Risk-takers stifled by group mentality

When HBO disclosed its new executive lineup recently, there were sighs of relief within the close-knit cable family. Familiar faces were being slotted into all the various co-presidencies in an obvious effort to rebuild a cohesive team. After all, HBO is not the sort of environment that welcomes outsiders. Executives there all sign on for life — unless they turn out to be bad boys like Chris Albrecht.

Still, the abruptly dethroned Albrecht represented a forceful presence at a time when the entertainment industry increasingly is dependent on committees and group-think. Whenever a top job opens up, it instantly becomes two jobs — think Ben Silverman and Marc Graboff at NBC or Marc Shmuger and David Linde at Universal or the veteran teams at Sony and Fox. Why settle for a single Moonves when you can have multi-Moonveses or maybe even myriad Murdochs.

The upshot is self-evident: Look at the typical corporate roster these days and you see as many presidents as vice presidents. Almost every job has a “co-” in front of it. And when major initiatives are set in motion, they are entrusted to a team rather than to an individual.

I have nothing against teamwork, but I worry about the consequences of group-think in businesses that are dependent on risk-taking. Tastes are changing, technology is shifting and the gambles on movies and TV shows are becoming exponentially more expensive. Doesn’t that suggest that bold leaders are needed to make tough decisions? Or does it suggest the exact opposite: The only way to survive in corporate Hollywood is to hunker down amid a thicket of committees so that no single individual takes the heat for bad decisions? Or, more probably, for indecision.

Cracking the code:

While we’re dealing with corporate survival, I’ve always tried to decode the curious “metalanguages” employed within entrenched bureaucracies. Procter & Gamble personnel, for example, communicate through a maze of abbreviations that have become part of their corporate lexicon, according to the Wall St. Journal. Thus CIB means “consumer is boss” — a frequent reminder on interoffice communications. Plus it’s better PR than BBD — buyer be damned.

The Journal’s decision to publish the P&G lexicon sent me thinking about abbreviations that might apply to other corporate entities. The following came to mind:

At Creative Artists Agency: NMB (no more Baldwins).

At Pixar: FBO (Flush backdated options).

At HBO: JSV (Just skip Vegas).

At NBC: NMH (Need more “Heroes”).

At Fox: BBB (Bring back Borat).

At Dow Jones: SAR (Scare away Rupert).

At New Line: WAM (What’s a “Mimzy?”).

At all film studios: UMS (Unearth more sequels).

Who needs sentences any more when you can communicate better in shorthand?

Besides, they make for shorter emails.

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