A Word to the OtherWise

We’ve all seen it, we’ve been there…

Gathered around a conference table, being briefed by a young, prodigious hotshot at the screen; a little too smug than is warranted by actual experience, speaking with sophomoric certainty of things that may not be quite so Definite and, as s/he speaks, revealing a vast absence of experience to back up the brains and talent so proudly on display.

The guy next to you says, sotto voce, “…that kid’s never actually installed a project in the field…”

The “kid’s” in over her head, the audience is disdainful and distracted by the evident disparity between Position and Experience on display at the head of the room. The young presenter isn’t even aware of the effect s/he’s having on the audience…as s/he’s likely unaware of just how much s/he doesn’t know…of how much experience s/he doesn’t actually have. While thinking s/he’s connecting and enlightening, directing and Impressing; what’s actually taking place is a dilution, a falling far short of the implied respect that was in place before the presentation began.

A passion for the work, entry into the Best School(s), studying with the Iconic Men and Women who Created an Industry, Interning with Disney Imagineering then hired into a popular, sexy Concept Development, Creative or Production company and, finally, plopped right into a high-visibility role with the lofty title of Creative Director or Senior Producer…

…with no, real experience to back it up…

…isn’t enough.

So. Who’s at fault, here?


We received a lot of feedback from our last post, A Word to the Wise, suggesting the focus be turned onto those who employ and present these prodigious young people in roles for which they are not ready; bestowing lofty titles and vast responsibilities to the eminently unprepared and inexperienced.


I am not a “you gotta pay your dues” guy.

Talented, groundbreaking individuals have been and continue to enter these industries from all quarters for decades; enhancing all our products with the disparate backgrounds and perspectives brought to the mix.

No. Not everyone must start in the proverbial Mailroom. Not by a longshot.

I am a fervent believer in recognizing nascent Talent and offering challenge after opportunity after challenge to refine and season said Talent and launch a successful career. I keep my eye out for Brilliant Youth because it fulfills me…and hey: I want these kids to hire me as they Mogul-upwards…

That being said; it is imperative that Talent be seasoned…that young skill be honed in the realities of the field and trench. Without the practical knowledge of seeing and experiencing one’s actual relationship with and to reality, appreciating one’s effect and effectiveness in communicating with others, building teams and projects, managing, motivating, problem-solving on the fly, balancing cultures from corporate to corporeal … one is simply a collection of untested skill and theory.

Don’t do this to these young people; don’t do this to your industries!

Giving a false sense of accomplishment to otherwise brilliant individuals sets them up for failure and crippling, confusing disappointment, down the line. These bright-eyed young people enter an industry for which they’ve hankered and lusted for years; now, they need guidance and mentoring as they learn to Fly; a sage, safety net.

This also costs the industry money, across the board. Inexperience in key positions threatens to lessen the quality of initial result, protract the problem-solving process, likely call for re-do, retrofit and redesign…and it undeniably, insidiously and sometimes irrevocably undermines the quality of camaraderie and teamwork that is imperative for us all to do our best work.

Title Inflation

Offering a young person, fresh out of school, the position of Creative Director or Producer or Leader at any level smacks of Title Inflation. Are these people being paid, concomitant with that level of executive with fifteen or twenty years’ successful experience; or, is the title being used as bait and in lieu of actually paying the salary of a seasoned professional who can mentor this raw material into the valuable and worthwhile talent, worthy of the (hopefully) big salaries they will (or may) someday pull down?

A few months ago, presenting a workshop to an about-to-graduate group of graduate students at The EMDI Institute of Media & Communication in Dubai, I was struck by the number of these men and women who were about to leave school and planned to open their own businesses. It was only as they kept asking about getting clients and navigating the gig market that it dawned on me that they all planned to jump right in as business owners.

While I embraced the entrepreneurial spirit of this multinational group; I took immediate pause and turned the conversation to the reality of learning the craft. No amount of book, study, practical exam and internship prepares one for actually doing the work. Don’t be responsible for this misconception.

What followed was a long and, to many in the room, frustrating conversation about the imperative need for and value of working for someone else, first. Of learning every detail of what a production job entails, from making sure there’s a place to park the generator for nighttime construction lights to securing and placing water for the Talent. The “grunt” work is key to the success of the project, and a good leader needs to be familiar with what it takes to make every detail materialize properly.

That means working for someone else.

One may graduate at the head of the class and leave school with the brightest, shiniest toolbox and the greatest, most creative or organized (or both) brain on the planet. S/he’s still not ready to run the show, or even lead a team.

Give these people a workbench beside the best you can recruit. Allow them the opportunity to watch the woman on the right and the man on the left assail the unique, daily problems of the formless, shapeless work we do and learn reflexive dexterity, to practice practical, unstructured problem-solving not manufactured in the vacuum of a classroom.

And, Ladies and Gentlemen, pay for the Leadership needed and that should be sought to lead and develop these Next Generations of brilliant artists and creators and producers and businesspeople who will take our industries where no being has yet gone.

Don’t saddle the industry with the Brilliant Unprepared. Don’t needlessly risk incomprehensible disenchantment when, given leadership roles bestowed too early, these valuable neophytes find themselves ineffective, not respected, not followed. We all – new, veterans, clients – deserve better.

Paying with titles undermines us all. This shortchanges our clients, dismisses actual experience and implies that School is Enough.

School is just the beginning.


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4 thoughts on “A Word to the OtherWise

  1. Absolutely every word true, and a lot more gently said than I’d have done. I was one of those overconfident kids with more talent than sense. The veteran I am now would not be able to tolerate the punk I was then.

  2. Very well said Kile, very well said. It is one of the major flaws to several groups that I have seen startup (including my own at times). If you’d be willing, I would love to get your thoughts or the next one of your entries to be about encouraging the experienced talent in the industry to actually work with newer generations as mentors and role models, as that is something that is desperately needed. I was lucky to be surrounded by a lot of talent and experience in an assortment of areas, and it is what has helped me in my own success.

    Again, thank you for these posts and I look forward to more!

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