Don’t Kill The Dog!

I was listening to the Bill Simmons podcast yesterday and he was interviewing Adam McKay, the director of Anchorman, and the new movie Vice (editor’s note – Vice is wickedly funny, and very disturbing all at the same time).

Adam was talking about how they knew that the movie was super funny and when they did their first test, it came back a 50 out of 100, when a good movie should be 60’s to 70’s out of 100, on the rating system they used.

Adam and the star of the movie Will Ferrell, didn’t understand, the test audience of industry insiders immediate told them they loved the movie and it was the funniest thing they ever saw. That’s when one of the studio executives came up to them and said, “you killed the dog! you can’t kill the dog!”

In the movie, Will throws a burrito out his window while driving and it hits a guy on a motorcycle, played by Jack Black. Will stops to make sure he’s okay, and he is, the motorcycle is ruined and an angry Jack Black kicks Will dog off the bridge. It leads to a very funny scene with Will screaming in a telephone booth, “I’m trapped in a glass case of emotion…”

In the original cut, the dog is dead and never comes back. Rating is 50/100. In the movie that gets released, Baxter, the dog comes back at the end to save Will. That cut of the movie got 75/100. It was the only change made and the movie went from 50 to 75. A 75 movie is super successful. 50 is dud.

Why does this matter?

We constantly “kill the dog” in leadership and don’t even realize it!

We do things that people don’t outwardly think are a problem, and in fact, they might even say they really think you are a strong leader, but then you get rated a 6 or 7 out of 10, versus an 8, or 9, or 10 out of 10!

It’s hard for someone rating you to say specifically why they didn’t rate you higher, there’s just something about you that doesn’t make you a 9.

You kill the dog.

Maybe it’s the way to treat someone publicly that others are seeing. Or something you are doing that others see and don’t approve of, even though it wouldn’t be something that you would catch yourself doing. Think of coming into work late, when at the same time you hammer your team for being late.

You get upset when someone doesn’t follow up with you, but you’re awful at returning the same effort in kind. You expect perfection, but constantly make errors. You want complete transparency of your team, but don’t return that transparency.

Stop killing the dog.

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