A few years back, me and probably two or three other people watched a short-lived series called Sports Night. It followed the on- and off-camera goings on at a Sports Center-like show.
One of my favorite arcs centered on a fight with the network over low ratings. They bring in a consultant named Sam Donovan (brilliantly played by William H. Macy) who battles the show’s team as they struggle to make improvements. When the network intercedes and offers to make the consultant the producer he tells them the following story.
“Do you guys know who Philo Farnsworth was? He invented television. I don’t mean he invented television like Uncle Milty, I mean he invented the television.
In a little house in Provo, Utah. At a time when the idea of transmitting moving pictures through the air would be like me saying I’ve figured out a way to beam us aboard the Starship Enterprise. He was a visionary and he died broke and without fanfare.
The guy I really like though was his brother-in-law, Cliff Gardner. He said to Philo, “I know everyone thinks you’re crazy, but I want to be a part of this. I don’t have your head for science, so I’m not gonna be much help with the design and mechanics of the invention. But it sounds like in order to do your testing, you’re gonna need glass tubes.”
See Philo was inventing a cathode receptor, and even though Cliff didn’t know what that meant or how it worked, he’d seen Philo’s drawing and he knew they were gonna need glass tubes and since television hadn’t been invented yet, it’s not like you could get ’em at the local TV repair shop. “I want to be a part of this”, Cliff said, “and I don’t have your head for science. How would it be if I taught myself to be a glassblower? And I could set up a little shop in the backyard. And I could make all the tubes you’ll need for testing.”
There oughta be Congressional medals for people like that.
I’ve looked over the notes you’ve been giving over the last year or so, and I have to say that they exhibit an almost total lack of understanding of how to get the best from talented people. You said before that for whatever reason, I seem to be able to exert authority around here. I assure you, it isn’t because they like me. It’s because they knew two minutes after I walked in the door that I’m somebody who knows how to do something. I can help. I can make glass tubes. That’s what they need.
One last thing: The first and last decision making authority on this show will rest with Isaac Jaffee until Isaac Jaffee says otherwise. And if you disrespect him again in my presence, I’ll re-dedicate the rest of my life to ruining the rest of yours. If you think I’m just mouthin’ at you, ask around about me, I have absolutely no conscience about these things.
The exit’s right there. That’s all. The meeting’s over.”
– Sam Donovan, Sports Night
The Point? I love that story and I think it applies to all of us who are working to produce great work with a talented team. In short, be someone who can make glass tubes.