Sunday, 24 November 2013

A look at internal communications through the world of cartoons

This week, the very first cartoon created by famous animator Joseph Barbera has been sold at Heritage Auctions. I was reading this news on the Metro some days ago.

The story about Barbera's work made me want to write down a few thoughts from an internal communications perspective.

Back to the Metro's news, it reported:

Jim Lentz, from Heritage Auctions, said: ‘The story of Joe Barbera’s first cartoon is a fascinating one. He decided he wanted to have a go at writing a story.
So he sat down and drew a complete cartoon which was then shown to his boss, Paul Terry. He took a look at the drawings, shrugged his shoulders and told Barbera to get back to work'.
This historic sketch was based on an aeroplane race between Kiko and a moustachioed dog called Dirty Doug.
Determined to write stories, Barbera quit his job as a junior animator at Terrytoons.”

This is also documented on Wikipedia:

In 1935 Barbera created his first solo-effort storyboard about a character named Kiko the Kangaroo. The storyline was of Kiko in an airplane race with another character called Dirty Dog. Terry declined to produce the story. In his autobiography, Barbera said of his efforts..."I was, quite honestly, not in the least disappointed. I had proven to myself that I could do a storyboard, and that I had gained the experience of presenting it. For now, that was enough."

What did happen next?

Barbera joined GMG where he met William Hanna. Immediately, the two made friendship, and a partnership that lasted for more than sixty years was born. Together, they co-founded Hanna-Barbera and created some of the most entertaining cartoon characters of the last century including Tom and Jerry, The Flintstones, The Huckleberry Hound Show, Top Cat, Scooby-Doo, The Quick Draw McGraw Show, Yogi Bear, The Smurfs, and The Jetsons.

When it comes to the working relationship between Barbera and Hanna, Wikipedia again reports:

Most of the cartoons Barbera and Hanna created revolved around close friendship or partnership; this theme is evident with Fred and Barney, Tom & Jerry, Scooby and Shaggy, The Jetson family and Yogi & Boo-Boo. These may have been a reflection of the close business friendship and partnership that Barbera and Hanna shared for over 60 years. Professionally, they balanced each other's strengths and weaknesses very well, but Barbera and Hanna travelled in completely different social circles. Hanna's circle of personal friends primarily included other animators; Barbera socialized with Hollywood celebrities. Their division of work roles complemented each other but they rarely talked outside of work since Hanna was interested in the outdoors and Barbera liked beaches and good food and drink. Nevertheless, in their long partnership, in which they worked with over 2000 animated characters, Barbera and Hanna rarely exchanged a cross word. Barbera said: "We understood each other perfectly, and each of us had deep respect for the other's work." Hanna once said that Barbera could "capture mood and expression in a quick sketch better than anyone I've ever known."

Today, is there anything we can take from a story which happened almost a century ago? A few of my thoughts can be briefly summed up by the following points:

  • the need for sharing ideas and collaborating in decision making: it would have been useful if Terry had known what other people in the company thought about Barbera's story. I wonder what could have happened if Barbera had had the chance to use internal social media inside Terrytoons at that time? He could have posted and shared his cartoon with colleagues. Perhaps a group could have been created and the project brought forward? Even if, after a broader involvement, the cartoon still had been considered not appropriate to be produced, Barbera could have appreciated the two-way conversation, feed-back and consideration given to his first work and efforts.

  • the relevance of listening to people, recognising their skills and supporting them in developing their own work and ambitions: Terry lost a great talent;

  • the respect for and relationships with people are paramount: they can give birth to strong partnerships, like the Hanna-Barbera one, generating value both inside and outside the company;

  • taking calculated risk can be good and necessary: Barbera had the courage of leaving a job where he felt undervalued, to find success afterward in his career. He knew what he wanted to accomplish, and pursued his goals with purpose, action and determination. He did not let negative feed-back demotivate him or lose enthusiasm: Terry's abrupt response, did not stop Barbera's belief in himself and in what he wanted to achieve in life.