Beating the Odds by Writing Your Own Script

James Bond Doctor No Poster

Sometimes the best way to come up with a creative solution to an impossible problem is to change the problem definition to create more degrees of freedom. When it looks like there’s no solution, here is a practical strategy to break through the other side by simply changing the rules.

Today’s post is by Andy Cohen, author of Challenge Your Assumptions, Change Your World (CLICK HERE to get your copy).

There are times in business when it feels like the evil empire is working against you. You inherit unrealistic budgets. You are forced to work with people who continually slow down your efforts. You have a great product but lack distribution. In times like these, it pays to consider the following story on how to challenge dangerous assumptions in order to turn the odds around and stack them in your favor. And it begins with the making of the first James Bond movie, Dr. No.

Dr. No and His Aquarium

Ken Adam was at the forefront of film history as the production designer for the original James Bond series. He introduced us to many of Bond’s signature gadgets including: an Aston Martin with real ejection seats and jetpacks that could lift a man a hundred feet into the air. One of Adam’s greatest challenges, however, was on the set design of the first James Bond film, Dr. No.

For those who don’t remember, Dr. No introduced Sean Connery as 007, who upon investigating suspicious activity in Jamaica, ends up disrupting the villainous mission of a diabolical scientist whose name is the title of the film. All the clues lead Bond onto a mysterious island inhabited by a fire-breathing dragon.

There he encounters the beautiful Honey Ryder (Ursula Andress) diving for shells. Together they confront the dragon, a flame-throwing tank commanded by Dr. No’s private army of solders. Taken prisoner, they get to meet their villain who reveals his plot to foil a space launch from Cape Canaveral.

The meeting with Dr. No takes place in a massive underground headquarters featuring one of the most memorable scenes in the film, an underwater lair with a sunken living room. What dominated the living room and made it truly distinctive was a massive glass wall that showcased the sea.

Building a real aquarium proved prohibitively expensive for a film with a budget of just £20,000 for set design. So Adam came up with an idea: they would put a movie screen behind a glass wall and project film onto the screen. With no money to actually go out and film underwater, they settled for stock footage, and then were aghast to find the fish on film were about the size of goldfish. Adam and his crew tried to magnify the fish, but they looked ridiculous. To add, the glass wall distorted the image further. Creating the set seemed impossible given their limited budget.

You have probably encountered the same sort of problem yourself, even if your job isn’t creating elaborate sets for major Hollywood films involving an evil genius.

Many times in business the odds seem against you, no matter what you do. For instance, you have a great product that people love, but you lack the funding to invest in advertising to grow the business to the next level. Your client has basically signed off on your project, but you can’t close the deal because the client is distracted with other issues, and without a contract, you can’t keep your team in place. You find the perfect person to fill a job but lack the salary the candidate desires, and you will lose this person if you don’t bring him or her on board soon.

These types of scenarios leave you feeling frustrated. You can almost taste the success of your efforts, but that “one thing” is blocking your way.

I can only imagine that Adam felt that way. In the end, however, the aquarium scene in Dr. No happened because Adam and crew did the unexpected in a very simple way that was brilliant and cost nothing.

To understand the power of this solution let’s first examine the assumptions framing the problem. I underlined those assumptions. Perhaps they sound familiar:

The production budget to build a live aquarium for Dr. No’s living room set isn’t enough.

The only solution is to project existing film footage.

When we blow up the footage, the fish look distorted. We’re screwed!

But what if you tossed out the assumptions underlined above? What if you forced yourself to look at the problem in a completely different light? What if the solution had nothing to do with dollars spent on the set?

Strategy: Write Your Own Script

In the case of Dr. No, an ingenious yet simple solution was generated that required neither money nor additional time. What was the secret?

The team simply altered the wording of the movie script! This brilliant yet simple idea allowed the viewer to accept that the film footage was actually distorted (because it was) without disrupting the flow of the action. Below in ALL CAPS is the copy that was changed, allowing the viewer to accept the low-quality footage as part of the movie reality.

Dr. No: You were admiring my aquarium.

Bond: Yes. It’s quite impressive.

Dr. No: A unique feat of engineering if I say so. I designed it myself. The glass is convex. 10 inches thick WHICH ACCOUNTS FOR THE MAGNIFYING EFFECT.



This short conversation between Dr. No and James Bond accounted for the distortion effect and allowed for one of the most memorable scenes in the Bond canon to remain intact.

In this case, the assumption that “it’s impossible” to use distorted film footage was challenged by changing the script, an important strategy that can be used in managing your own assumptions once you identify them. Writing your own script is a very valuable tool in this process and especially handy when faced with “it-can’t-be-done” scenarios. Writing your own script is about giving yourself permission to explore changing the rules you impose on yourself or the ways of doing things within your organization and among your team.

It’s an effective tool for overcoming insurmountable odds.

Challenge Your Assumptions

Andy Cohen is a TEDx and Talks at Google speaker, award winning entrepreneur and New York Times notable author. His new book, Challenge Your Assumptions, Change Your World (CLICK HERE to get your copy) enhances decision making and critical thinking. You can read the reviews here.

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Photo: NO-03-R002 by Johan Oomen

One Response to “Beating the Odds by Writing Your Own Script”

  1. Sean says:

    Nice! In consultant speak, I call this evaluating the problem through another lens.

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