November 06, 2005

Why Do Bad Movies Get Made?

Every once in a while, a movie is made and released that most people seem to agree is ill conceived: critics and audiences alike uniformly hate it, and it's usually a commercial flop. "Gigli" is a recent example of such a movie; "Ishtar" is another (for those of you who were alive when it was made).

When something comes to light which is clearly the result of a spectacularly bad idea, someone has to ask: Is there anyone who thought this was a good idea? I mean, this is right up there with getting your frontal lobe pierced. The answer, obviously, is "yes": someone did think this was a good idea. The story really doesn't end there, though.

How do such bad ideas manage to survive the gestation process? When you think about it, there are two clear paths from gestation to escape:

  • One person conceives the idea. Their boss (or another influential colleague) greenlights it, and through collective drug use or perhaps a total lack of oversight, the entire approval chain, all the way up to the VP of the studio and/or network, drank the kool-aid and approved it for production. Along the way, an entire chain of producers, directors, and others had a hand in making the thing (although I'm sure that the "just following orders" defense comes into play here).
  • The Big Boss conceives the idea, and because it came from the Big Boss, nobody dares say "no", and so it gets done. Or else lots of people say "no", and he says "do it anyway", so it gets done. The net effect is the same: it gets done because the Big Boss wanted it done.

One has to wonder which dynamic was in effect when some geniuses at Yahoo! set up a statue of some mascot, with a plaque. And there's a sticker in the same spirit. (These links come from the coverage at

Here's the text of it:

Presented to the Yahoo! Mail Team by the good people of Yahoo! in recognition of tremendous intellectual effort put forth in order to defeat Gmail.
Not since the code breakers in Britain's Bletchley Park deciphered Germany's Enigma code during World War II has so much brainpower been focused on kicking an enemy's ass.

I'm not in the least surprised to hear that the working folks at Yahoo, the ones in the trenches who are Getting Things Done, are absolutely incensed by this. That's really a secondary issue, though.

The central issue here is this: who the hell thought this was a good idea?

One of the cardinal rules of marketing is that you never compare yourself to a competitor by name: it lends them legitimacy and draws attention away from your proposition. What brainiac forgot this?

And what chain of command and/or lack of oversight allowed this horrendous idea to see the light of day? Who approved the cost of the materials, and by so doing incurred the cost of the public ridicule that is being heaped on Yahoo! as a result? (To say nothing of the positive exposure for Google -- OK, well, it's not like Google needs any more positive exposure: in the episode of "The West Wing" that's running in the background, one of the characters mentioned Google by name. These things are precisely calculated, but still.)

I think it's entirely appropriate (and in fact necessary) to recognize the efforts of employees who have completed a project. Surely there are better ways to thank them than what was done here. How about cash bonuses? Dinner out? Movie tickets? Candy? (I don't know anyone who would add "plastic statue" to that list.)

Of course, the issue of recognition is also a secondary one. This clearly smells like an act of intra-corporate cheerleading gone awry. Let's all try to learn something from this experience. Me, I'm bringing donuts to the office tomorrow. No plastic statues. Just donuts.