Committees, collaborators and accountants: what really brings an enterprise to life?

Committees, collaborators and accountants: what really brings an enterprise to life?
21st October 2017 Tim Malnick
In Money & Life

Why do we compromise our passion and vision so quickly?

Many people find it hard to fully commit to their creative vision. Often this is connected with hopes and fears about money. I was discussing this today with a professional screenwriter. Our conversation turned to two things: first, about how easy it is to not fully commit to one’s creative vision whatever that is, because of ideas about money; and second about how many Hollywood movies start off well and then get a bit, well lost and crap. As if they start off with a genuinely exciting vision or idea that then gets watered down and lost and ends up being predictable and formulaic.

There is an immediate connection between these two things. Why do we often find that the life we are living is someway distant from the life we imagined? Or to be more precise, how is that we make micro choices, small decisions day by day, week by week, year by year, that eventually lead us away from whatever it is our heart is most inspired by?

This is a familiar question that arises in coaching, organisation and personal development work. It is a familiar dynamic in the Money and Life work. How is it that under the guise of being ‘sensible’, ‘responsible’ or ‘pragmatic’ (insert your own socially justifiable reason for resistance here) we end up compromising on the vision or passion that we hold?

As we talked about film making in general and big budget movies in particular, we acknowledged that this dynamic is not just a personal one. Something similar goes on in the movie industry – and arguably in pretty much every industry.

 

How stories about money water down passion:

Here’s the scenario. Someone has an idea. They are excited by it. Let’s say it is an idea for a script, a movie (though it could equally be any idea for a new service, product, or innovation). Initially the activity to bring that idea into the world is an act of trust and passion. They have to be brave enough to put some energy into it, with no idea if it is going to work out or not. At a certain point, sooner or later, they have to take the risk to communicate the idea to others people[1]. If the film is to come into the world, energy, passion and commitment are required in the early tentative stages. Indeed it may take very significant amounts of energy, passion and commitment to enrol others, generate funding and start to get people interested. It make take some sacrifice, putting other possibilities and projects on hold to give this one the time and space and conditions required for it to begin to come to life.

So far so good. This phase is usually exciting, full of possibility. There is no particular problem with finding the energy required – though one might have to deal with fear, doubt and hesitation along the way[2].

And at a certain point something happens. Let’s say that people have got interested in backing the vision. Studios like the idea, they buy into the story – and want to invest time and money to get the thing made. This is of course a sign of success and is necessary for the film to continue to appear in the world.

But, that moment of development is also fraught with danger. Suddenly someone else is invested in the vision. They may well be invested in the passion and purity of the vision. But, because they have invested money, and in Hollywood the sums of money are very large, they are also now invested in some story about money. The film now needs to make money, enough money (whatever that its), lots of money.

Suddenly the very thing that is giving life to the enterprise – providing money to allow the thing to get made, has also become a potential distracter. The question, ‘Will it make money?’ becomes – if we are not careful – as central a question as ‘are we making the film we all got exited about and wanted so much to bring into the world?’ This becomes the basis for the difference between committees and collaborators. It is also often the difference between a wonderful film and one that somehow disappointments, even though, or perhaps because, it ticks all the boxes.

 

The important difference between committees and collaborators:

Collaborators, we could call them helpers[3], are people who are attracted to the initial vision. They want to lend their help, their skills and expertise because they buy into the original vision. They also sense that in contributing towards that vision (we could say meeting the need of the filmmakers) they will meet one or more of their own needs (say to be a great editor, or director or whatever). The key here is that whether or not money is involved, the initial impetus for contribution is about passion, vision and desire. As long as they are all clear that they are in service of the initial vision for the film, then help / collaboration can work extremely well. Indeed it is completely necessary – no one can create a movie by themselves. Just as no one can create a new product, service of organisation entirely by themselves.

Committees are another thing altogether and where film making (and other enterprises) often go wrong. We’ve all heard stories about film scripts that were rewritten countless times, even being rewritten during the actual filming. Something about this does not feel right – as if the vision for the film as a whole has become lost. Tensions between the artistic roles and the financial roles – the artists and the bean counters are another familiar story. Pressures from the studio moguls to deliver something that is not too edgy, not too controversial, that will appeal to the right segments of the market. This seems to be where so many movies go wrong.

 

Finance must serve vision, not the other way around:

We need to clarify here. There is no problem getting the accountants involved. As long as the natural hierarchy of the enterprise is understood and respected then accountants have an important role to play – like editors, set designers, hair stylists and caterers. If the accountants are clear that their role is in service of the initial artistic vision, then certainly the question of making money work in the best way, allowing it to flow in support of the resources and activities required for movies to come into the world is necessary and valuable. This is about seeing accountants as helpers. An entirely necessary service.

The problem comes when the financiers claim centre stage or believe that their considerations should be central. This is the story – so often told in our culture – that money is key, that making money per se is the purpose of an activity. We dress this story up in many socially acceptable phrases, ‘we have to make money to survive’, ‘without money there is no studio’, ‘this is the real world’. At face value this seems sensible. But at a deeper level this is always a way of saying ‘making money is primary; the artistic or project vision is secondary’. Tensions and difficulties arise at this point because at the deeper level there is now a conflict between two sets of visions or purposes. A natural hierarchy has been disturbed. Previously money was one of a number of resources (including technical skills, acting skills, catering etc) placed in service of realising the primary vision. With the reversal, or clash, direction and purpose has become unclear.

 

A downward spiral when money takes centre stage:

At this point it is not surprising that committees get involved. It is not surprising that there are spoken and unspoken confusions and tensions regarding direction. Because fundamentally it is no longer clear whose project this really is and therefore who knows where it should be heading. Then a negative spiral quickly develops. As things get more tense and confused, there is greater concern that the thing in fact will be a flop and won’t make money. And usually this brings the moneymen more to the fore with heightened concern. This results in a further step away from the artistic vision, and so the cycle goes. The right move would be to reconnect with and return to whatever it was that originally attracted interest and money – the initial vision, and to trust that.

 

As in movies, so in life – serving life not money:

This all of course is a metaphor for life. I think it shows up so well in movies, because we have all had that experience of connecting with some excitement and intrigue in the early stages of a movie and then wondering where that all went, how we ended up unfulfilled and slightly bored by what happens. And, if we are honest, we can all see that experience in our own lives too! How, maybe at a young age we were energised by a vision or passion, that now we look back at the story so far, has a ring of disappointment or compromise. How did this happen? Investigating our own stories of what money means to us, and how that belief affects our sense of freedom and creativity is a great place to start finding out.

The good news it that while the movie is made and not much can now be changed at this point, we are all, until the day we die, active directors and editors of our own life stories. It is never too late to respectfully silence our inner voices of the committee of sensible accountants and give more time and space to honouring the creative vision that was there from the start. We can actually use our feelings of disappointment, compromise or over familiarity as a wake up call. In Money and Life work we always find a respectful and rightful place for the inner committee of sensible voices, the accountants. We can serve them best of all by being clear enough and bold enough in our own vision – whatever that is, large or small, to place the sensible accountants in service of the unfolding of Life. Never the other way around.

 

notes:

[1] The taking of the first risk is a key component in identifying the Source / Founder of any initiative and becomes a very important part of enabling organisation flow. This is based on the extensive research into Founder led organisations by Peter Koenig which he terms Source work. 

[2] For a fantastic summary of doing your work of passion in the face of resistence see Stephen Pressfield’s ‘The War of Art’.

[3] Helpers are another important term in Peter Koenig’s work on Source. There are different types of helpers. The key is that they are attracted into the energy field of the Source / Founder and are able to meet one or more of their own needs by contributing in a way that helps the Source / Founder realise their vision.

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