DON’T RELY ON GUT FEELING WHEN YOU CHOOSE YOUR NEXT IDEA TO WRITE.
Or The Art Of Writing A Procurement Tender Document
Imagine trying to peel away a blister the size of your palm. Millimeter by millimeter you attempt to tear the dead skin away while the flesh beneath is raw and tender. Imagine the level of concentration required to peel away the blister so that you are left with one continuous and unbroken flap of skin while ignoring that itching pain.
That was how I felt when I wrote my first procurement tender document to secure the services of an agency. I survived the writing and even managed to derive some valuable insights into how one should go about choosing the right idea to write a script. But before I share with you, I like to talk about…
THE PAIN IN MY WRITING PROCUREMENT JOURNEY
When you’re employed in a big company, sometimes you need to look for a vendor to help in some area of your work. As there are large sums of money involved, the process of finding the right vendor has to be thorough, and most importantly, fair.
On the surface, it seemed easy. Find a few companies. Have them bid for the project. Run through their portfolios. Decide on the agency based on the quality of the proposal and their costs.
Then came the writing of the procurement tender document. This is a document you had to submit so that everything is above board and management could sign off on it and give you the green light to hire the vendor.
I had expected to clear the document in a few days.
It took 5 months.
A big part of the hassle was this. I had to come up with the exact specifications. This was a challenge. You’re clueless about the technical terms. You’re unfamiliar with the jargon. You have zero knowledge about the processes involved in the work that the vendor does, which was precisely why you wanted to hire an agency in the first place.
It dawned on me that before you even think about writing a tender document, you had to do research. Wade around in the waters of the subject matter. Familiarize yourself with the jargon. Absorb a working knowledge of the processes involved, without needing to delve into the fine details.
After which you had to list down, point by point, what you want from the agency. This is important because if you miss out on one detail, it will return later and haunt your ass when you find out that the agency is unable to perform a certain function. You cannot complain because they will point to the tender and say — You did not ask for this.
So, the list of specifications had to be combed through very thoroughly. Say you finally managed to pin them down.
Are you done?
You then have to come up with an Evaluation Matrix.
This is an excel sheet where you have to fill in details on how you would measure the excellence of each of the agencies who are bidding. In other words, what criteria do you use so you’d be able to say, company A is better than company B.
Criteria cannot be based on some wishy-washy, feeling in your gut. It has to be clear, and measurable. And they should fall under the categories of Comprehensive, Meet Requirements, Brief, and No Submission.
So the list of criteria must be defined. Say you finally managed to pin them down.
Are you done?
You have to give a score. After which, are you done?
Not till you clear the last stage — filling up the Approval Paper where you have to list all the justifications on why you chose company A instead of company B.
THINKING FAST AND SLOW
In Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman’s book Thinking Fast and Slow, we’re introduced to a whole slew of biases that plague human judgment. I recommend a read. It is insightful and full of those “I never knew it was so” moments.
Daniel talked about confirmation biases. How, as humans, we tend to selectively pick traits that would confirm our opinions. He talked about the selection of pilots in the Israeli air force. How the chosen pilots were falling far short of standards. Daniel was hired to come up with some kind of criteria to improve the selection process. Daniel had no experience in flying or the military. But he decided he would come up with a simple scoring matrix. He would ask a series of common-sense questions to the applicants and he would rate their scores and then total them up, and get an average. Based on this system, he presented the chosen candidates to the board. The board was very critical. They were adamant that Daniel’s selection was erroneous because his chosen candidates did not look nor feel like what they thought a pilot should be.
But they were overruled.
Daniel’s selection got through. And he was proven right eventually as the pilots all performed very well.
What did Daniel’s scoring system do that was so different from how the board had previously selected pilot candidates?
GUT FEEL CAN BE MISLEADING
It eliminated as far as possible, emotion or “gut feel” from the selection process. It reduced the possibility of biases that would cloud judgment. It forced the selection of a candidate to be based on measurable items rather than intangible feelings.
Imagine if the candidate was not a human. But an idea. An idea for a script. An idea amongst all other ideas. Which would you pick to invest your time and even money?
Just like in the procurement process, it is good to come up with a simple template.
Which was something I did in my former life as a screenwriting lecturer.
CHOOSING THE BEST IDEAS
75 ideas. To be filtered down to 8 ideas for 8 short films.
There have been many occasions when we would pick an idea for a film and six months later when the short film was done, me and my lecturers would look at each other and wonder why on earth did we pick the idea in the first place. I decided there should be a more systematic way of idea selection. I came up with what I call a SELECTION MATRIX.
I did an Idea Audit.
First of all, I thought about what I wanted from a student film. I wanted students to be able to acquire a competent grasp of storytelling principles and be able to tell a story with a beginning, a middle and an end.
I wanted the short film to feature ONE compelling character as I wanted the students to focus on character journeys.
I wanted the student films to appeal to as many people as possible because I would like them to have a good film in their portfolio. Hence, I wished their films would be emotional.
Knowing the outcomes I desired from a student film, I was then able to ask relevant questions.
Did it have a compelling main character?
Is there a clear ending that is built into the concept itself?
Is the story emotional?
Are the stakes high?
How unique is the concept?
Each question was worth 10 marks. Each lecturer would assess the idea and award marks for each question, after which we would compare our scores. When we selected ideas in this fashion, we realized that the films that turned out were more complete and emotionally satisfying and the writing process was easier because we had ensured that each idea already had a clear beginning, middle, and end. Some film ideas may touch on a subject matter that is appealing and could sway your judgment but the selection matrix and idea audit forces you to put aside emotion and examine ideas more critically.
Writing a procurement tender document is an exercise in the art of accountability. It aims to eliminate biases. It forces the process to be independent of “feelings”, and it assures you that before you invest valuable time and resources, you have done your due diligence, considered all the angles, and made the right choice.
The next time you have an array of ideas in front of you and you’re torn over which idea you should spend the next 6 months laboring over, do the following. Ask yourself what you expect from each idea. Then devise a simple scoring system. Rank each idea. Do an Idea Audit.
Make better decisions when it comes to your ideas.