You know it when they dance

November 17, 2009
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Here’s that eternal question again: how do you know when whatever you’re working on is good enough? Today, two perspectives.

The Oscar-winning sound designer Walter Murch, speaking Friday night at the Rafael Film Center in San Rafael California, told about talking shop with Michael Jackson’s engineers. They told Murch that they had no special insight, they just tried one mix after another as Jackson sat in the back, silent. They knew they had it right when he got up and danced.

The other way was the General Motors way. They took forever, and sometimes simply stopped trying when the bureaucracy’s deadline came. A recent New York Times article explains why GM cars never made anyone want to dance, or at least not me.

“We measured ourselves ten ways from Sunday … But as soon as everything is important, nothing is important.” [director of G.M.’s vehicle engineers]

Decisions were made, if at all, at a glacial pace, bogged down by endless committees, reports and reviews that astonished members of President Obama’s auto task force.

In the old G.M., any changes to a product program would be reviewed by as many as 70 executives, often taking two months for a



Here’s that eternal question again: how do you know when whatever you’re working on is good enough? Today, two perspectives.

The Oscar-winning sound designer Walter Murch, speaking Friday night at the Rafael Film Center in San Rafael California, told about talking shop with Michael Jackson’s engineers. They told Murch that they had no special insight, they just tried one mix after another as Jackson sat in the back, silent. They knew they had it right when he got up and danced.

The other way was the General Motors way. They took forever, and sometimes simply stopped trying when the bureaucracy’s deadline came. A recent New York Times article explains why GM cars never made anyone want to dance, or at least not me.

“We measured ourselves ten ways from Sunday … But as soon as everything is important, nothing is important.” [director of G.M.’s vehicle engineers]

Decisions were made, if at all, at a glacial pace, bogged down by endless committees, reports and reviews that astonished members of President Obama’s auto task force.

In the old G.M., any changes to a product program would be reviewed by as many as 70 executives, often taking two months for a decision to wind its way through regional forums, then to a global committee, and finally to the all-powerful automotive products board.

Nobody lives forever, but make sure you dance while you can.


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