On Management and Woody Allen

Posted on December 7, 2011 by

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by Anthony Dean-Harris
I like to think of myself as a misanthrope. Sure, this sort of thinking doesn’t seem all that healthy and I’m probably isolating myself in large part because I’m succumbing to my deep-seeded fear of rejection, but I still find I’m relatively productive when other people aren’t involved in many things I encounter in my life. Oddly enough, when it comes to working on assorted projects, this isn’t a compatible working methodology for most people. There are those with whom I have worked who have wanted more insight from me; there are others who would rather I connect more to colleagues and associates. Some have found my general detachment rather overwhelming while I consider it taking just the right amount of leash I would want others to have for themselves. When it comes to work, especially management, I find it best to approach things as Woody Allen would.

Allen’s process as a director involves putting appropriate actors in the right parts he has written and then standing back and letting them work. He doesn’t provide much direction and isn’t bothered if the actors stray somewhat from the script. His thinking is that artists should have their own autonomy to work and giving too much direction would be getting in their way. One could imagine this is largely because Allen has had the creative freedom to make a movie a year for the last forty years without excessive disruption from movie studios, even in his largely indie fanfare (and equally befitting box office returns). It’s only reasonable that he would allow for the same creative freedom with those he oversees.

I understand him implicitly. As an editor, I try not to give a lot of input to writers. Their voices are unique and special and shouldn’t be hindered by what I would say if I were tackling an idea. Just as I wouldn’t want to conform my voice to someone else, I try not to impose my voice onto others. When it comes to pulling together a staff or giving advice to students, I edit for the sake of clarity while ensuring that each writer has the opportunity to shine in his or her own way. Thus, my inability to say if a work is good or bad or whether or not I like a text tends to rub folks the wrong way. My irritation at folks checking on whether or not I am working on a task when I tend to trust others to do their jobs just as I would hope folks would do the same for me also tends not to make me a lot of friends in some parts. My disengagement is a kind of Zen in this regard, and we know how some folks don’t take to certain Eastern philosophies.

The root of all this is knowing to play to people’s strengths. It’s about the spirit of jazz– let each player have the opportunity to improvise around a common goal of making good art based on a composition. It’s feeling out the rhythm of things and gaining a sense of play. There is a rigidity in ensuring that a work of quality is produced; a guiding hand is not entirely absent, but that hand guides to avoid chaos, not to mold into the potter’s ideal. It’s the difference between management and control. It’s the line between Auteur theory and the spirit of collaboration. It provides freedom without boundaries and a few boundaries to contain a generally amorphous, but still beautiful form. It may not work for everyone, but it works for me. It’s the model I admire, and one to consider when one cherishes the contributions of others.

Woody Allen is a pretty good example to follow when it comes to management… Though maybe not when it comes to adoption policy.

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