An occasional feature of the IdeaFestival blog, the Five Questions series makes brief interviews with interesting people available to you. Previous installments have included exchanges with Maria Konnikova and Oliver Burkeman, among others.
Jason Felts, who spoke at IdeaFestival 2014, earlier this week was kind enough to answer our questions. He is the CEO of Virgin Produced.
Questions are in italics.
Scott Barry Kaufman is the founder of the popular web site Creativity Post and cognitive scientist interested in the psychology of creativity. He’s written that the chief characteristic of creative people is “an openness to experience.” Would you agree or disagree with that statement?
I would tend to agree with that statement. I believe "an openness to experience" is important given that one must fully flirt with or explore experiencing interaction with many different types of people- from all cultures- expand oneself outside their comfort bubble by constantly visiting and experiencing new places. Equally important, I feel one should experience art in all forms on a continued basis. These things have personally allowed me to interpret and express my own creatively, drawing from these experiences and hopefully bringing value back to my team which can result in exciting products and work environment at Virgin.
You said at the IdeaFestival last October that Virgin Produced “didn’t lead with revenue. We lead with quality.” How does Virgin Produced make decisions about potentially worthwhile projects that may not be obvious revenue generators?
This is true. Richard Branson once said if you create a great product or service, the revenue will follow. I have adopted that sensibility at Virgin Produced and being a content company, we are focused on the quality of the product we develop, package or produce first. A consumer wants to be able to trust the provider it receives its products and services from. First you focus on quality. Then you build the trust. Then you hopefully sustain the loyalty, which thus brings about the revenue. If you focus only on making money, you risk losing the trust in your product and the loyalty is nonexistent. We have been a part of several projects we believe in that did not make money- the film Machine Gun Preacher is a prime example.
Can you talk about how you’ve created an environment at Virgin Produced that “makes it possible for people not to be afraid to take risks?”
Many companies big and small are fear driven with unapproachable management teams, unbalanced incentive plans and a sense of uneasiness for one’s job security. These are all common denominators, which lead to people being afraid to take risks. Risks, which could and often times drive the business forward to grow and excel. From inception, I have worked really hard to create an environment that is team oriented- irrespective of the “department” you were hired in- everyone is encouraged to play in everyone else’s “sandbox” and everyone is rewarded for one “department’s” success. I also have constant and continued dialogue with every member of my team and encourage doing things, well, differently. I don’t believe in the status quo. In fact, I am 100% against it. There’s always a way to do something different or better.
Given the atomization of media, are there any methods or principles that Virgin Produced uses to break through the media clutter? Could you share those?
We work hand in hand with our sister companies in the aviation, mobile and hotel industries to name a few to drive consumer awareness for our films and content through direct alternative and social driven marketing- this also in turn provides for increased and unique experiences that those consumers receive that no other airline, cell phone carrier or hotel can deliver in house. (Ed. note: Jason supplied this link)
At the IdeaFestival in October, Tyler Cowen and Clive Thompson appeared to argue that in our pixelated age that humanities degree is more important than ever. How do you feel about that?
I don’t fully agree with that statement. I feel the principals of humanities are primarily speculative and critical. Sure the humanities disciplines maybe offer methods of addressing ambiguity and paradox but I’m personally a believer in more of an empirical point of view of experiencing and viewing more so than theory.
Image of Jason Felts: Geoff Oliver Bugbee