Tag Archives: Organizational culture

I Want To Innovate

I toss and turn at night.  Just ask my wife, she’ll tell you all about it.  She’ll show you the evidence in the form of sheets, covers and comforter not even gathered on my side of the bed, but passed over my spinning body to a pile on the floor next to me.  We’ve taken to giving her a healthy lead when we go to bed by starting with the covers touching the floor on her side.  I out run her every night.

We’re almost to the point of attaching another set of covers to the ones we have and going “double wide.”  We already know it won’t work.  My churning will make short work of it. I’m a worrier.  I don’t have happy dreams (luckily, I don’t have bad dreams either,) I have anxious dreams.  I’m just damn restless about the constant in my life: What more can I do?

We all do that to an extent, and I’m sure anyone reading this can relate to their life, their business, their relationships.  I live in a business world where someone always needs a job.  You can have a day where one client really breaks through, getting a gig that is life altering. One that enters them into a new realm of money, prestige, creativity.  But, on the same day, you still have a client who just needs a job, any job, to make that month’s mortgage.

As objective as you can make yourself, as hard as you become to the realities of representing freelancers,  it still tortures you. Perhaps there are agents out there where it dosen’t affect them.  But, those people can’t possibly be in possession of a soul. Really, it’s my own damn fault.  Me and my partners in crime are trying to take a dusty old industry and turn it on it’s ear.  We’re using technology, social media, automation, marketing and carefully crafting a corporate culture that has yet to exist in our industry as a strategy and business model.

We keep noticing competitors copying things we’re doing and we are still a step ahead.  All that is great, but there’s still a client out there that needs a job, and so my nightly comforter conveyor belt continues unabated. I read and read, study and study, implement and implement and WPA gets better and better. Not by virtue of me, but by virtue of us.  Everyone is bringing new things to the party everyday.  But still, there’s a client out there that needs a job.

So, where is the next innovation?  The next breakthrough?  What will bring us to the holy grail of 100% roster employment? Am I chasing something that will just never exist?  I refuse to believe that.  In some parallel universe somewhere, amidst the infinity of worlds with intelligent life, there is world where ‘The Artist’ did not win Best Picture and an agency called WPA has 100% freelance employment.

So, we try everyday to get a little bit better.  We get ahead, we have setbacks, but we keep going.  We try to hone our attention to detail, our communication and our commitment to each other and our clients. Don’t get me wrong.  Things are going great.  Things are just where they are supposed to be financially and culturally. Growth is right on track per the business plan. We just took a much bigger office space in Beverly Hills to accomodate our growing staff.  But, oy, I just keep spinning at night. Someone, somewhere needs attention!  The job is never done!

So, we recommit to innovate and build a company that not just sustains us, but one that honors our clients, our buyers and the filmmaking community at large. I want not just an innovation, I want THE BIG innovation.  The agency innovation to top them all.  But, what I’m learning is that exists as much as me sleeping in one position does.  What does exist however, are a number of small innovations that can be strung together to be bigger than the sum of their parts.  The key here is having the courage to explore and act on all the little things instead of waiting to think of the one big thing!

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” Mark Twain

So, I’ll keep tossing and turning.  My wife will keep grasping at covers as they disappear and I’ll keep putting together the small things to keep moving forward.

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Culture? I Got Your Culture Right Here

Here’s a question for you; as an artist, entertainer or freelancer, what does corporate culture have to do with you? You’re not a CEO with hundreds of people working under you, so why would you have to think about it? We all have to think about it.  If we don’t, no one will work with us.  Or at the least, if you’re hyper talented, but impossible, people will work with you begrudgingly.

I’ve been involved in a lot of different cultures throughout my working career.  At my first production staff job I was told early on “Our credo is: assume everyone is dumber than you.”  Brilliant!  Grammatically incoherent, promotes arrogance while belittling you all at the same time.  Teamwork wasn’t our thing. It was every idiot for themselves.

My first job at a talent agency was different. I was told by the guy who hired me: “The object of the game here is to devour the top. I won’t be satisfied until you make me obsolete and I’m on the sidewalk looking for a job.”  I don’t think he realized that it would only be three months before he actually was on the sidewalk looking for a job.  I can’t take credit for it.  There was a sudden palace coup that dispatched of him quickly and finally.  Brutal.  It taught me to keep my head down, work hard and never let my bookings or revenue slip.

Looks like the right gear for storming an agent's office.

See, rather quickly it became obvious to me that big talent agency culture was simple: you can have dead bodies piling up in the corner of your office and as long as your bookings are strong, all management will do is send out for air freshener. However, let your bookings slip and they’ll call out for a SWAT team.

So, what is corporate culture?  In essence, it’s the spirit in which groups of people work together.  But, it’s up to each member of the group to individually contribute.  For example:  Good culture would be a movie set where the various departments communicate well towards the common goal.  Great culture would be that the team and individual attitude is ‘serving’ the other departments and the common goal.

Culture tends to be established from the top down, as in the two examples I gave you previously from my own experience.  My favorite movie example of this is in “Tropic Thunder” when Tom Cruise‘s studio head Les Grossman commands the Key Grip to punch the director in the face via Satellite link.  In the real world of movie making there are also examples of establishing culture good and bad.

Jack Nicholson is known for starting up an on set poker game with the cast and crew at the beginning of each movie he does. Invariably, when making movies there’s a lot of waiting around while different departments get ready for a scene. Jack doesn’t hide in his trailer, he spends the time with who’s ever available, building commraderie and passing the time having some fun with those around him.  He’s the boss and he knows it, so he sets a fun relaxed tone with the built in message that waiting is OK.

There’s another actor in Hollywood that arrives for each work day by helicopter. When the crew hears that chopper overhead, they have 20 minutes to be ready to roll camera.  If they’re not, the actor gets back in ther chopper and flies away. Now, there may be good reasons for the actor having to work this way, to each his own. But, the net effect is that the rest of the crew becomes paranoid, anxious and has flashbacks when seeing traffic copters or the opening titles of M*A*S*H.

The individual in the group dynamic is important!  Though it starts from the top down, any team member has the power to make the culture positive or to undermine it.  To make that point, imagine a big lighting setup.  While you are shooting away, someone randomly keeps pulling out plugs. As soon as you get it plugged back in and are rolling again, another one gets pulled on the other side. That is the power of the individual!

So think about it.  What is your individual contribution to the corporate culture of your crew, team or group?  Is it positive or negative? Is it about serving the group or your personal aspirations?

This is a fluid subject. I’m not the poster boy for creating good corporate culture. I think we teach what we most need to learn.  But, I’ve become aware that not only does culture count, if you want to keep your sanity and you want to love going to work everyday it’s essential.

So, how do you change a culture, in an office? On a set? If you’re the boss or department head take a good look at the tone you are setting.  Is it collaborative? Can people ask questions and feel heard in their concerns without feeling their jobs are threatened? Remember, the space shuttle Challenger accident?  The official investigation revealed that the engineers brought up concerns repeatedly. Their concerns were so aggressively rebuffed that they stopped bringing them up out of fear of losing their jobs.

After you’ve done some introspection, write down your personal philosophy of a good working environment and make sure those around you are aware of your feelings.  Then walk your talk and implement your point of view.

If you’re not the boss, it’s all about one thing: ATTITUDE! What attitude are you bringing to the team?  Is it positive? Negative? Self preserving? Secretive? Collaborative? Again introspection is in order. Ask yourself some hard questions. There’s always something to work on.

In the end, attitude always wins out, positive OR negative. But, only you can choose.  The beauty is that you can change the culture around you top down or bottom up. The choice is yours.