Tag Archives: Heuristics

Talent and literary agency: dummies edition

The single biggest expense most companies incur is the cost of acquiring the customer. Every other move increases your customer’s immediate and lifetime value.

As a patient talent manager or a shrewd talent and literary agency (TLA) owner you could choose to make no profit until you’ve secured your talent and showed them the easiest way to return to you at any given time.

If you manage to find creative ways to not make a living from your core offer but rather assidiously convert leads into paying customers — sometimes at the expense of your profit margin — you could become unstoppable.

You could take everything you make from the Core Offer and reinvest it to acquire more customers. You build a system in which you can spend more to acquire more customers than your competitors.

Keli Lee sharing wisdom as Head of Casting and Talent for ABC Entertainment:

Every night in New York I would see a live theater production or a comedy show. I would look for outstanding talent, bring them in for auditions, and even if the actor wasn’t cast, I would bank the information. You want a list of people who you know are good and draw from that talent pool when the right character comes up.

Another way to boost your success as a talent and literary agency manager/owner is not to think of yourself as an agent. Train yourself to employ one of theseven heuristic methods that help you think clearly: purposefully think in terms of broader definitions and see what insights you’ll gain from the perimeters. Take Irving Paul “Swifty” Lazar who described himself as a “dealmaker” and as such didn’t feel constrained by the normal rules of talent management of his time. Lazar was famous for his swiftness in making deals for any talent, not limited to his own clients.

For those of you scared by the prospect of alienating TLA colleagues, most of the times you can always work out some kind of an amicable arrangement with whoever you initially cut out of the deal.

Sometimes he takes his ten per cent from the buyer, sometimes from the seller—sometimes, it was rumored in the old days, from both. This is exactly how creative TLA manager Lazar helped himself test the waters and check the market value of a best-selling author.

Most creative businesses fail because they either…

  • ..fail to offer a desired “After” state (The offer sucks)
  • ..fail to articulate the movement from “Before” to “After” (their marketing is mediocre)

Great TLA managers speak to how a talent will FEEL, how their AVERAGE DAY will change and how their STATUS will elevate.

Consider some of these marketing tips:

Aim for a gut reaction, and pay special attention to how your materials look when scanned quickly (no one has the time or inclination to do that anymore).

Some 90 % of all data that our brains process is visual. Use images—but make them special.

We are wired from birth to recognize and prefer human faces. Use real people in your talent marketing materials.

62 to 90 % of our feeling about a product is determined by color alone. Be mindful about colors.

We have an innate desire to conform. Remove anxiety, signal belonging and build credibility with an audience by using endorsements from well-known influencers in your market; customer testimonials woven into the fabric of your website.

Email andreakozlov@gmail.com for more personalized tips on how to manage talent and be profitable at it.


Questions you should ask when planning your next Smart City event in Africa

by Andy Kozlov, consultant on smart cities in Africa

The better the question the more adequate solutions your African Smart City events will offer at the end of the day.

For each topic, I suggest you ask yourselves lots of questions. And then try hard to answer them. Or try to have your potential speakers answer them during the event.

Each time you speak to your key partners, encourage them to suggest those crucial questions that everyone wants to hear answers to when they think about a smart African city.

At the latest National Urban Forum in Antananarivo, Madagascar as he was shown how Tokyo’s city planners use 3D modelling to revive dying city centres and how Morocco tracks the progress of their Villes sans Bidonvilles programme with the help of satellite imaging, one Malagasy mayor wondered, “How do you count the number of toilets in France?” “My city does not have a road and can’t be accessed by cars. How should we create infrastructure here?”, inquired another colleague of his.

Here I suggest some more questions:


How chronic are electricity shortages in Kinshasa? Available solutions deployed to tackle this issue?

How under-resourced are state-owned energy utilities in Namibia? Available solutions deployed to tackle this issue?

What is the % of privately-owned energy utilities across Madagascar?

What is to be prioritized: deployment of tech available incountry (including via Ethiopian offices of multinationals) or import of tech, Or R&D?

What are the top 10 most urgent laws/directives that need to be passed?



How many hours per year do Harare commuters lose to traffic congestion? Available solutions deployed to tackle this issue? E.g. in Lagos commuters collectively lost three billion hours per year to traffic congestion from 2007 to 2009.

What does Mombasa need to do to develop bus-oriented transport infrastructure with dedicated lanes? Available solutions deployed to tackle this issue?

What is the % of environmentally friendly mass-transit vehicles in Maputo?

What is to be prioritized: deployment of tech available incountry (including via Ivorian offices of multinationals) or import of tech, Or R&D?

What are the top 10 most urgent laws/directives that need to be passed?



How huge is the backlog in the collection of solid waste in Abidjan, by commune? Available solutions deployed to tackle this issue?

How much urban environment do we expect to be built in Durban in the next 10 years, by area, by cement amounts, by solar panel on rooftops?

How defined are boundaries in Bujumbura?

What is the state of municipal asset inventories, land-tenure systems?

What is to be prioritized: deployment of tech available incountry (including via South Sudanese offices of multinationals) or import of tech, Or R&D?

What are the top 10 most urgent laws/directives that need to be passed?



What type of jobs do we need to create for local unemployed people to fill in?

How independent are local authorities in Mauritius from national government (including in subsidy terms)?

What is to be prioritized: deployment of tech available incountry (including via Tunisian offices of multinationals) or import of tech, Or R&D?

What are the top 10 most urgent laws/directives that need to be passed?

This is probably the first time you hear from Tendai Huchu in 2015 — and Scotland’s best Zimbabwean author vows to drop postmodern narrative artifices by 2034

As part of our African Literature as Creative Enterprise series, Steppes in Sync’s own Andy Kozlov / @KozlovAndy talks to Zimbabwe’s Scotland-based writer Tendai Huchu about the newly released novel The Maestro, The Magistrate & The Mathematician (Get Print Copy on Amazon).

African Literature as Creative Enterprise is an interview series by Steppes in Sync and amaBooks
African Literature as Creative Enterprise is an interview series by Steppes in Sync and amaBooks

The author of The Hairdresser of Harare explains why he went with a Bulawayo-based publishing boutique, amaBooks.

Together we uncover the quintessential quixotic character in African literature and Tendai tries to imagine how his Scotland-set novel would be different if it was set in Zimbabwe, and if he was to publish it at 52 and not 32.

Tendai Huchu's The Maestro, The Magistrate & The Mathematician
Tendai Huchu’s The Maestro, The Magistrate & The Mathematician
A Character Question
Your Maestro is a quixotic character. Can you think of a quintessential quixotic character in African literature before your novel graced the bookshelves around the world?
No one beats John Eppel’s ultra-ridiculous George J. George from Absent: The English Teacher. Few contemporary writers equal Eppel [who teaches English at Christian Brothers College in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe] in terms of technical skill and comedic ear. In George J. George you have a character who mistakes his white Ford Escort for the moon (think Don Quixote and the windmill) and everything goes downhill from there.

A Setting Question
Many a culture buff considers Scotland’s capital Edinburgh one of the world’s capitals of culture. Epitomising this image: The Edinburgh Festival. By singling out a mathematician over a nurse or a physicist, do you maybe hope that the number of Zimbabwean mathematicians attending the Edinburgh Festival will surge, inspired by the adventures of their colleague in your novel?
You’re taking the piss, right?

An Alternative Setting Question
If the novel was set in Zimbabwe’s capital Harare — an urbs that you have ‘documented’ in your previous magnum opus — how would the maestro, magistrate and mathematician be different? Would they be émigré Scots, for starters?
Every novel is a complex algorithm with numerous variables. You change one factor and the whole thing becomes something else. Remember, this text doesn’t work in a vacuum – there have to be alterations to do with the social, political, environmental, legal, cultural, technological, economic… in fact every aspect of life you can think of has to change, which alters the language, character interactions, etcetera. This is almost an impossible question to answer; because of the scale of transformation the book would have to undergo we might as well be talking of two different novels.

Tendai Huchu's new book
A Medium Question
Zimbabwe like most nations on the African continent is seeing a tremendous rise in mobile internet consumption. Do you have something like an ebook or a novel-dedicated Android app in the pipeline?
There is an online platform called Mazwi which makes Zimbabwean literature available to mobile users. My first novel The Hairdresser of Harare is already available there. [At USD1.99], it is the cheapest novel they sell, because I waived my royalties in order to bring the costs down. Such is my desire for my fellow countrymen to be able to access my work.

A Publisher Question
I know the fabulous amaBooks duo personally — Brian Jones and Jane Morris, are the two directors of amaBooks. But still why did you go with this Bulawayo-based publisher?
I had a lot of starts, stops and false hopes with this novel. It’s an emphatic departure from my earlier work. However, working with my editor Jane Morris from amaBooks has got me turbo charged. She understood the scope of my ambition, and helped me fine tune and hone my craft. In the process, she has given me essential skills to improve my work.
I consider the year I spent editing it with her as the most important period in my writing life. In that same year I sold short fiction in my three favourite genres — literary fiction, crime and sci-fi — to leading journals around the world (The Manchester Review, Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, Interzone), which I believe was influenced to a great extent by that apprenticeship. I am extremely grateful for the partnership I’ve had with Jane Morris and Brian Jones at amaBooks.

Brian Jones and Jane Morris, the two directors of amaBooks, a Bulawayo-based Zimbabwean publishing boutique
Brian Jones and Jane Morris, the two directors of amaBooks, a Bulawayo-based Zimbabwean publishing boutique
A Sponsor Question
The Culture Fund of Zimbabwe Trust sponsored the publication. So really, what does a Zimbabwean writer need to have achieved to end up being chased by high-profile sponsors like the Culture Fund of Zimbabwe?
I wasn’t chased. My publishers put in an application for funding, and, fortunately, the CFoZ deigned to cover part of the printing costs. I think this is more reflective of the fact that sales of fiction in Zimbabwe are so poor publishers need a subsidy to make the production viable. The nature of my work naturally disqualifies me from the school textbook market, meaning it’s highly unlikely my publisher will recoup their investment from the domestic market. That’s the f*cking reality.

A Research Question
How much time did it take you to research for the novel? What were the major unknowns for you as you embarked on the research?
This was a three-year project. Research was ongoing; right up until the editor was like “enough”.

A Lost-in-Translation Question
Judging from previous experience, do you expect any localized creative spins that publishers in Germany will have to come up with to translate The Maestro, The Magistrate & The Mathematician to the German-speaking reader and to promote the novel in German content-consuming markets?
The question for the German publisher is: How do I sell this book by a relatively unknown author from Africa, who has won no awards and has no marketable hook/gimmick? Yahweh only knows what the answer to that might be.

Such-a-Random Question
Try to imagine: how would your novel be different if you were to publish it at 52 and not 32?
I would hope 52 year old me is more skilled and has less need for tricks and postmodern narrative artifices to mask his deficiencies. He/She (if I have a sex change) would perhaps be better at sentence construction, suspense, scene setting, characterisation, plotting… what I am trying to say is — Insha’Allah — he would be a superior craftsman. Early Huchu vs late Huchu – how pompous does that sound?!

Not your usual Estonian Archangel: this is how you author the next prophetic piece of content

by Andy Kozlov @KozlovAndy

From Martin Meredith’s The State of Africa:

The army coup of 1966, sweeping away a corrupt and discredited regime, was greeted in the South [of Nigeria] by scenes of wild rejoicing. The coup leaders were acclaimed heroes; the politicians slunk out of sight …

By strange coincidence, a prophetic novel by.. Chinua Achebe was published in the same week as the coup, telling the story of the rise and fall of an African politician ending with an army takeover. ‘Overnight everyone began to shake their heads at the excess of the last regime, at its graft, oppression and corrupt government,’ wrote Achebe in A Man of the People. ‘Newspapaers, the radio, hitherto silent intellectuals and civil servants — everybody said what a terrible lot; and it became public opinion the next morning.’

Thirteen years later The China Syndrome — a film that describes a fictional worst-case result of a nuclear meltdow — was released 12 days before the Three Mile Island nuclear accident in Dauphin County, Pennsylvania. No wonder that for anyone who was around in 1979 the movie was a major event and sparked a lot of debate.

Before the film, Americans were 60/40 in favor of nuclear power plants; after the movie, the poll reversed. If not for the film and the fact that it was backed up in real life, Americans would today have 1,000 nuclear reactors in the US instead of 100.

Back in summer 2013, I happened across an Estonian screening of a prophecy-laden piece of content myself. I was struck by the premise and actuality of the events recounted in Searching for Sugar Man, a documentary about Sixto Rodriguez, a performer and songwriter, whose two 1970’s albums went bust in the US, only to have them find new life as part of the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa.

Rodriguez had given up on his singing career and was a manual laborer in Detroit. For most of his life, he hadn’t made a dime off his South African success. Most of South Africans had thought he was dead, having killed himself.

Sitting inside Estonia’s oldest cinema Kino Sõprus as I was watching the highly spiritual events unfold on the screen, I couldn’t help wondering why would the ‘unsung’ American singer settle on Estonia in the song that ‘prophesized’ his unemployment? Was there a hidden message for me watching this documentary about him, on my first trip to the Baltic country?

Cause I lost my job two weeks before Christmas
And I talked to Jesus at the sewer
And the Pope said it was none of his God-damned business
While the rain drank champagne

My Estonian Archangel came and got me wasted
Cause the sweetest kiss I ever got is the one I’ve never tasted
Oh but they’ll take their bonus pay to Molly McDonald,
Neon ladies, beauty is that which obeys, is bought or borrowed

Apparently, no matter whether you are a Nigerian, an American in South Africa or an Ukrainian in Estonia, behaviors can be changed much more effectively if the story we convey precedes reality in a sometimes shockingly and always strikingly convincing way. So how do you author the next prophetic piece of content?

No need to dust off your granny’s crystal ball.

A lot of it is about knowing your subject very well, knowing the possibilities and considering the unkown unkowns well before the rest of us read about them materialize in the news headlines.

A History of Books that Forecast the Future
A History of Books that Forecast the Future

Were The China Syndrome scriptwriters the clairvoyants of their time? Certainly there were lots of people who entertained the thought back then.

In reality, “the basis for the film came from a number of nuclear plant incidents and in particular the Brown’s Ferry Alabama Nuclear Power Plant Fire which occurred four years earlier in 1975.” The screenwriters just knew their subject well. They proved to be extremely good at spotting a shocking possibility rooted in the down-to-nuclear-reactor-safety-valve reality.

If you want to be communicating your message of goodwill in a strikingly convincing manner be on the lookout for current and upcoming changes before others do. Beef up this knowledge and perceptions with expertise that is still not common today or shared by others. They will follow you for your original discernment and curatorial picks!

And remember: the best way to predict the future is to shape it.

One 2015 tip-off to wrap it up:

On September 10 this year, if God continues to save the Queen, Elizabeth will overtake her great-great grandmother Victoria and, after 63 years and 217 days, become UK’s longest-reigning monarch

The author can be reached on a.kozlov@steppesinsync.com