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“Simpsons” Producer Offers Tips For Manipulating Creative People

Controlling creative people appears to be a popular topic in the mainstream media nowadays. Following on the heels of Harvard Business Review’s incendiary article “Seven Rules for Managing Creative People”, Bloomberg Businessweek has published a short piece titled How to Manipulate Creative People. Unlike the HBR article which sounded as if it was written by someone who had never met a creative person in their life, the Businessweek piece (which is part of their annual how-to issue) is written by Matt Selman, an exec producer on The Simpsons who has run the writers’ rooms for over a decade.

Agree with what he says or not, Selman’s advice clearly stems from experience:

If your team is still irritated with you, badmouth anyone not in the room. Dumping on an unseen third party or revealing tantalizing office gossip always takes the heat off for a few minutes. Though if you’re going to make fun of people who work for you, be prepared to be made fun of by them. No matter how mean it gets, have the thickest skin in the room. Reward the completion of assignments with YouTube clips: Key and Peele, octopus vs. shark, bank robbery fails. If nothing else works, stall till lunch. It’s hard to be full and angry.

  • scoff

    I had a manager who tried to pull these tactics on our creative team several yeas ago. Suffice it to say they weren’t clever enough to pull it off and wound up burning bridges with about 90% of the people they had been working with at the time. They’ve been gainfully self-employed since then! I think the ironic part of the story is that they had been a graduate of Disney’s acclaimed people management course.

  • Karl Hungus

    [Comment removed by editors. Per our commenting guidelines, “Defamatory, rude, or unnecessarily antagonistic comments will be deleted.”]

    • Karl Hungus

      I got two positive ratings though…

  • blurt

    I am currently working with someone who does this almost to the letter. I love the last sentence of about the “new paradigm.” Also the bad mouthing a third party and the constant empty compliments and patronizing platitudes. Although instead of You Tube Clips were rewarded with TEDtalks…

    • AmidAmidi

      Forcing people to watch TED talks is the definition of evil.

      • blurt

        Haha! Agreed!

  • Tstevens

    Most creatives will genuinely want to work hard even on bad projects. Right or wrong, I think most of us hope that if we try a little harder we can actually take a bad idea and at least make in to something passable. A good director or supervisor only has to do a few things to keep a crew going: let people know when they are doing a good job, help them when they aren’t, and make them feel like they have some sort of ownership in what they are creating.
    I have heard countless stories over the years of directors who are always quick to let people know when they don’t like something but can never seem to get around to helping the artist find a solution.

    • George_Cliff

      Yeah, it’s really at core of the creative process. Making something out of nothing. And in the case of a bad project, making something out of less than nothing.

  • Mike Milo

    It’s so sad to see people disrespect artists; be it writers or draftsmen. We MAKE this business. We own it and we don’t know it. Or we won’t believe it. You can not make a film without us and yet it seems that sometimes the people running things are jealous bullies who have no talent or abilities whatsoever. I say jealous because it’s just that. They are JEALOUS of the abilities you have. They want to be able to do what you can do because let’s face it, I’ve never known anyone who says drawing isn’t cool, or writing isn’t cool. Of COURSE it is! being able to conceive something out of nothing is a rare gift that 1% of the population of the planet ca do. Sadly, even if you do stand up for yourself you can cause trouble for yourself anyway. Talk about needing a thick skin! If only people knew that our industry isn’t all laughs and silly fun.

    • I think they’re getting freaked out because with the internet and kickstarter and all manner of advanced technology, people like him are less and less important–creative folks are finding ways to make what they want to make and get it to an audience without needing all the middlemen.

      • George_Cliff

        God I hope you’re right.

  • Elana Pritchard

    Great, just what the animation industry needs…more manipulative jerks. Why don’t we all go read “The Art of Seduction” and “How to Win Friends and Influence People” while we’re at it?

    Manipulation is poison and striving to manipulate people is a fool’s goal. Intelligent people see through manipulators and lose respect for them in the end.

    Manipulators thrive on fear. The worst thing you can do to a manipulator is expose him or her for what they really are. You have to have balls to do that though, and this industry is sorely lacking in that department. Funny, because it’s a male-dominated industry.

    • Funkybat

      Only unsuccessful manipulators are seen through. The really talented ones are never perceived as manipulative. Just some food for thought…

      • George_Cliff

        It’s a dangerous game you play when you start trying to manipulate human beings. We have this wonderfully horrible instinct to turn, in packs, on those who have wronged us. I don’t care if you’re the Da Vinci of office sliming, you slip up once and the pack will figure you out in a hurry. You’re far better off just treating people with the respect you would want for yourself.

  • Principal Dondelinger

    Wow, some really bad decision making here. The fog is thicker than I thought.

  • Is it any coincidence the show has gone down hill and been down hill since he came on board? If I were an executive at Fox, here’s what I’d say. Put that cancer ridden show out of it’s misery once and for all and let the creative people manage themselves by opening up more opportunities for them to have their OWN show or work on existing shows without manipulation with a direct creator-writer relationship. Already made some progress by cutting back Seth Macairtimewhore’s empire by canceling the Cleveland show, let’s go a bit further and give the creators, producers, writers, and viewers something they actually want.

  • I read his article as a joke. A “Truth in Comedy” joke, but a joke nonetheless.

    • the Gee

      Thank you.

      I agree execs, and some writers, too, will disrespect what we artists do. Been there and do deal with that. (oh, the notes I’ve seen!)

      But, the piece is “off”, intentionally so. If Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric, wrote that BW blurb, I’d say burn Jack Welch in effigy!* But, he’s a comedy writer. So, take his prescriptions with a grain of…a shaker of…hell, take a drink from the ocean.

      *oh hell, do it anyway. It is probably good for the soul. We won’t know until we try it, right?

  • Shazbot

    It’s still the same old story: non-talent controlling talent. When will things change????? When will artists finally claim their power?

    • George_Cliff

      I’d guess right about the same time that Porcine Air launches its first Dreamliner.

  • Natalie Belton

    Fellow artists, we need to start standing up for ourselves. Maybe we should all just threaten to leave the companies that bad mouth us, just to prove how crucial production staff is to a successful show.

  • z-k

    So Ted Bundy is apparently alive and well in the entertainment industry.

    • z-k

      …Actually, scratch that: General Allenby is apparently alive and well.

  • Just out of curiosity. You post articles like these but you never really address any of the ongoing problems with the union, the studio system, the industry itself. Why is that?

    Is this just an article posted to be inflammatory. Amid, do you care if things change? or do you just like posting tabloid like material? Do you actually care about artists’ rights?

    Just curious.

    • Elana Pritchard

      If you really cared you’d use your real name. There’s only one person who uses “curious” in that way, and he’s been playing a lot of manipulative games himself.

  • Jorge Garrido

    He was clearly joking.

    • puzzlemonkey

      Yes. When they get a “Simpsons Producer” to write for Bloomberg, it’s because he’s doing satire. I cannot believe that everyone believes this is in earnest.

  • Bud

    Matt Selman was trying to be glib in print. His intended audience was not the people he was writing about, the Simpsons writing staff, who are thicker-skinned than the artists who thought he was talking about them. If Selman is jealous of anybody, it’s the creative, successful and funny writers whose wit he cannot match while trying really hard to suck up to business.

  • So what? I’ve spent my share of time as the artist in meetings with clients, project managers, and the like. Of course each party wants to manipulate the other – and everybody in the room knows about this. In good mood, this can be highly productive, as everybody is aware of this game. In a bad setting, you still don’t get stuff done, instead it’s more about “winning” a certain move. Thankfully most of the meetings in my lifetime have been of the productive kind.

    You need certain skills to “read” a situation, and experience to know how to react to it: how to calm down people, how to distract them so they abandon a critical point, how to cheer everybody up, how to make them ask the right questions, how to make them feel competent and comfortable. I don’t see anything wrong with this – assumed that payment and all other working conditions are adequate.

  • Guest

    He’s really cunning and good at it too. One of his most favorite things to do is pretend that he doesn’t understand technology. He has been following me around the internet doing things like this, and he has been doing it for so long that I can instantly recognize that it’s him. He does whatever he can to try to make me look like a paranoid person, but anyone who know me knows I’m a smart, creative person. To most people he puts on a very charming and friendly persona, which is a trait of the sociopath, so they have a hard time believing that its him. The fact that he is using the article about manipulation to play these games is just part of his ironic humor.

    • AmidAmidi

      I have no idea what any of you are talking about, but don’t bring your personal junk from elsewhere onto Cartoon Brew. It’s irrelevant to the rest of us. Future off-topic comments will be deleted.

  • Elana Pritchard

    Personally, I genuinely care about artist’s rights, which is why it’s so frustrating that a person of your standing is playing games with me… I’m a person who cares more about preserving the integrity of cartoons than most people, which you claim is your cause. I’m basically starving right now so I can produce a traditional cartoon.

  • Elana Pritchard

    Manipulators use psychology to make you questions yourself… things out of the realm of decency for normal people. Lies, fake personas, subtle putdowns… these are all tools of the manipulator. Don’t buy into it and trust your gut… if you suspect you are being manipulated you probably are!

  • Your turn!

    You know what would be awesome fellow artists. Why don’t we create a website were we can discuss executives and publicly write about the good ones and expose the manipulative ones. I have personally experienced this for many many years in this industry and it is time something is done about it, it is extremely unethical and abusive.

  • I always feel that being in the thick of it is the best way to manage. If you want people to take you seriously you have to have a stake. Also there is nothing wrong with seeking the opinion of someone who works for you, so long as you give them credit. Always give credit and kudos where it’s due. It makes both parties look good.

  • Or…. you could try talking to artists like they’re human beings.

  • OtherDan

    If you watched that recent round table interview that Conan diid with Simpsons writers, it’s clear that they only think of the writers as the creatives. So, I think the tongue in cheek Tips for Manipulating Creative People was aimed at writers for shits and giggles. What he said though was pretty truthful. Funny enough, not many management types can’t even imagine doling out complimentary notes from their imaginary wallets; or are even capable of being generous – even in a manipulative way.

  • George_Cliff

    Yes, I like to call those people (“many people have no desire to write or draw and just want to make money…”) “bores”; they offer little to nothing of value to the human experience.

  • Curiousrobot

    Did nobody actually read this article, or are 92% of the people here just unable to recognize satire?