When selecting the leader of a division or manager on a project, media and marketing legend Tom Freston has one rule: the businessperson at the head has to be seen as a fan first. Fans care about the art and craft of whatever they’re making. Without a sense of passion, how are they supposed to inspire others?
Much like Nassim Taleb’s idea of having soul in the game vs skin in the game, a mere mortal who is in charge will aim for metrics like profits, while a super-fan will have certain uncompromisable standards related to the art itself. Profits matter to fan with soul in the game, but keeping some sense of the magic comes first.
Freston, from his work at MTV (he was behind “I want my MTV”), to CEO of MTV networks (launching Nickelodeon, VH1, Comedy Central And others), to Viacom and now his consulting work has always believed in running “creative first” organizations. When leaders have passion for the customer experience they’re creating, the mission is never just to hit metrics and deliver profits. His run of success in media has a lot to do with having soul in the game.
However we choose to project our own passion and creativity, we want to make sure our clients and coworkers know it’s there. Having some soul in the game not only adds meaning to work, but it’s also is what makes us unique.
The message to ourselves, those we work with, and those that we work for is the same. Things that are unique are scarce. Things that are scarce are valuable. We add value when we put ourselves in our work. That’s why we do what we do, that’s why people work with/for us, that’s why people hire us.
Be a fan first. Don’t just have skin the game, have some soul in it too.