Can Six Sigma methodologies work with creative endeavors?
Yes. And famed director Steven Spielberg is living proof. Even if he’s possibly not aware of it himself.
On October 7, HBO released a documentary about the director of hits such as “Jaws,” “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” the Indiana Jones series and “Jurassic Park.” With those films, he essentially invented the summer blockbuster. But he’s also made more important films such as “Saving Private Ryan” and “Schindler’s List.”
Chances are the preceding paragraph left off one of your favorite Spielberg films (a tip of the hat for those who remember “Duel”). That’s an indication of just how many good films he has directed, and how embedded in the world’s collective culture his movies have become.
The documentary takes a look at his storied career and the huge impact his films have had on Hollywood filmmaking. As actor Leonardo DiCaprio says in the trailer for the documentary, Spielberg’s story is about one person “manifesting his own destiny.”
It doesn’t get more Six Sigma than that.
The Black Belt of Hollywood
In many ways, what Spielberg does on a movie set is what a Six Sigma Black Belt handles in the work environment.
First off, as director, he has a vision for the final product and how every aspect of the project contributes to it. He decides what to film and where to place the camera. He decides on the number of takes. He coaches actors on what he wants out of their performance. He receives feedback from executives and stakeholders.
Ultimately, he collaborates with film editors to decide what scenes to keep in and keep out of the movie, and understands how they will flow together to create the entire film, the finished product.
He is, in short, the project leader. And while Six Sigma Black Belts don’t get Golden Globes and Academy Awards handed to them as Spielberg does, you can make a connection that they are doing the same kind of job.
Spielberg has also mastered an essential skill of process improvement: delegating to the right people. Spielberg never claims all the credit for his work, instead saying, “I love creating partnerships; I love not having to bear the entire burden of the creative storytelling.”
People involved with process improvement, including Six Sigma Black Belts, can learn a lot from studying Spielberg’s career. He is very, very good at what he does.
It’s difficult to imagine a world in which there are not summer blockbusters. But before the release of “Jaws” in 1975, that term really didn’t apply in Hollywood. Spielberg, along with a handful of others, revitalized Hollywood filmmaking.
That was largely due to keeping the most important tenet of Six Sigma always in mind – providing a product that people want, and doing it as well as it can be done.
Film critics at one time cast dispersions on Spielberg for making popcorn movies. But what sometimes gets lost is that he made movies better than anyone had ever done before. Focusing on telling compelling stories that people would actually want to go see, Spielberg worked within that framework to make the best films possible.
That’s why people still enjoy “Jaws” and “Jurassic Park” today. They are that good.
Few are aware of the hard work behind creating something that looks so easy. Spielberg famously spends hours working on the pre-production of movies, planning out each scene in meticulous detail. That structure allows for spur-of-the-moment creativity.
He also taps into the idea of doing whatever it takes to spur that creativity. One, possibly apocryphal, story is that he did a handstand while overlooking Los Angeles from the Hollywood Hills. Seeing the city upside down gave him the spark to design the mothership in “Close Encounters.”
He also famously had to shoot around showing the shark in “Jaws” because the mechanical shark didn’t work properly. He found a way to take on a challenge and make an even better film. That kind of creativity is what lands him on lists of the most innovative directors.
DMADV and Spielberg
Again, whether he knows it or not, Spielberg utilizes processes that reflect the most important methodologies found in Six Sigma. For example, his career closely adheres to DMADV, which stands for define, measure, analyze, design and verify.
How so? Read on.
Define – As mentioned, Spielberg had a clear vision for what he wanted to provide moviegoers. Not only that, but he committed (and has remained committed) to delivering those movies as best as it can be done.
Measure – This typically is used in learning how customers react to your efforts, both past and present. Spielberg studied film and audience reaction before he made his first movie. It gave him a clear vision for what he wanted to accomplish. As his career has progressed, Spielberg has said repeatedly that he has learned how to delegate better, how to pick and choose movies to make, what actors to use and how to streamline stories that appeal to him and the audience.
Analyze – Spielberg, throughout his career, has continually made changes by analyzing his past films. That includes what does work and what doesn’t. He has said that’s an important part of the process: “Don’t turn away from what’s painful. Examine it. Challenge it.” He’s put this into action in his choice of films to make. For example, after making a series of classic adventure films, he moved into more serious work with films such as “Saving Private Ryan” and “Lincoln.” “Schindler’s List” is perhaps the best known of these films.
Design – Spielberg has consistently done groundbreaking work with those skilled in computer technology as well as pushing the envelope for addressing important issues in popular films. But he always focuses on serving the customer with each movie. “Audience members,” he has said, “are only concerned about the story.” Directors with the standing of Spielberg also have the option, based on reaction to the original film and audience demand, to release a “director’s cut” that includes scenes deleted from the original film and more completely represents the director’s original vision.
Verify – For businesses, this involves ensuring that the design for the project is acceptable. Text products are typically produced to make sure the design works in the real world. For Spielberg and other filmmakers, a key step that falls into this area is audience screenings. This allows movie makers to test reaction to a film from a live theater audience. Another step can include peer review. George Lucas, the creator of “Star Wars,” famously showed scenes of the original “Star Wars” film to Spielberg and other directors before the special effects were added in order to get feedback (Spielberg loved it and predicted it would be a hit). Of course, the ultimate verification has been Spielberg’s incredible success both at the box office and in receiving awards.
So, yes, a connection exists – whether he’s aware of it or not – between Spielberg’s work and Six Sigma. In fact, many of his quotes sound like they could have come from a Six Sigma Black Belt, perhaps none more so than this one:
“The way you create a better future is by studying the past.”