For the past few years I’ve been the CTO of a division of Sony Pictures heading up Imageworks, Animation, and more recently Colorworks and Post Production. Before this time, I’d had opportunities to lead large teams on movies, but had never served in an executive position. These notes are mostly for myself, but hopefully someone else will benefit as well.
Keep it simple
The best ideas seem to be the simplest. And even a simple idea is usually pretty hard to implement. If I can’t figure out a simple one-liner pitch for the idea, it goes on my to-do list labeled “Big Ideas” until I can figure out what to do with it. I like visiting that list from time-to-time for inspiration.
I’ve long had a policy to try to take advantage of speaking opportunities because you learn so much by going through it. I’ve learned a lot by presenting ideas and updates to teams around Sony.
There are whole books on how to do a great presentation. Here are the simple rules I’ve tried to stick to:
- 10 or fewer words per slide
- Be brief. Really brief if possible
- Have an intro, 3 points and a conclusion
- Make it fun
Sony is a large company and there are a lot of very talented people working in it. In order to move the needle, you have to spend time with a lot of people and pitch the same ideas over and over. If you’re like me, the actual process of pitching the idea improves it. And when you pitch a good idea to great people, they’ll have a take on it that will help grow and strengthen it.
Nothing was more rewarding to me than to see people on my teams demoing work that was inspired by an idea that I had been pitching. And, usually they had taken the concept way beyond what I imagined.
You can’t do it
I love getting hands-on in the details. In this role, my primary job has been to enable others to get hands-on while keeping aware of the big picture. Initially, this was a bit scary, but with amazing artists and engineers and an environment where they can do their best work, the net result is much better than just doing it myself.
I still got to dive in on FedEx Days, on particular projects and a few other times throughout the year, but handling all the details myself is not the job.
Be patient and persistent
Change takes time. I happen to be a person who likes change, but many people don’t. Warming people up to change and continually reminding people why the pain of the change is worthwhile seems to help. But it takes time, sometimes years. If it’s change that’s worthwhile, the persistence pays off.
Eliminate Red Tape
It’s really easy to create processes and procedures when you’re managing lots of people. Procedures give the impression of organized decision-making, but don’t usually put the emphasis on the quality of the final decision. Kill that and use the time you saved to talk with people who will then help you make better decisions.
Early in my life as CTO I tried a few things to try to reduce the barriers of communication between my post and everyone else in the company. First, a lot of people came and talked to me because they knew me from production, that helped. Second, I launched an IdeaTorrent which is like Google Moderator or Reddit but for ideas within Sony. I also used appointment slots on my calendar to actively encourage people to come up for office hours.
But my favorite: I would leave at least 5 hours a week on my schedule open to wander the halls and talk with people at their desks. Those times were more important than just about any other meeting on my calendar.