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Simplicity 2.0
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Advice on Simplicity From Fred Astaire: Cut, cut, cut

Apr 25, 2013

Advice on Simplicity From Fred Astaire: Cut, cut, cut

Creating something simple isn’t a simple task. In fact, it usually takes a lot of hard work to refine away the elements that aren’t necessary.

Fred Astaire’s advice on this topic has become somewhat famous: “Get it till it's perfect, then cut two minutes.”

We asked John Franceschina, author of Hermes Pan: The Man Who Danced with Fred Astaire, for the secret behind this quote.

“Hermes and Fred usually took eight weeks or longer to design the dances for their films, sometimes creating only a couple of routines (or steps) a day. They would sit around, laugh, play games, listen to the music of one or several songs and, when an idea hit them, they'd work on it.

“To non-dancers, that might not sound very productive of a 48-hour week (9-5 Monday through Saturday; often Sundays as well for four or five hours). Typically a dance included every step that they came up with, and as a result, it was always too long.

“Early in the process of a film musical, before filming, begin there was always an approximation script detailing the director's idea of how long every scene and song should take (this had to do with cost and length of film). Since Astaire always had creative control, he typically provided the suggested length of all of his dances -- which inevitably were shorter than how the dances turned out in rehearsal.

As a result, he typically had to cut two minutes when the director was finally permitted to see the finished result.”

In other words, Astaire could have created routines in rehearsal that were the exact time he specified to his director. Instead, he created longer routines, knowing full well they'd have to be cut significantly.

He apparently welcomed the process of taking a break and then cutting away well-loved bits that proved, in the final analysis, to be unnecessary. The joy we experience watching Astaire comes in large part from knowing that every tap and swivel is critical to the entire routine.

There's an obvious takeaway for business managers working to simplify their own processes. Complicated business processes that appear to be etched in granite can be simplified if we accept that nothing is sacrosanct...and take a step back.

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