Hi everyone, welcome back! If you took a holiday last week, I hope it was was filled with sun, laughs, and ice cream just like mine. If not, I hope that your time away with loved ones is just around the corner.
While I was sunbathing and eating my way through New York, two things happened: I read during every spare minute I had, and it was my dear friend Emily's birthday.
While these two events don't sound related, they are. As last year, Emily had a fantastic idea: "Let's send each other our favorite books as birthday gifts, then we can read and discuss." Enclosed with her note was the perfect way to kick us off: a copy of Tiny Fey's Bossypants.
I had listened to the audiobook, read by comedian Tina Fey herself, several years ago. I distinctly remember listening to it during a long Sunday walk in Boston to meet friends and being doubled over, hysterically laughing like a madwoman. Alone. All alone. My point is: I couldn't wait to read it in print during our trip to Costa Rica this spring.
In case you're wondering, I laughed just as much the second time around. Crazy woman escapes to South America.
Yet this time, I absorbed more than just laughs from the book. I took away some clear business messages, delivered impeccably by sharp wit and acute observation. Here are a few of my favorite excerpts from Tina's "Things I Learned from Lorne Michaels," executive producer of Saturday Night Live:
"'Producing is about discouraging creativity...'
Everyone in every department wants to show off their skills and contribute creatively... You would think that as a producer, your job would be to churn up creativity, but mostly your job is to police enthusiasm."
This reminded me of a story my friend recently recounted after interviewing candidates for a position on his team. He told me that he didn't hire the candidate who seemed like the obvious choice: the overachiever who was qualified, ambitious, and with great experience for the job. Why? In a way, this person had too much "creativity." By asking some smart questions, my friend figured out that this person wasn't going to execute on what the team needed to accomplish its goals. This person had so many new ideas that he would be distracting, and policing his creativity would require too much time.
"'Don't hire anyone you wouldn't want to
run into in the hallway at three in the morning...'
This one is incredibly helpful. We work long hours... and no matter how funny someone's writing sample is, if they are too talkative or needy or angry to deal with in the middle of the night by the printer, steer clear."
When I joined a new company eight years ago, I interviewed with the division president. The specific exchange I remember from our conversation was when he said, "We have a lot of work to do to build this organization, and I want to be with people who have a high fun factor."
Being the too-serious and clearly not-fun person I was at the time, I dopily asked, "What's a fun factor?" (Like I said, mine was obviously zero). Luckily, he took the chance on me, and my fun factor grew over time, if I do say so myself.
"'The show doesn't go on because it's ready;
it goes on because it's 11:30...'
This is something Lorne has said often about SNL, but I think it's a great lesson about not being too precious about your writing. You have to try your hardest to be at the top of your game and improve every joke you can until the last possible second, and then you have to let it go... It will never be perfect, but perfect is overrated. Perfect is boring on live TV...
What I learned about bombing as a writer at SNL is that you can't be too worried about your 'permanent record.' Yes, you're going to write some sketches that you love and are proud of forever - your golden nuggets. But you're also going to write some real shit nuggets. And unfortunately, sometimes the shit nuggets will make it onto the air. You can't worry about it. As long as you know the difference, you can go back to panning for gold on Monday."
For me and others, this one can be the toughest on a daily basis. When is "something better than nothing," and to what degree does that something have to be fantastic vs. passable? Her final point nails it though: as long as you know the difference, you can start over and shoot for fantastic the next day.
These quick little excerpts do far from justice for this hilarious, yet intelligent book. It's the perfect summer read, combining humor with a new lens for helping you understand your own office dynamic.
And if I haven't talked you into reading Bossy Pants yet, hopefully this Tina Fey golden nugget will :)
Photo from Jana Eleanor