After seeing the final iteration of The Hobbit saga, my wife joked with me that Peter Jackson must have called George Lucas for advice—think about it. Who else would you ask about how to make a second trilogy that was actually a prequel to the first trilogy but had a younger audience demographic in mind? I mean, imagine the conversation:
“The first thing you have to realize, Peter, is that your fan base in finicky and won’t want more of the same. To keep their interest you’ll have to add more spectacle, less plot, a few cartoony characters, and a contrived love story with horrendous dialogue developed between action sequences. The fact is, you won’t have time or money to worry about the script because you will need to funnel all of your resources into CGI.”
I think we can all agree this conversation must have taken place, and it’s too bad it did. But seriously, how did this happen? How do directors, after creating the Star Wars or LOTR classics, fail so entirely to create a prequel? Many before me have suggested that Lucas’s problem actually sprang from his original success. After the Star Wars trilogy soared forever into Hollywood’s Hall of Fame, who was going to doubt Lucas’s intuition. That’s like doubting Michael Jordan to take the game winning shot, or betting against Elon Musk, or telling Steve Jobs the iPhone won’t sell.
And so we come to what George Lucas, Peter Jackson, and Steve Jobs have in common: They are people who trust their intuition. You can take all the polls in the world, gather every statistic, but will you ever get Star Wars or the iPhone out of a survey? Does a business model ever compensate for an artist? Could a committee ever write Moby Dick? This is of course a bit of a false divide because it takes thousands of people to make a movie, and Melville could never have written Moby Dick without Hawthorne or the library. But while there is never really an isolated artist, there is intuition, and there are times the artist and the business man alike must decide whether they will trust the polls and opinions of others or their own gut.
If you decide to trust yourself, great. We need more people like you. But know what happened to Lucas and now Jackson. Note their Achilles heel: after their success, no one questioned their vision. And I’m quite sure we will be reminded again and again that sometimes Michael Jordan misses, sometimes Jobs is wrong, and sometimes Lucas falls hard and drags his original classics down with him. Because, the truth is, sometimes two minds are better than one. Sometimes the polls tell the truth. Sometimes the audience knows what it wants. But who’s to tell?
Hollywood and Apple have the same problem. Do you trust the numbers crunched out on a pro forma by a team of Ivy League PhDs, or do you trust the genius of one guy whose got a hunch and was right last time?