Why Your Genius Zone Matters When It Comes To Choosing Your Alliance Partners

Imagine Netflix comes calling…

They want you to produce a limited edition series based on your expertise—they’ll fund all the production costs and hand you a few million for your trouble.

You’d probably say yes in a New York minute—who doesn’t want to partner up with Netflix?

Legendary documentary filmmaker Ken Burns, that’s who.

In an interview on his new series “Hemingway”, Burns makes it clear he’s sticking with PBS to fund his documentaries, no matter how much money any of the streaming services throws his way.

“I could have gone a few years ago — or 10 and a half — to a streaming channel or or (sic) a premium cable, and say, with my track record, ‘I need $30 million to do Vietnam,’ and they would have given me (sic),” he adds. “But what they wouldn’t have given me is 10 and a half years.”

“PBS gave me 10 and a half years,” he says. “They gave me six and a half on Ernest Hemingway.”

And there is the heart of it: Burns’ genius zone requires time.

He needs a partner who will pony up enough budget to give him plenty of time to do the research and produce a film he’s proud of.

“It’s not a financial model; it’s a grant model,” he says. “We raise money from foundations, and individuals of wealth…”

“We make [the films] zero-sum games,” he adds. We’re “not allowed to put in contingency, not allowed to put in any profit margin, and it just happens.”

“What that gives me is total creative control. If you don’t like these films, it’s my fault,” he says. “And that’s the way you want it to be: No excuses.”

Let’s put this in black and white: Ken Burns makes less money partnering with PBS than he would with any streaming service, especially right now in the go-go days of documentary projects.

But he knows what he needs most to produce the award winning, deeply researched films he’s dedicated his life to producing.

And he isn’t going to compromise one bit on the process he’s honed over decades of highly focused work.

Now if you are already the Ken Burns of your specialty, you know what works for you and when to say ‘no thank you.’

But if you’re still finding your groove, you’ll need more finesse.

Take how you work best (your genius zone) and how you translate that into revenue (your business model)—into account before saying yes or no.

Even to Netflix.

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