Savor your success, but only for a moment, as there’s more work to do. Be focused on what’s next
When I had my first job in the movie business, at Walt Disney Studios, the head of our group was legendary executive Jeffrey Katzenberg, who later went on to co-found DreamWorks and now runs DreamWorks Animation. Being in Jeffrey’s group was like studying at the feet of a master, and he taught me an important lesson I still apply today.
It began on a Monday in 1989 at our eight o’clock meeting. That weekend we had opened one of the first films I supervised: Honey, I Shrunk the Kids. We had a lot riding on the movie, because it was the first Disney live-action film in years, and we knew we were up against stiff competition—the first Batman movie, starring Michael Keaton and directed by Tim Burton. We had gone into the weekend afraid of the outcome…and emerged victorious. Honey did great business. On that Monday morning, we already knew it would be a huge hit.
We were all full of laughter, high-fiving each other and passing around compliments when Jeffrey strode in. He took his customary seat at the head of the long table and looked around the room. “Congratulations,” he said, simply. Then, with barely a pause he said, “Next.”Next? That wasn’t what we wanted to hear. We wanted to hear praise for the next hour! But no, it was back to business. I thought I understood the meaning of “Next” that morning: we shouldn’t focus on our success or we’ll become complacent and self-congratulatory. But there was a deeper meaning, and I didn’t learn it until months later.
We assembled for another Monday morning meeting, this time after we had opened a movie called An Innocent Man. The film was an action-thriller, directed by Peter Yates, who had directed the classic Steve McQueen movie Bullitt. An Innocent Man starred Tom Selleck who delivered a strong and nuanced performance; then, as now, Selleck had a loyal following from his television roles. But the movie didn’t attract enough audience, and over the weekend we knew it would be a financial failure. By Monday morning, we were glum and depressed.
Jeffrey entered right on time, as usual, at eight o’clock, and settled into his place. The room went still. He surveyed our stolid faces. “Next,” he said, then turned to his notes for the morning’s agenda.
We breathed a sigh of relief, because we’d expected to get chewed out. But we weren’t. No one had done anything wrong with the movie – the creative team had made it well, the marketing campaign sold its message, and the distribution group had booked the right theatres. The audience simply wasn’t interested and, in a risky business like show business, that comes with the territory. What did we do in the face of defeat? We simply moved on.
In every business since then, and every media group I’ve worked with, I’ve adopted the same management style when confronted by failure: I don’t blame or accuse, because I don’t want the team to stop taking risks. However, I’ve modified my thinking somewhat when it comes to positive outcomes. In competitive businesses, such as the entertainment business, tough days far outnumber good days. So today, I encourage people to savor their success, and enjoy it for a moment. But only for a moment. There’s more work to do, and we have to do it. We always have to keep our eyes focused on what’s next.
Adam Leipzig is the CEO of Entertainment Media Partners, an international firm that advises its clients how to get exceptional financial and creative returns and maximise the value and visibility of entertainment content. Adam has produced, supervised and distributed more than 25 movies, which have earned more than US $2 billion in revenue on US $300 million in production investment. He is the publisher of Cultural Weekly, and former president of National Geographic Films and senior executive at Walt Disney Studios.