From Silence to Sound – A Perilous Career Journey

December 7, 2009
55 Views

Silent films peaked in 1928. The shift to “talkies” – where a soundtrack was added to movies – was quick, and not all the directors and actors who were successful during the silent film era made the transition. Is this now happening to the careers of managers who cannot make the transition from traditional to progressive performance management methodologies?

Let’s back up for a little history class in film history. The French Lumiere brothers, Auguste and Louis, are credited as first film makers in the1890s. From its origins, the cinema was silent with no recorded soundtrack. Film was accompanied by a single instrument, usually a piano, or a small orchestra. D.W. Griffith was the most prominent pioneer of American films. Griffith’s “Birth of a Nation,” made in 1915 and launching the career of Lillian Gish, is considered the first breakthrough full length motion picture.

In 1927 the film “The Jazz Singer” changed everything. Stage star Al Jolsen’s singing voice blared from the soundtrack. The movie was so popular that entire film industry hastened to bring sound to movies. But the changeover destroyed several successful careers and built a multitude of others.



Silent films peaked in 1928. The shift to “talkies” – where a soundtrack was added to movies – was quick, and not all the directors and actors who were successful during the silent film era made the transition. Is this now happening to the careers of managers who cannot make the transition from traditional to progressive performance management methodologies?

Let’s back up for a little history class in film history. The French Lumiere brothers, Auguste and Louis, are credited as first film makers in the1890s. From its origins, the cinema was silent with no recorded soundtrack. Film was accompanied by a single instrument, usually a piano, or a small orchestra. D.W. Griffith was the most prominent pioneer of American films. Griffith’s “Birth of a Nation,” made in 1915 and launching the career of Lillian Gish, is considered the first breakthrough full length motion picture.

In 1927 the film “The Jazz Singer” changed everything. Stage star Al Jolsen’s singing voice blared from the soundtrack. The movie was so popular that entire film industry hastened to bring sound to movies. But the changeover destroyed several successful careers and built a multitude of others. Exaggerated pantomime performers appeared laughably outdated, and performers with thick accents weak voices faltered before a microphone. D.W. Griffith and other important and successful silent film directors failed to transition.

By 1932, the shift to sound was nearly complete, and concurrently it accelerated the Hollywood studio system with companies like Metro-Goldwyn-Meyer (MGM), Paramount, and Twentieth-Century Fox. Studio moguls signed contracts with actors, directors, and cinema photographers who were employed like factory workers assigned to a new project as soon as one was completed.

What is the parallel to what is now happening as organizations adopt progressive performance management methodologies like strategy maps, the balanced scorecard, customer profitability analysis based on activity based costing, and rolling financial budgets? Will the careers of managers wed to 1980s management methods (e.g., management by objectives [MBOs], standard product cost accounting, and fixed contract-like annual budgets) be replaced by a new breed of managers who get it – who understand the power of performance management methodologies? Are there any D.W. Griffiths working with your organization?