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Tuesday, September 18, 2012

I was listening to Terry Gross's Fresh Air interview with Michael Lewis at the gym today. Michael Lewis (Moneyball, The Big Short) has been following around President Obama for the past six months, fly-on-the-wall-of-Air-Force-One style, for a Vanity Fair profile.

The President makes decisions all day long. He's "the decision-maker," in the immortal words of George W. Bush. Research has shown that everybody has a certain amount of decision juice -- varying levels, but when it runs out, it's a while before it comes back. Call in mana, in the D&D sense. The more decisions you make in a day, the worse your decisions tend to be.

I found it interesting that the President has done a few things to reduce unnecessary decision-making. He threw out all his suits except for some identical grey and identical blue ones. (Shades of Steve Jobs.) He never gets involved in what's for dinner; whatever shows up, he eats.

That's probably the least interesting point in a fascinating profile, but it might be the most useful for screenwriters. Screenwriters, like all creative people, make decisions all day, too. Decisions about fictional people, sure, but every page is a page full of decisions.

So how do you avoid running out of go-juice?

I think that's where a lot of our procrastination comes from. Reading Nate Silver obsessively during elections involves no decision making at all. Paying the bills involves no decision making.

Also, that's why I so fervently leave the negotiating to my agent. One of the many things agents do is remove much of the stress from negotiations by taking it on themselves.

But I wonder how many other unnecessary decisions I could remove from my life?


You asked what we do so I thought I would answer. The food is fuel mantra is a big one. I never debate nor argue nor think about 'what's for dinner'. Either my wife makes it, we go to a restaurant, we order pizza or Chinese, or I scavenge for first available, whatever is in the front of the fridge. Next, when driving, I don't take shortcuts. I either take my one path I go take to places I go to often or I put the address in the iPhone and go. If I hit traffic, oh well. I also like to organize my day loosely by the hour for each of my ongoing projects. I can look at my agenda and know what I am supposed to be doing. It cuts down on thumb-twiddling. Love the blog.

By Blogger Chance, at 12:22 PM  

Didn't George W. Bush coin the "I'm the Decider" line?

Anyway, by day I'm a corruption management researcher. Finding errors and wrongdoing in what people do and designing better systems to prevent that from repeating is my specialty. So, having heard the same interview on Obama's decision-making that Alex heard, I was terrified (once again). Using a former community organizer (or a failed businessman like W.; or ANYONE) cocooned away for making decisions on things that must be solved by groups of people on the ground is nothing more than an opportunity to kill, injure or upset far more people than would be accepted even by the most sadistic of sociopaths.

Yes, on some questions a degree of abstraction (removal from the heat of the situation) is necessary. But on the majority, the speed of action and the following correction is VASTLY better than whatever decision-making approach we have now... Writers know that editing (i.e. correction, whether self-correction or done by others) is a valuable thing. Alas, presidents and most people at even slightly elevated levels of our power pyramids usually forget that. They are typically offended if their errors are pointed out: they are the Deciders, and what They have decided must stand... But the fact is: all of us are wrong more than half the time, no matter how scrupulously we go about our decision-making... It's the feedback loop – the correction – than helps us learn from mistakes and right the ship ("correct the wrong"). This is what makes us both human and humane.

So, the best guidance I can think of in this regard: learn to separate the important from utterly unimportant but always be good at self-correction. Moreover, (you know this one, Alex) – invite correction by others. Since we're wrong more than half the time, a bit of humility always helps. And aiming to be less wrong but humble/nimble in correction should be the ultimate goal...

Also, perhaps re-reading "The Black Swan" by Nassim Nicholas Taleb could be useful. He points out so well our typical wrongness in decision-making. His book can give any screenwriter many ideas for witty twists in a drama (or comedy, or horror movie).

Best of luck,

By Blogger anvor, at 3:10 PM  

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