JJ Abrams doesn't have much to prove as a storyteller or director. That may explain why it was such a big deal that Abrams passed up a substantial payday from Apple to produce content for its streaming service, and instead partnered with WarnerMedia for significantly less money. There was plenty of speculation about why Abrams made his decision, but now we know more, and it's an incredible lesson on what matters most.

Yesterday, WarnerMedia introduced its premium streaming product, HBO Max, at a media event at the historic Warner Brothers Studio lot. A little more than a half-hour into the event, Abrams took the stage to talk about what his production company Bad Robot would bring to the partnership. While the announcement was sparse on specific details about what he would be producing, Abrams did talk about the decision-making process that led him to WarnerMedia. 

"Every company, no matter what they make or what they do, is just a collection of people. And the people here are as good as they get," Abrams said when describing why he choose to turn down other offers.

It's tempting to think of a company as the products it makes since that's what most of us interact with as customers. We buy the products. We go to see the movies and watch the television shows and buy the T-shirts.

But none of those things are a company. Instead, a company is "a collection of people," which means that the people matter. 

Look, I'm sure that there were a few million other considerations, but there's something incredibly smart about that statement that I really like. Abrams could have literally partnered with any studio or streaming service. Clearly the market was willing to pay for his talent and his ability to create films and television that audiences love, so money wasn't going to be an issue.

Instead, he did what you should do: He looked at the people. By the way, just to be clear, Abrams didn't say "the people here are as talented as they get," though I'm sure they are. I'm sure he believes in the ability of WarnerMedia to deliver the stories in his head, because there are clearly super talented people working there. Their track record, especially at HBO, bears that out.

But that isn't how he described them.

Instead, he mentioned that they were "as good as they get." You might argue that's just semantics, but come on, this is JJ Abrams. Words matter. And the difference is an important distinction. In fact, it's actually an extraordinarily simple, but powerful lesson in what matters most: surround yourself with good people.

It's easy to think about your company, and what you do, as focused on the products you build or the services you provide. In reality, however, it's a collection of people working together on a mission. That mission might be a product, but don't lose sight of the people involved. When you focus only on the process, or the details, you miss an opportunity to help good people do incredible things. 

That means that leaders don't lead companies, they lead people. And directors don't direct movies, they direct people. 

After all, it's people who dream up movies, and people who write them, and cast them, and produce them. It's people who read the lines and make us care about the story. In your business, it's people who interact with customers, and people who build things, and people who put them on the shelves. It's people who write the code and people who make it work.

People, it turns out, are the secret sauce, because no one wants to pass up an opportunity to work with the very best. You can't put a price tag on that.

Published on: Oct 30, 2019
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