What Lessons Can IT and Analysts Learn from the Cinema Industry?

February 21, 2012
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With the upcoming motion picture Academy Awards on February 26, this made me think about lessons and observations about what information technology specialists and business analysts might learn from the film industry. Key lessons involve knowing how to approach a problem, opportunity, or project; and what cautions to consider about one’s personal career.

Frame the problem before purchasing the software

With the upcoming motion picture Academy Awards on February 26, this made me think about lessons and observations about what information technology specialists and business analysts might learn from the film industry. Key lessons involve knowing how to approach a problem, opportunity, or project; and what cautions to consider about one’s personal career.

Frame the problem before purchasing the software

I suspect only a small number of those reading this will recognize the phrase, “This is where we came in.” If you are old enough, you will recall this phrase when you went to the movies in the 1950s. That was when during the double-feature era before 1960, movie theatres did not list show times in newspapers. You just showed up and entered the dark theatre while one of the movies was already playing. You would wait a few seconds for your eyes to adjust to the dark and then shuffle to empty seats. A few hours later came that memorable moment when you or one of your companions would nudge the others and say, “This is where we came in.” Then you’d shuffle out. People were continuously entering and leaving the theatre. How could we understand the movie’s plot while watching it beginning at some scene in the middle on to the end, and then from the beginning to the middle?

It now seems crazy but our brains seemed to do mental splicing that did not require much effort. But we really lost something in the experience then. When you saw the ending prior to the beginning, you did not gain from the introductory set up of the plot and its characters.

This weirdness, to us now, stopped when the movie Psycho directed by the famous director Alfred Hitchcock was released. Hitchcock demanded movie theatre owners not let people enter the theatre until the movie was over. Hitchcock did not want people to see this thriller’s ending after movie’s psychological setup. Theatre owners protested, fearing lost ticket sales. But Hitchcock’s demands prevailed, and as is often said, the rest is history.

What is the parallel to IT projects, business analytics, and enterprise performance management (EPM) solutions? The parallel is organizations routinely start in the middle! They purchase commercial software and then try to figure out how to implement it. Make no mistake. Commercial software is essential to successfully realizing benefits. The message here is that it is preferable to initiate an IT project, analytics, or EPM solution by first having a plan for its application combined with motivational inspiration from the executive team and a behavioral change management readiness-for-change program.

Although many organizations do start with purchasing the software and then do the mental splicing, as we once did in the movie theatres, the outcome is better when you first “frame” the objective to achieve the fullest impact. This is how Alfred Hitchcock would have advised us.  

A caution for one’s career

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. This year’s Academy Award best movie nominee, The Artist, is an example. Is this now happening to the careers of managers who cannot make the transition from traditional to progressive IT and analytics methods?

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 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.  

Movies are our passion and also provide lessons

What is the parallel to what is now happening as organizations adopt and embrace business and EPM methodologies? Will the careers of managers wed to 1980s reporting and management methods be replaced by a new breed of specialists and analysts who get it – who understand the power of IT? Are there any D.W. Griffiths working with your organization?