The shocking question that TWO business pioneers asked me last week.

Just last week, I was chatting with a high-powered theater exec about all things Broadway.  We were talking about the current Broadway season, theater inventory (or lack thereof), variable pricing, etc.  And then the topic got granular, as the exec-in-question (who is one of the 50 Most Powerful People in the Biz – and toward the top, I might add) started to discuss a specific show he was working on. He discussed pricing, marketing, and how the decisions he was making were based on research, data, and even more importantly his epic number of years of experience in this business.  I listened like a kid learning about the birds and the bees for the first time, it was so enlightening.  And then, when he finished his thought, which was more of a theatrical thesis, he looked at me, smiled and said . . . “But what the @#$& do I know?”

I must have had a bit of “shock face” because he kept explaining . . . “You can do all this research, have all this experience, do everything ‘right,’ and it’s still up to the theater gods.”

Flash forward three days later, and I’m sitting across from an investor of mine, who isn’t in our business at all.  He started on Wall Street (when he was, like, ten), and then grew up into private equity, real estate (and we’re talking skyscrapers, not houses), and all sorts of financial vehicles.  He runs a couple (!) of hedge funds now, and was talking about a recent real estate acquisition he was considering.  He started to give me his theory on why he was holding back on buying now because of the analysis he did on the real estate market, as well as the current consumer debt levels, and his epic number of years of experience in his business.  And then, when he finished his thought, I @#$% you not, he said . . . “But what the @#$& do I know?”

Here they were . . . two incredibly successful leaders in their respective fields acknowledging that no matter how much sweat you put in, how much you “secret” your success, or how much you think you may “deserve” it . . . that doesn’t mean you’re going to get it.  Every business has a certain amount of randomness to it . . . elements that you can’t quantify . . . but that can make or break your project whether you like it or not (for a great book on randomness, read this).

Sure, sure, sure, you can do things to stack the odds of success in your favor, and you should (like research and data and putting the right team together), but you can never guarantee success.

In fact, I’m a big believer that if you could guarantee success in business, no one would do it!  We like the challenge, the risk . . . the game.  Producers, Artists, Entrepreneurs, etc. may think we want our work to be as easy as a game of pin the tail on the donkey sans blindfold . . . but we really don’t.

So as we go about our days, it’s important to follow the lead of the leaders I spoke to last week and embrace the fact that, well, when it comes down to it, we don’t know . . . we can’t know . . . the answer to everything.

It’s the people that think they know everything that end up unhappy and unsuccessful, because they waste all their time wondering what the @#%$ went wrong.

 

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Comments
  • I do believe there is a closed money shop mentality on Broadway that has managed to “lock-out” talent of the equation unless the vehicle has been vetted by previous reviews elsewhere, years of trial and error and than maybe a card to Broadway.

    I no longer believe that after 30 years working Off-Broadway. I have seen ideas stolen, shows moved to Off-Broadway, by a new “producer: who called her friends to raise money for her vanity event and then the big guys clique. I have seen actors who were brilliant and mesmerizing get no-where, designers, both lighting and set people verging on genius who never got a job ob Bdwy…

    I have seen trash there as well, but what do I know ? I know alot, but do I have wings ? My first subway paying job @ BAM was HAPPY END when they fired Shirley Knight, and hired Meryl Streep as it moved to the Martin Beck theatre, and ran a few months. The music is great, but the text an abomination.

  • Charlie says:

    Ken,

    First of all, want to say I enjoy your blog and appreciate that you devote time to doing this (i.e., letting us “lay people” know the ins of the biz). It’s refreshing to hear that even with expertise, the experts are also stumped sometimes. It’s also kind of nice to know there’s a little magic in all of this; no one knows quite what makes something “work”. And that makes it all worthwhile

  • Martha Ann Lategan says:

    All I know is what my heart tells me. Only Love is real. Everything else is an illusion of the Ego.

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