THE BLOG

What I Learned This Week: Every Great Project Needs Two Leaders

07/15/2013 01:54 EDT | Updated 09/13/2013 05:12 EDT

Twice last week I was asked for my "Professional Opinion" on an existing show; one was a Just For Laughs property, the other not.

Now in this case, "Professional Opinion" is a cross between a show reviewer and a "show doctor," and as a guy who has seen, built, written and directed dozens of shows over three-plus decades in "the business," I must say unabashedly that I am well-positioned, and a credible "ask," for such a task.

But as much as I enjoyed the challenge, and as much as I was stoked coming up with tweaks, fixes, adaptations and edits...I felt a little guilty offering them up the next day.

Why? Because I know what it's like to have your creation scrutinized, and changed, by someone who had absolutely nothing to do with creating it.

There's an old showbiz adage that goes, and usually said with a sigh, "Everyone's a critic." But in this case, I'm not talking about the layman, the doctor, the lawyer, the banker or the dentist who suddenly becomes an "expert" by the grace of the sheer volume of their argument; I'm actually talking about the qualified pro.

Two of them, actually.

To explain, I remember back when Just For Laughs launched its Museum of Humour (sadly ill-fated, but an idea before its time). There was a hard-working team whose job it was to get the project from fantasy to reality. It was up to them to convert ideas and flights of fancy into plans and schedules, and to solidify plans and schedules into tangible reality.

Thanks to them, the Museum launched with a huge bang on April 1, 1993. It was a triumph.

The problem was April 2. And April 3. And May 11. And August 27. And so on. The Museum didn't last more than a year.

The lesson I learned back then was the dichotomy between the team responsible for getting the project up, and the team responsible for keeping it going. Put another way:

There's a big difference between getting the doors open and keeping them open.

These are two VERY distinct skill sets, and unfortunately, in our case at the time, mandated to one sole team.

Which brings me back to last week. I gotta admit that it's exponentially harder to start something from scratch than it is to improve it; I've been on both sides. And it's a pain when someone who knows not of the background reasons of decisions taken (budget, time, compromises, technology, etc.) nit-picks and belittles them.

But sometimes, in the conception of any project, the creator loses his or her bearings, not seeing the forest for the trees, so to speak. They can't feel it's 10 minutes too long, or a few decibels too loud, or somewhat confusing to navigate, or hard to reach, or one of 10,000 other glitches and oversights that are smack-in-the-face obvious to seemingly everyone in the world but them.

This is why I believe any great project needs two leaders and/or teams...

...one to bring it to term, the other to keep it running.

And to keep it running smoothly, the original project often has to change. Sometimes drastically. This "law" doesn't just apply to showbiz; it applies to any biz.

Problem is that many times, there's a lack of respect between the two teams. The "clean-up crew" disparages the creator, and the creator dismisses the clean-up crew as mere wannabes.

Truth is that these are two unique aptitudes and abilities. Both invaluable.

So what was the lesson of the week?

Well, it's easy to criticize a project, but hard to improve it.

Even harder still to conceive it.

But for any project to succeed in a world that merges rapidly-changing technology with instantaneous, mass opinion-generating social media, you need two very separate entities.

And one helluva strong, mutual understanding between them.