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Management, Part II

posted Apr 5, 2012, 11:31 AM by Vishal Jain
I had an awesome discussion a few days ago, with a friend and fellow entrepreneur in NYC, Jared D, about people with esoteric jobs. It got me thinking about a person whose job would be really enigmatic to me, in an industry that seems sexy but isn't very well-understood by most of us.

I picked an executive at Showtime. I've been impressed by the enormous upswing in the quality of Showtime programming recently, and as the success of originally scripted dramas took the popular spotlight away from reality TV shows (Glee replacing American Idol in pop culture), a parallel shift saw Showtime stealing HBO's formula for original scripted shows and doing it better than them. I thought it would be interesting to know who the person was that was responsible for the creation of Dexter, The Borgias, and other well-loved dramas.

I know a writer would usually come up with the concept for a TV show, but of course it takes a company with a lot of money to turn it into a production, and someone, somewhere, has to be the ring leader that greenlights a production, hires the right writing editors, casting directors, actors, directors and videographers to make it amazing. (details here: http://documentarytelevision.com/commissioning-process/how-ae-and-bio-networks-develop-new-programs/).

So i dug around and found this lady: http://www.multichannel.com/ww/4119-Pearlena_Igbokwe.php. I was immediately struck by her story because she reminded me a lot of myself -- immigrated to the US when she was 6 years old from a developing country, with mother and sister, to reunite with father who had moved here earlier, then went to college in New England, entered the marketing world in the creative industry, had a senior mentor who believe in her, and ultimately went from corporate managerial roles into creative development. Kind of scary that every single one of those details is identical to my own story.

Regardless, when i watched the video, i recognized a certain facet of her demeanor that made my realize how she had inspired such incredibly work. I just watched her and saw myself being able to work for her. I saw a person who would only listen to me if i were passionate about an idea, and would only ask me to do something if it had enough creative leeway for me to invent my own value out of it.

It made me think about the problem of management i mentioned earlier, on a more task-oriented level. I know this is getting abstract, so i'll explain with examples. If Pearlena were my boss, i would pitch a tv show idea to her. She would probably pick out one interesting thing about it, point out that she saw opportunity there, and ask me to move it further along development. If i didn't have an idea, and she had a task for me to complete, i imagine she would say something like, "there's a lot of interest in period pieces these days, and in music-related shows like The Voice. Can you do some digging around and see what thoughts you have that combine the two, maybe talk to a few producers?". And i would have enough latitude within that assignment to come up with my own spin on the assignment, but moreover, would be inspired to pitch her my best idea, because at the end i know she would say something like, "Great work Veesh. Let me think about these and get back to you." And then she would evaluate the other 15 assignments she gave her other reports, and let us all know which of the final ideas she chose to move forward with.

Granted, she is in a creative industry, and it's arguably easy to inspire people to bring their best when the task is for them to create something on their own. But i think that tactic can be applied to any kind of company. Sure, it helps to have extremely motivated, ambitious, creative employees to begin with. But if you want to get the most of out someone on a particular task, it might help to position your task as if you were asking them to create a movie.

If the task is to create a pitch deck for a VC for example, try something like, "I want to pitch this VC that is really technology-savvy and is a former entrepreneur himself. Do you think you can come up with a presentation of our company that can appeal to his intelligence? I want you to tell our business's story in a way that captures his imagination."

And with that little direction, let your report go and make their brilliant mark.
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