate prize the World Cup, giving hope to all the other boys that thought it couldn’t happen to them.”  


They both sat back. “Wow,” said Rassie. “That’s why. That’s why people are going nuts. The inspiration. The hope he is giving young boys everywhere.”  


“That’s right. Remember you had three core tenets, Rassie. Results, public perception and transformation. And Siya embodies all three!”  


“We haven’t won the World Cup yet,” muttered Rassie.   

“But we will,” said his old friend. “And think about this formula. It’s not just our story. It can be our stakeholder story too.”  


“What do you mean?”  


“Ok, let’s think about it. Who’s been the biggest thorn in Springbok coaches' side for the last 20 years?”  


They both know the answer. “Politicians, pushing the racial agenda. And referees. We are always on the wrong side of the refs.”  


“That’s right. And it’s a reputation problem. So how do we fix it?” Jacques Nienaber scribbled again. He nodded, as if to himself.   


“Ok, let’s try this one. Let’s make the hero of the story the minister of sport. Check it out:  


Once upon a time, the minister of sport in South Africa wanted teams to not only win but to represent the demographics of the country.   

Every day, he was confronted with national teams that had too many white faces, which meant the majority of the country would not support them.   

Until one day, the Springbok rugby team fully transformed, even selecting a black captain.   

Because of that, and because they were winning, he was able to fully support the team and not interfere in policies or selection.   

And because of that, the team gained momentum and public support, both transformed and high-performing, which made him look even better.   

Until finally, they won rugby’s ultimate prize the World Cup, the first black captain lifting the trophy on a world stage, and the minister right beside him sharing the glory.”  


Rassie banged his fist on the table. “Wow. Wow. That’s it! Man, that’s it.” He paused. “Ok, do one more. The refs. Do the refs.”  


Nienaber took a bit longer scribbling this out.   


“It’s not perfect, hey. But let’s give it a go:  


Once upon a time, the world’s top rugby referee was under enormous pressure to not make mistakes.  

Every day, he needed to make split-second decisions in important matches applying his interpretation of complicated rules. He especially hated refereeing the Springboks, who he felt were a dirty team that always complained afterwards.  

Until one day, the Springbok coaching team respectfully communicated with him upfront and then made sure their players followed the rules and curbed their robust play.   

Because of that, mutual respect developed between him and the Springboks, and he started to see them in a different light.   

And because of that, they made fewer errors that forced him to punish them, and he was also more likely to give them the benefit of the doubt in 50/50 situations.   

Until finally, in the World Cup Final, he knew the Springboks to be a clean and fair team that followed the rules, and he refereed the game fairly and transparently.”  


He looked at Rassie. “It feels like something is missing.”  


Rassie smiled. “You’re damn right it is. But I like this. When it comes to refs, there might be something more there…”  


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