Design Observer

About
Books
Job Board
Newsletters
Archive
Contact



Observatory

About
Resources
Submissions
Contact


Featured Writers

Michael Bierut
William Drenttel
John Foster
Jessica Helfand
Alexandra Lange
Mark Lamster
Paul Polak
Rick Poynor
John Thackara
Rob Walker


Departments

Advertisement
Audio
Books
Collections
Dear Bonnie
Dialogues
Essays
Events
Foster Column
From Our Archive
Gallery
Interviews
Miscellaneous
New Ideas
Opinions
Partner News
Photos
Poetry
Primary Sources
Projects
Report
Reviews
Slideshows
The Academy
Today Column
Unusual Suspects
Video


Topics

Advertising
Architecture
Art
Books
Branding
Business
Cities / Places
Community
Craft
Culture
Design History
Design Practice
Development
Disaster Relief
Ecology
Economy
Education
Energy
Environment
Fashion
Film / Video
Food/Agriculture
Geography
Global / Local
Graphic Design
Health / Safety
History
Housing
Ideas
Illustration
India
Industry
Info Design
Infrastructure
Interaction Design
Internet / Blogs
Journalism
Landscape
Literature
Magazines
Media
Museums
Music
Nature
Obituary
Other
Peace
Philanthropy
Photography
Planning
Poetry
Politics / Policy
Popular Culture
Poverty
Preservation
Product Design
Public / Private
Public Art
Religion
Reputations
Science
Shelter
Social Enterprise
Sports
Sustainability
Technology
Theory/Criticism
Transportation
TV / Radio
Typography
Urbanism
Water


Comments (6) Posted 04.03.12 | PERMALINK | PRINT

Laura Weiss

Woody Allen, Creative Management Genius


Woody Allen
Woody Allen and Naomi Watts on set. PHOTO: edavidove

Sometimes we can learn the most from master practitioners in fields different from our own.  

Robert Weide’s superb documentary on the writer/director/actor Woody Allen for the PBS American Masters series offers a treasure trove of wisdom that transcends the film industry. Allen’s movie-making process in particular offers three insights that have application to anyone who leads a creative enterprise or manages a creative process.

First, he hires only the best actors — and fires them as soon as he feels they aren’t working out. Beyond stating the obvious that the hiring process is serious business, the practice of hiring successfully can only occur when not performed under duress. Too often fast growing organizations focus on putting bodies in seats to carry out near-term tasks, and ignore the more enduring needs that support long term organizational health. All the best intentions to hire smartly and even a track record in doing so is still no guarantee that everyone will work out; hiring is an imprecise art because, after all, it involves human beings. In situations where things cannot be remedied it’s important to make the decision to let someone go fairly but swiftly — being clear why the job that was agreed to wasn’t being performed satisfactorily. Movies, like most creative outputs, require an ensemble of individuals to craft a successful product. Or in the words of business writer Jim Collins, you’ve got to make sure that you’ve got the right people (or potential Oscar nominees) on the bus.

Second, he only lets the actors read the script overnight — then tells them they can change any lines they want. A memorable scene in the documentary shows a courier delivering a manuscript in a plain manila envelope to an actor’s front door, and then promptly showing up again the next morning to retrieve it. While this may very well be a way to protect trade secrets and maintain control, it’s also a way of sharing a vision for the project. With this established, the actors can be invited to collaborate on the process of improving the product that is consistent with that vision; they are members of the team, not just employees carrying out their respective roles. The science of organizational behavior has demonstrated that enabling individuals to think and behave like ‘owners’ is one of the more powerful incentives for delivering great results. And being inspired enough to improvise and ‘build on the ideas of others’ (in brainstorming parlance) is really only viable when the direction for the effort has been clearly communicated in the first place.

Third, he gives the actors almost no direction on the set — he assumes that they are good at their jobs and that he should just stay out of their way. This harks back to the first point – if you’ve been thoughtful about bringing the right people on board, establishing a productive work environment, and communicating your vision (the second point), you should be confident that your team(s) can do their job. It’s a process grounded in trust, and eliminates the need for micro-management. Being adept at this probably has something to do with knowing your staff and empathizing with their particular needs (Allen is an actor too), whether those needs are focused on professional development or artistic self-expression.

I’ve always viewed creative leadership as a sort of cycling pace line — sometimes you’re leading from the front, setting the tempo for others to follow, and then you move to the back to let others temporarily take over. This rhythm is repeated multiple times during the cycling journey. But I’m mixing metaphors. Let’s just say that there are at least three reasons why Woody Allen has enjoyed a distinguished career spanning five decades. Whether you like his product or not, he’s followed a consistent approach that has yielded some pretty remarkable results.
Share This Story

RELATED POSTS


Design and the Social Sector: An Annotated Bibliography


Venture Design


Hester Street Collaborative


Who's Your Data?


Reassessing the Saul Bass and Alfred Hitchcock Collaboration



RSS Subscribe to Comment Feed

Comments (6)   |   JUMP TO MOST RECENT >>

bravo!
pat Taylor
04.04.12 at 10:14

Nice article!
I love Woody Allen :)
ignaziolaci
04.04.12 at 03:44

I've long asserted that there is nothing one can do in design that can't be related to Annie Hall. Thanks for this post. Allen is a great American iconoclast.
Christopher Simmons
04.05.12 at 12:31

Great article Laura!

By the way, your link to www.taprootfoundation.org
does not work in your Bio. You have an extra http:// see below.

http://www.taprootfoundation.org

Carl W. Smith
04.05.12 at 02:35

Great article about Woody Allen - I know many people who could benefit from reading this! I love Allen's work and the PBS documentary was wonderful to watch!
JDunn
04.06.12 at 08:03

I truly enjoyed that read, went really well with my cup of coffee. I need to see that documentary!

Thanks!
Mayes
04.06.12 at 09:03



LOG IN TO POST A COMMENT
Don't have an account? Create an account. Forgot your password? Click here.

Email


Password




|
Share This Story



Laura Weiss is a consultant and thought leader in the design and management of the innovation process.
More >>

DESIGN OBSERVER JOBS