Managing emotions rigorously – Lessons from a Master

Creating customer experiences requires scripting, choreographing, and orchestrating customer moments of truth that turn out as planned. The theatrical metaphor is intentional. It takes much perceptive thinking about the effects that various sequences of actions, images, or sound effects will have on viewers to deliver the punch that a movie such as The Godfather does.

In “The Making of the Godfather” (The Godfather movie featurette) Francis Ford Coppola provides a couple of insightful glimpses on the role and challenges facing those who want to create memorable experiences. Since the Godfather saga (three movies) spans 18 years, Coppola was asked what he thought was the essence of his role in the making of the series. His answer: “I own the emotions of the Corleone family.”. The central role of the director is to understand the feelings of the characters, and thus predict how they would react under various circumstances. Ultimately, an experience, —any experience, —is about emotions. The director must have the sensitivity to get under the skin of the participants, and understand what’s required to induce the desired reaction. In other words, he must be the CEO of the experience, that is, the Chief Emotion Owner.

In another section of the same piece, Coppola mentions that a few weeks before the premiere of The Godfather II, they held some preliminary screenings of the movies. It was a failure. That may sound surprising today, since we now know that the movie was a resounding success. One is left to wonder: What could they possibly do have done in a few weeks to “fix” a movie that took such so much resources and talent to put together over a period of years? Get Robert de Niro to come back to do a new takes on a couple of scenes? (!) In fact, he says, they conducted focus groups to understand the reaction of the audience, i.e.that is, they obtained data in order to ascertain the facts. In the movie, flashbacks between different life stages of the Godfather (e.g.for example, from the five five-year year-old Vito Andolini in a Sicilian village to the young mobster fighting for turf in Little Italy) are used. Data showed that the audience just did not get it. In fact, Coppola realized that this was due to too many much back back-and and-forth between story lines: people lost track. Once the problem is was diagnosed, the solution is was easy to find: reduce the number of flashbacks by staying in time periods longer and alternating less frequently between epochs. So by simply stitching together reordering a number of sequences, they transformed a failed movie into a vibrant viewing experience.

This illustrates well the delicate nature of an experience: the line separating success from failure is very tenuous. It also shows that rigor (evidence-based management) is an essential complement to creativity in the creation of a successful experience, and that you should not expect to be perfect at the first trial, nor throw in the towel when you are not. A slight lag in timing, change of intonation, or glimmer in the eye would produce a different effect that could spoil the moment. It takes a good story (such as Mario Puzo’s book), a good screenplay, the right actors and stage props, and above all, masterful directing, to make the movie experience come together.

1 Excerpted from: HARVEY, J., « Complex service delivery processes: Strategy to operations », Second edition, American Society for Quality – Quality Press, Milwaukee: Wisconsin, 428 pages, 2011.