Lord David Puttman Wavelength Leadership Masterclass Speech 2012


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Lord David Puttman Wavelength Leadership Masterclass Speech 2012

  1. 1. Speech by Lord Puttnam of Queensgate, CBE at Wavelength Connect Leadership Masterclass As delivered Delivered at: Store Street Room One Alfred Place 1 Alfred Place London, WC1E 7EB On Wednesday 25 April 2012 1
  2. 2. It’s a genuine pleasure to have the opportunity to speak to you this afternoon.Over the next 20 minutes or so, I’d like to take a crack at the subject of strategicleadership by attempting to sell you Puttnam’s Seven Laws of Creative Leadership,building on what I’ve learned from my own experience in a variety of business, culturaland creative sectors.As some of you may be aware, I began my career in advertising. An agency calledCollett, Dickenson and Pearce (more popularly known as CDP) was where I got my firstreal break.I was 21, had just got married, and was working in a somewhat ‘down-at-heel’ agencycalled Greenly’s when I saw my first CDP ad. It was for Whitbread Pale Ale and it wasvery different from anything else around at the time - certainly a lot more classy andintelligent.I didn’t actually know which agency had been responsible for it, but it didn’t take long tofind out.I think I wrote three letters before I got an interview. Then another interview, thenanother until, to my surprise and delight I was hired as their very first Assistant AccountExecutive!At this point it’s probably worth conceding that, from the perspective of anyone with theslightest degree of ambition, that’s about the lowest form of human life that exists inadvertising!However I got my head down and, probably more by luck than judgment, by the time Iwas twenty three I was holding down a job I had absolutely no right to in terms ofresponsibility.I was also earning over three thousand pounds a year, which was a hell of a lot ofmoney in 1964.And to top things off, at almost exactly the same moment, Beatlemania hit big time, andsuddenly, instead of being seen as a hardworking but essentially ‘long-haired git’, Ibecame what I can only describe as ‘intriguingly acceptable’.I even started to get away with wearing a white suit from time to time; not something I’drecommend to any of you nowadays!I’d never gone to university; before joining Collett’s I’d spent three years at nightschool. 2
  3. 3. But CDP served brilliantly as a University because I found myself working with a numberof quite extraordinary people, most of them in the creative department.The head of that Department was the Creative Director, a tyrannical taskmaster namedColin Millward. But it was he who taught me more than anyone I ever met; and he didit in a most unusual way.I’d take a piece of work into his office for approval and he’d sit and nibble at his nails fora bit and then, in his thick Yorkshire accent say, ‘It’s not very good, is it?’ and I’d say‘Isn’t it?’ and he’d say ‘No, it’s not very good at all.’And I’d ask ‘What don’t you like about it?’‘You work it out son.Take it away. Do it again. Bring it back tomorrow.’I’d leave his office and go back and just stare at the bloody ad. Then I’d calm down abit and talk it over with a copywriter, or one of the art directors, and we’d sit aroundfeeling sorry for ourselves, roundly cursing the source of our pain.Unfortunately, 99 times out of 100 Colin Millward was right; and we would end upproducing something significantly better the following day.Years later I said to him, ‘You know, you were a real bastard to work for. I don’tremember you ever giving us much in the way of direction, let alone encouragement.’‘No’, he said, ‘I did something a bloody sight more valuable; I taught you to becomeself-critical, and to work things out for yourself’.And it was true, he had.It was he who taught me an early and very important lesson:“That which is merely competent, or even good, is only a point of departure; it is seldomif ever a point of arrival”.In my last couple of years at CDP, as a so-called Group Head, I was lucky to beassigned a new copywriter in the shape of a 22 year old Charles Saatchi who, with hispartner Ross Cramer, had just joined the agency; a few months later the even youngerAlan Parker, together with Ridley Scott put in their appearance – and I had the hottest,youngest and far and away the most fractious team in town! 3
  4. 4. A great deal has been written about it, and it’s largely true, the mid-sixties was anamazing period, typified by the fact that everything and anything seemed possible;there was never a sense that any problem could be allowed to defeat us.Eventually, and I guess inevitably, I decided to leave the agency and go out on myown.My real passion lay in the cinema, and having achieved a reasonable degree of successat the Agency I’d developed sufficient self-confidence to believe I could make a careerof it.In hindsight, most of that confidence was based on a quite spellbinding level ofignorance. But that potentially lethal combination of confidence and ignorance wasn’tall that unusual in the 60s!As Im sure most of you would agree, the film industry is in just about every respect,‘creative’, and like all genuinely creative businesses it somehow refuses to conform toany ‘conventional’ business model.To illustrate this, let me offer an anecdote from the world I joined in the late sixties,when the UK’s leading Film Company was still the Rank Organisation - although itsimage even then was very much set in the 1950s!It was run by men – and I do mean men, there were no women – and these menhabitually dressed in blue blazers which made them look as if they had just saunteredoff the eighteenth green at Wentworth golf club.In fact, all too often they probably had – something which became ever more apparentas the company’s share price drifted downwards year on year, despite the hugeinjections of cash thrown off by their half-stake in a fairly successful photocopyingoperation by the name of Xerox!Over the years Rank had acquired a host of different film businesses – includingPinewood Studios – but now the management wanted to rationalise the way they mademovies. Surely, they reasoned, they could squeeze far greater efficiencies out of whatthey still saw as their core business?So their late and thoroughly unlamented chairman, Sir John Davis, commissioned areport from McKinsey’s on how the company could make its films in a more effective,and less risky fashion.After a few weeks pouring over film budgets, shooting scripts, interviews with keypersonnel and a great deal of head-scratching, the consultancy gurus delivered their 4
  5. 5. answer: quite simply they said, producing a movie was impossible, and no saneorganisation would even dream of accepting the level of risk involved!Exit McKinsey’s, their pockets filled with gold!The ‘blue blazers’ ambled off to the nineteenth in search of a stiff gin and tonic, andstarted plotting Rank’s withdrawal from the business – at exactly the moment theirsmaller U.S. counterparts, Warner Brothers, Paramount and Universal, got their acttogether and started to grow - exponentially!In fairness, the consultants at McKinsey’s could well have been on to something. Bythe standards of any rational business ‘audit’, it may indeed seem impossible to producea movie.But it does get done, and sometimes – admittedly not all that often – but from time totime those who produce movies make very decent profits for themselves, as well as forthe companies who back them.I tell this story because it neatly illustrates Puttnam’s First Law:In any creative or innovative enterprise you cannot simply measure yourself againsttraditional concepts of ‘accountability’.Everything moves too quickly, there are just too many crucial decisions to make in tooshort a period of time. So any serious leader or ‘entrepreneur’ will quickly findthemselves working principally on the basis of trust - not accountability.It’s certainly my experience that an obsession with ‘accountability’ strangles the will tolive, let alone the will to adapt and change! It also invariably strangles imaginationand, with it, genuine creativity – which for me is typified by originality, and flair.Which leads me to my Second Law:Networking among one’s peers early in your career and then carrying on doing it isincredibly important – it enables you to start building that web of trust I referred to. Tofigure out which people you can genuinely learn from, and even seek advice andsupport from in a crisis, while all the time remaining true to yourself and the things youbelieve in.After my father died I found this quotation from a play by George Bernard Shaw pinnedto the underside of the lid of his desk:Be true to the dreams of your youth 5
  6. 6. He always was. And as a result I’ve certainly always tried to be.However, there are occasions when it is important to take opportunities as and whenthey arrive.Im by instinct somewhat opportunistic. I tend to ‘cruise the territory’ and when I spot anopportunity to get something accomplished, I move very quickly - and I avidly follow-upevery lead I get.Im not sure how attractive it is, but I’d argue that a lack of tenacity of that sort is a hugeinhibitor to achieving your goals.If I had a pound for every wannabe filmmaker I’ve bumped into in a Soho coffee shopwho’s told me that he or she is just waiting for their big break – I’d be a fairly wealthyman.As Im sure you by now realise – it simply doesn’t happen that way!As a nation I’m not sure we’re anything like as ‘tenacious’ as we once were.Im concerned that weve fallen into a culture of entitlement that all but encouragespeople, should things not quite work out as they would have wished, to simply shrugand move on.Back to film in order to better illustrate my third point.As many of you realise, to make a film, you start with the sometimes lengthy process ofdevelopment.That usually begins with a ‘treatment’ of a few pages, outlining the concept, thecharacters and the narrative. That’s in turn followed by a first draft screenplay andeventually, sometimes many drafts later, a shooting script. The producer devolves budgetary control to the head of each department and leavesthem, for the most part, to hire their own teams. These will be people they in turn trust,people who as “freelancers” live and die by their ability to deliver.The point here is that this is a world in which there’s no need for ‘performanceindicators’ - if, as a freelance film technician you fail to deliver, then quite simply youmight as well leave the business - before the business finds you out - and leaves you!In other words, there’s no room or, more importantly, no time, for micro-management. 6
  7. 7. If a producer ever really attempted to micro-manage the process they would almostcertainly prove McKinsey’s triumphantly right; movies would be impossible to make.So, to Puttnam’s’ Third Law:Don’t waste your time attempting to micro-manage the output of any essentially creativeenvironment.In film-making, as in many other creative spheres, power is devolved; it’s responsibilityand success that are shared.Making a film is a peculiarly pressured business, in that the actual shooting time youhave is only a comparatively small part of the whole process.There’s a huge amount of tension every day of the actual filming, as it’s all butimpossible to regain ground that’s been lost.That’s why the ‘pre-production’ or planning period is so absolutely critical. It’s at thisearly stage, when cash-flow is sufficiently flexible to accommodate an actor droppingout, or a crucial technician becoming unavailable, that the quality and flexibility of yourresponse becomes vital.Once you start shooting the process quickly becomes incredibly unforgiving.As a producer, you find yourself juggling increasingly depleted resources and, infairness, a mistake can cost - quite literally – millions , with the possibility of your owncareer going straight out of the window as a result!You’d be surprised how that focuses the mind – or maybe you wouldn’t!I think it’s increasingly true to say that similar levels of flexibility and speed of responseare required of just about any successful undertaking in today’s ‘digital’ world – thatability to ‘turn on a sixpence’, to constantly anticipate and address the entirely‘unexpected’.The speed at which the global financial crisis, from which we are all still reeling, spreadand encircled the globe is a wonderfully vivid example of that!Compare the respective response times of markets, governments and internationalinstitutions, and youll quickly get a sense of what I mean!Returning once again to cinema - the only way to ensure that each movie has the bestpossible chance of success - with all the challenges of changes in personnel, locations,weather conditions, in fact the wholly different approach required by each new project – 7
  8. 8. is if the ‘Producer’ or leader can bind the cast and technicians together, quickly, into avery tight and efficient unit – a ‘team’.In my experience its the ‘team’ that delivers, invariably as a result of sometimes quiteextraordinary efforts on the part of the most committed of its individual members.Now common sense as well as experience tells me that, under normal circumstances,to get the most out of any team, it’s best to coax, encourage – and in some cases eventry to inspire them.Most of all, it’s the Producer’s or team leader’s role to tell everyone what a fine jobthey’re doing, because encouraging the very best out of them can only build theirconfidence, and as we all know, confidence breeds confidence and, as often as not,leads to success.That is what I call ‘influencing’ at its very best. Instilling confidence and – here’s thatword again! – trust.My experience at CDP was that if the inputs weren’t always as encouraging as theymight have been, the resulting outputs more than compensated!But I have to confess that when somebody really screws up - the film has been loadedwrongly, so the shot has to be done again; or the focus puller has misjudged hisdistance, and the picture ends up being ever so slightly ‘soft’ - at times like that it’s adamn sight easier, and very tempting, to scream blue bloody murder, and seek toapportion blame, rather than try and solve the problem calmly and constructively - as ateam.The increasing prevalence of this ‘blame culture’, most particularly as whipped up in themedia, is to my mind a massive distraction from our very real need to develop skillswhich focus on problem-solving; rather than shovelling out MBA’s in ‘how-to-coveryour-back’!And let’s face it, most politicians, of all parties, as well as a great many businessleaders, have hardly been the best possible examples in this respect.To take reasonable risks implies that things can go wrong. This need not entail blame,but it does require an acceptance of the fact that, despite the best efforts of everyoneconcerned, things may not always turn out exactly as planned.A ‘pragmatic imagination’ has historically been considered a great British strength, and Ibelieve that the proper exercise of that imagination should free organisations up to takebetter and more intelligently calculated risks; and to innovate. 8
  9. 9. So to Puttnam’s Fourth Law:Don’t get trapped or tempted into the ‘blame culture’.To anyone who really knows what’s going on, you are only exposing your own fears andconfusion. And always remember: “harbouring resentment, is like taking poison andwaiting for the other guy to die!”Which moves me neatly towards my Fifth law.Something strangely ‘counter-intuitive’ has been happening over the past few years,because even the most successful employers I talk to have appeared oddly reluctant togo out of their way to develop the talents and confidence of the next generation, mostparticularly through responsible programmes of delegation.And yet, as I hope I’ve indicated, everything I’ve learned tells me that commitment,delegation and trust lie at the heart of any successful enterprise – creative or otherwise.I have always believed that absorbing responsibility should, in turn, carry with it anobligation to share ones learning, through teaching or simply networking, so that peoplestarting out, in the middle or even at the end of their careers, have the opportunity tomake the very most of their own talents.Its about letting them find out what they are capable of, in an environment (rather likethe one I enjoyed at CDP) within which you are actively encouraged to be fearless.And that’s increasingly true in environments in which change can easily outstrip theambitions of those who are foolish enough to believe they constantly have their fingeron the pulse.In fact it’s my belief that we’ve reached what I’ll call a ‘Radio Caroline’ moment. Apolitical and societal shift, in which ‘mainstream’ attitudes have fallen badly behind whatis probably best described as, ‘the cultural zeitgeist’.I’m old enough to have lived through at least two of these ‘revolutions’. The firstoccurred in advertising between 1962 and ’64.Believe it or not in early ’62 most account executives still came to work in pin stripe suits- carrying furled umbrellas that made them look remarkably like investment bankers -and their clients liked it that way.By the end of 1964, such sartorial splendour would probably have lost them both theirclients and their job. 9
  10. 10. The world had changed and advertising had changed with it. As in their own awful waymy getting away with wearing a white suit and long hair triumphantly proved!Similarly, when I first went to Hollywood in 1969 it was run by half a dozen men, all intheir seventies and called Sol, who were married to each other’s sister, chewed largecigars and played poker together at the weekend.By 1972 (just three years later) the ‘Easy Riders’ had driven the last of the Sol’s out oftown, and Messrs Scorsese, Coppola and Lucas ruled the roost!Both the early sixties Ad (or Mad) Men, and their Movie Mogul counterparts had beencaught ‘asleep at the wheel’!I sincerely believe the same is true right now, and to a far greater degree than mostpeople seem prepared to acknowledge.So my Sixth law is this:Be prepared to share your learning, your experiences and your mistakes at everypossible opportunity.As I hope by now you’ll have realised, it’s the very best way to ensure that you yourselfremain equipped to deal with change.And, of course, you’ll learn at least as much from sharing and discussing yourexperiences as those your advising ever will!One final thought – a Seventh Law perhaps, and certainly something we all need tothink about.As recent global events demonstrate, should we as a nation fail to produce a generationof remarkable leaders - leaders of character, vision, integrity and understanding - thenwe could all too easily find ourselves facing another of those ‘crisis of civilisation’ thathave bedevilled societies down the ages.In an era of ‘Presidential style’ debates we would do well to remember that there is allthe difference in the world between looking good, and being good – our need is forgenuine leaders, not those who simply respond to the latest opinion poll, or seek to spotthe most recent trend; but those who have sufficient wisdom and courage to spell outexactly what they believe lies ahead – the difficulties as well as the opportunities – andare prepared to help us navigate our way through them.Leaders who will stop pretending they have all, or even most of the answers; but inwhom we can develop sufficient faith to encourage us to take on our share of the 10
  11. 11. responsibility for meeting and defeating both the known, and the as yet unknown,challenges of the future.Thanks very much for listening to me.(3,363 words. About 24 minutes) 11