Learning and Adjusting to Mistakes in Hollywood

Jeff Cochran


Steve Mosko has a significant amount of power in Hollywood.  He is the president of Sony Pictures Television and negotiated the largest syndication of a program in television history—the multimillion-dollar, record setting Seinfeld deal.  Steve can control a room as soon as he walks in and seems completely at ease doing it.  Interestingly, some of his confidence can be traced back to the mistakes that he made.  Steve learned from those mistakes and used them as precedents to help him prepare better in the future.

The following is an excerpt from the book “Dare to Prepare” by Ron Shapiro and Gregory Jordan.  It shows that even one of the most powerful people in Hollywood can learn from mistakes to better prepare in the future.

Steve became a Hollywood executive at a very young age.  He especially impressed me with the way he realized that he still had a lot to learn even as his career took off.  That openness to making adjustments and learning from mistakes has contributed significantly to Steve’s progression and general competence.  Two of his mistakes, one simple and one significant, demonstrate Steve’s use of errors as opportunities to adjust his preparation.

The simple mistake is one anyone could make.

“In the early stages of the “Seinfeld” negotiations around the country, I made a simple but critical mistake,” Steve said.  “We were sending out our salespeople with an enormous amount of material for the presentations.  Binders, videos, PowerPoint, materials.  One day one of our guys checked it all in at the airport and the stuff never arrived in time for this presentation.  This is a multimillion-dollar deal and we almost blew it.  But we adjusted quickly.  We perfected a system of FedExing and verifying arrival.  We learned to package everything perfectly so that the materials would not be damaged.  We even negotiated a good deal with FedEx.  We sold “Seinfeld” in 213 markets and were negotiating with four to five stations in each market.  We quickly learned that organization would alleviate the anxiety of our salespeople.  That adjustment contributed in a mundane but significant way to our success.”

Steve made the significant mistake in the late 1990s when Sony developed a new program that was billed as the way to attract the growing young urban audience in the late-night slot.  A void for that audience had been created when Arsenio Hall ended his show.  Steve had a dream partner in the legendary music producer Quincy Jones and his trendsetting magazine, “Vibe”.  The combination of Quincy and Sony created great enthusiasm nationwide among local television stations’ decision makers.  They had the entertainer Sinbad as the host.  But after the program’s strong initial sales, the bottom fell out.  Why?

“We made a huge mistake,” Steve said.  “Rather than have one producer running the show we ran it by committee.  Everything from picking the host to designing the set, from deciding where we would shoot to setting a format, was made by group decision.  Everyone was being so respectful to each other.  We never had  a strong point of view or someone leading the charge.  We picked a young host who wasn’t the greatest choice.  Without a single clear vision, what could have been a major success got bogged down.  An amazing idea got all fouled up.  The program was off the air in a year.”

Steve, who was executive vice president of sales at the time, got a valuable lesson in programming that he continues to apply as president of Sony Pictures Television today.

“You can only have one head coach per program,” Steve said.  “There has to be one person calling the shots and being held accountable.  That is the only way I pursue programming ideas now.  You can take ideas from many sources, but one executive producer has to make the decision.”

Mundane or monumental, lessons like these can make the difference between someone who can adapt to situations or is overwhelmed by them.


Butler Conference 2012

Jeff Cochran


Three years ago, SNI Chairman, Ron Shapiro, founded an annual Business Conference, the Butler Conference of Leaders.  The Conference brings together business and non-profit leaders from across the Nation to address, among other things, economic, political, philanthropic and social issues. The Conference is held at Ron’s Farm in Butler, Maryland. Speakers have included names such as: Freeman Hrabowski , President of UMBC and one of Time Magazine’s 2012 “100 Most Influential People in the World”;  Brian Rogers, Chairman and CIO of T Rowe Price Group; Steve Mosko, President of Sony Pictures Television;   Bill Miller of Legg Mason Capital Management; Kevin Plank, Founder and CEO of Under Armour; , Mario Gabelli, a member of Barron’s All-Century Team; and Bob Costas, NBC Broadcaster. We were able to sit down with our colleague, Kim Talbott, the Butler Conference Director, and ask her a few questions about the Conference

The first three Butler Conferences have been huge successes. Can you talk a little bit about your role as the Conference Director?

The planning for the next year usually starts the week following the Butler Conference, so there’s not much downtime.  I’m part of the planning committee, which consists of Ron Shapiro, George Mister, Terry Randall, and Michael Maas.  We create a timeline that outlines the tasks that need to be completed month by month.  This leaves me with a lot of different responsibilities, some of which include researching  and brainstorming potential speakers,  collaborating on the scope of their presentations, developing the budget, coordinating travel and other logistics for speakers, , and lining up  vendors.

What inspired Ron to start the Butler Conference?

He said that it’s always been a dream of his to gather the brightest minds in one place.

What is the theme of the Conference this year and who is the keynote speaker?

We don’t really have a “theme” at any of the Conferences.  We try to cover a broad scope of topics each year.  That being said, the current state of the Economy usually impacts the focus of our Investment Panel – the staple of the Conference.  Our title this year is  “Confronting Challenge, Leading Change: Education, Journalism, Medicine, College Sports,  the Market and More.”

Freeman A. Hrabowski III is our keynote speaker this year and we couldn’t be more excited.  He is President of UMBC, one of Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People, and one of the most charismatic people I’ve ever have the pleasure of meeting.

Can you tell us a little bit about the panels for this year’s Conference?

We have four panels in the Program this year. One panel will discuss the future of journalism.  Another will be a medical panel to speak about Alzheimer’s, stroke, and cancer.  The third panel will discuss the landscape of collegiate sports and the shortcomings/hypocracy of the current system.  The last panel will be focused on investments, which is a yearly fixture.  Each of their panels has the brightest minds in their respective industries.

Are there any new speakers this year that you are excited about?

I’m really excited about the medical panel.  It’s something different than anything we’ve done before.  I think the audience will appreciate the knowledge these doctors have and the insightful discussion they are going to lead.

What has been your most memorable moment from the first three Butler Conferences?

This is a tough question, too.  It’s hard for me to pick just one, but I guess it would have to be when Bob Costas did an impression of Howard Cosell.  He’s quite the character.


SNI was Shaped by Exploring Alternatives

Jeff Cochran


We have spent time before talking about how important it is to have alternatives in negotiations.  They give you backup plans in case things don’t go how you anticipated.  It’s important to remember, though, that some alternatives are not mutually exclusive.  You can find one alternative and blend it with another course of action to find the best solution to your problem.

The following is an excerpt from the book “Dare to Prepare” by Ron Shapiro and Gregory Jordan.  It shows how finding alternatives helped create an idea that became Shapiro Negotiations Institute.

One morning in the winter of 1992 my wife, Cathi, and I took a walk on a beautiful Caribbean beach.  I had reached a point in my life where the practice of law had lost its allure for me.  I was suffering from a common case of legal burnout.  Being tied to a time sheet had less appeal than ever as my other business ventures were growing.  During the walk, we laid out the professional and lifestyle alternatives that I could explore.  The most profound thing that Cathi said to me was that she noticed how much I loved to teach.  Teaching in an academic institution didn’t appeal to me since I’m an entrepreneur at heart.  We brainstormed other teaching alternatives after looking at precedents set by people with similar interests.

Weighing alternative careers allowed me to feel that I could take control of my life.  The mere exercise allowed me to understand that I did not have to leave one thing to do another.  So a walk on the beach led to my recognition that I could stay associated with my law firm as an adviser, continue with my sports firm, and channel my passion for teaching into the founding of what would become the Shapiro Negotiations Institute.  I could then be an entrepreneur, add income and excitement, and complement my other endeavors.  Alternative outcomes are not mutually exclusive; sometimes you can set your strategy to attain a result that is a combination of them.

Our “WIN-win”

Jeff Cochran


For years, win-win has been taught in all kinds of negotiation curriculums. At SNI, we format the phrase WIN-win. We firmly believe that the best way to get what you want is to also adequately satisfy the other side’s wants. The following is an excerpt from the book “The Power of NICE” by Ron Shapiro, Mark Jankowski, and Jim Dale that explains the myth vs. reality of win-win and the difference in our use of the phrase.

The Myth of Win-Win

Negotiation experts (and amateurs) have been preaching win-win for some time. The trouble is, it’s unrealistic. The expression win-win has become more of a pop cliché than a negotiating philosophy. It’s either a winner’s rationalization for lopsided triumph, a loser’s excuse for surrender, or both sides’ phrase for when everybody is equally unhappy. There’s no such this as both parties winning identically, that is, both getting all of what they want. One party is bound to get more and one less, even if both sides are content with the outcome. The latter is possible. Both parties can be satisfied, but both cannot win to the same degree.

The Reality of WIN-win

If someone is going to come out ahead, our aim is to make sure that someone is you. That’s WIN-win. Both parties win, but you win bigger.

WIN-win is realistic. It isn’t easy-it requires focus and discipline but it is achievable. And it doesn’t turn negotiation into war. Because it’s not WIN-lose, WIN-clobber, or WIN-ransack-pillage-and obliterate. You don’t have to destroy the other side. On the contrary, you want them to survive, even thrive, in order to make sure the deal lasts and leads to future, mutually beneficial, deals. That’s The Power of Nice and WIN-win is what that power delivers.


George Gallup, America’s Great Influencer

Jeff Cochran


What makes a great influencer? In many cases, people try to get things done without understanding the other individuals involved in the process, their motivations and needs, and how they make decisions. SNI believes that to become as influential as possible, one must understand and implement four basic steps. First, one must build credibility, since without credibility and trust, no amount of logic will convince the other side. Second, one must engage emotions, since people tend to decide emotionally and collaborate with people they can connect with. Third, one must demonstrate logic, because everyone uses logic to hone in on interests and issues that are important for them. And fourth, one must facilitate action, since a decision is just a conversation until action has been taken. Mastery of these steps will improve one’s influence, facilitating the completion of more successful deals.

One of America’s most influential individuals was George Gallup. During the presidential election of 1936, he created the Gallup Poll, which became one of the most reliable measurements for determining the public’s opinions. Gallup identified a successful trend in the business world and facilitated it to fit a specific need. After listening to dinner conversations, discussions during the long trip to work, and various other daily interactions, Gallup decided to use market research, the same methods used successfully to sell dishwashers, and sneakers, for politics.

Using the data he gathered from his polls, Gallup predicted that The Literary Digest, the main source of political polling at the time, would publish an article predicting Landon’s victory based on its faulty survey results. Gallup was right. By thinking logically, he knew that the Digest used mailed-in ballots from addresses found from phone numbers or car registries to generate its polls. However, due to The Great Depression, millions of voters lived without cars or phones. Therefore, their voices would be left unheard. By surveying the “average voter”, Gallop was able to determine that America would favor Roosevelt for President. He did his polling by conducting door-to-door interviews. Unlike most polls at the time which surveyed large, unscientifically selected groups, Gallup used significantly smaller groups that were methodically chosen to gather his research

Gallup gathered his facts by engaging the public’s emotions, being approachable, and making a personal connection with the public. He accomplished this by conversing with people from all social classes rather than just waiting passively to receive a marked up piece of paper. Gallup sought to not only cover the populist views on politics, but also on education, hopes, fears, hobbies, ethics, religion, economics, law, and equality as well. He was able to identify what interests/ issues were the most important to Americans and to shed light on their current status.

It was of utmost importance to Gallup for the integrity of his work to remain untarnished, swearing never to conduct solicited polling from a special interest group or from an organization with a specific plan. He also made the personal choice never to vote himself to ensure that he would not influence the views of those he was polling or raise any question about bias in his reporting. This sacrifice built credibility for his work.

Lastly, just as with many other great influencers, he was able to change his procedures to maintain his trustworthy reputation. In 1948, when he ceased polling two weeks before Election Day, Gallup predicted the wrong outcome. After this incident he stated, “We are continually experimenting and continually learning”, and the Gallup Poll has never been wrong about an election since.

Identify Types – Know What Kind of “Difficult” You’re Up Against

Jeff Cochran


Before you meet with a person, you should do a little homework. Making identification an automatic habit will help ease this step and better your skills. First do some research to learn about the person and their background, reputation, and even quirks. The more you know about the person before you meet him or her, the better prepared and less surprised you’ll be by their behavior. Next make observations each time you encounter the person, watch closely, and listen carefully. Being aware of subtle cues from and verbal and nonverbal communication including body language can help you pick up on feelings and intentions. Finally, probe to help bond and find common ground even with challenging personalities.

There are three types of difficult people:

1. The Situationally Difficult: Those people whose situation or circumstances make them difficult

• Normally nice people who become difficult under stress
• Their reactions are out of proportion to the event

Success Technique – Once you address their emotion, negotiations can proceed

2. The Strategically Difficult: Those people who believe being unreasonable is effective

• People who make you feel as if they are “up to something”
• People who try to make you “play by their rules”

Success Technique – If you address the tactic, they will modify their behavior.

3. The Simply Difficult: Those people with an ingrained personality characteristic

• People who make demands but do not explain why
• People who are difficult regardless of the situation

Success Technique – If you balance the power, you have a better chance of success.

A History Lesson in Physical Surroundings

Jeff Cochran


Being able to identify the tactics used by strategically difficult people is key to being able to overcome them. Consider this lesson about Admiral Hyman Rickover. He employed the Physical Surroundings tactic—when the other side controls a venue to gain an advantage, such as controlling your comfort level, location, resources, and so on—to make others feel off-balance (literally). It was effective because people didn’t identify what he was doing and make changes to alleviate the problem.

The following is an excerpt from the book “Bullies, Tyrants, and Impossible People” by Ron Shapiro, Mark Jankowski, and Jim Dale.

Admiral Hyman Rickover, child of a Jewish immigrant family, entered the Naval Academy in 1918, almost immediately in conflict with its traditional W.A.S.P. aristocracy. According to much of the history written about him, Rickover was unpopular with other midshipmen and was resented as a loner. He graduated from the academy and went on to an early career that was largely undistinguished. He volunteered for submarine duty and served, but he was not selected for command. Shortly after, he was selected, almost randomly, for a limited assignment to Oak Ridge, Tennessee, where nuclear research was being performed. He quickly determined that the military use of nuclear power represented a future opportunity for the navy and for Hyman Rickover. From then on, it became his obsession and eventual path to a historic role in U.S. naval history.

However, despite his increasing renown and respect in the field, rising to the rank of admiral, gaining international eminence, Rickover never seemed to lose the insecurity that came with being an outsider in his early years. The father of the “nuclear navy” and developer of the world’s first nuclear-powered submarine, the admiral became infamous for his subtle but highly effective interpersonal tactics. The classic Rickover maneuver was to position visitors—be they important government officials or departmental subordinates—in purposely unbalanced chairs. He literally kept those he dealt with off-balance when they were in his office. The admiral was employing Tactic 11—Physical Surroundings—to gain or maintain a sense of superiority and, consequently, an upper hand in dealing with others. Most of the people who sat in his office probably could not identify the physical manipulation—the rocky, uneven chair legs, their own literal instability versus Rickover’s solid, steady position—but they would say that they simply felt uncomfortable or at a disadvantage in his presence.

Ron Shapiro in the Middle East with PeacePlayers In’tl

Jeff Cochran


Earlier this month, our Chairman, Ron Shapiro, traveled to Israel and the West Bank through his involvement with PeacePlayers International, a non-profit organization that uses basketball to unite and educate young people in divided communities around the world. We recently had the opportunity to sit down with Mr. Shapiro and learn about his transformative experience.


Why did you go to Israel and the West Bank with PeacePlayers International?

Nearly ten years ago, a group of young men from what is now called PeacePlayers International visited my office and asked if I would join their Board and help them with fundraising. I initially resisted, but they and their cause were so persuasive that within six weeks I was a member of their Board.

Within a year, I agreed to be the Chair of their Board for one year on an “interim” basis. Somehow that one year became five years. During that period, I saw videos and heard stories of children in areas of conflict like Northern Ireland, South Africa, and Israel who, with the help of PPI, were building bridges and inspiring hope. I felt the power of the work we were doing. Yet despite invitations, I did not make any site visits, because of what I misperceived as an overwhelming professional and personal schedule. Although my involvement continued when I stepped down as Chair and assumed the role of Chairman Emeritus, I still had not interacted with the kids and the people of PeacePlayers working in the field.

Thankfully Brendan Tuohey is a persistent guy. As a result of his persistence, I ultimately agreed to make a site visit in July 2012. I never suspected, at this stage in my life and after three other trips to Israel, to have a transformative life experience while visiting the PeacePlayers team and children in Israel and the West Bank. I am so glad that I chose to share that experience with my granddaughter, Kate, who recently celebrated her bat mitzvah; my daughter, Laura; my son, John (Herb) Beatson; and my business partner, Michael Maas; and that I was able to have the opportunity to travel with Brian Ross, Ann Curry and their children, Walker and Mckenzie; Irina Pavlova; Leslie and Joe Schaller; Brian Kriftcher; Amy Selco; and of course, Anna and her father, Brendan Tuohey.

How did you spend your time?

Aside from spending 24 hours in airplanes (and I might add meeting a new friend, Joey Low, on my journey over, who accepted my invitation to join us on a visit to our program on a kibbutz in Sdot Yam, and after the visit was moved to support PPI going forward), we would rise early and retire late so that we could maximize our exposure to some sites, but more importantly to the people and the program. From the very moment we arrived (when we were graciously hosted by the parents of one of the leaders of the PPI M.E. team, Samer Elayan, for dinner in the Arab village of Bet Safafa), to being given a geopolitical tour of East Jerusalem and part of the West Bank, to visiting the religious sites (Jewish, Christian, and Muslim) in the Old City, to the Foreign Ministry in Ramallah, to the moving stories from PeacePlayers staff members on bus rides as we travelled from PPI programs in Jerusalem, the West Bank, Tel Aviv, and Sdot Yam, and the ancient ruins of Caesarea, our eyes feasted on unbelievable sites and our ears and brains were treated to a cross-current of views and ideas from morning to night. And most of all, our hearts were filled with hope because of the young people we met ranging in ages from five to eighteen and the way they played together as well as their interactions with the PPI staff members throughout our stay.

I might also add that we had the opportunity to visit with Laura’s uncle who is a Judaic scholar, Broadway level musical comedy actor, and peace blogger, and has lived in Jerusalem for the past forty years, and we had breakfast with Laura and Kate’s rabbi who was studying in Jerusalem. Both tried to help us maintain some perspective on the divergent and, at times extreme, views that we encountered during our visit. In an email to Laura addressing some of the harsh realities of Israel, her rabbi exhorted her to recognize that, despite troubling places and things about our own country, such realities do not make us renounce the totality of American society or the veracity of American democracy. He wrote then about Israel: “…I encourage you to be inspired by amazing people who continue to struggle to right the ills of Israel. There is so much here that is beautiful, honorable, profoundly ethical, and wholly inspirational.”

What impacted upon you most?

To use the rabbi’s words, those who were especially “beautiful, honorable, profoundly ethical, and wholly inspirational” were the children and staff of PeacePlayers International. The “twinnings” we saw at the various PPI sites in Israel were simply amazing. The Jewish and Arab children interacted – from practice to games – as if they were lifelong friends and with no gaps in religion, ideology, or politics separating them. They were even tolerant enough to accept people like me participating in their practices despite my total basketball inadequacy and frequent air ball shots. The sheer joy of the littlest PeacePlayers children (ages 6-8) dribbling their own personal basketballs (given to them by PPI) and going up and down the court in their games touched hearts and inspired all of us who came to see them. At the other end of the age spectrum, we spent substantial time with PPI Leadership Development Program (LDP) boys and girls (ages 15-18) who played hard, hugged lovingly, and shared of themselves and their lives openly. To say that those of us on the trip wanted to not only embrace them, but also to take them home with us, would be an understatement. What powerful lessons they taught us not only on the court, but also in their every interaction with each other, with the PeacePlayers staff, and their new American friends. Just as dinner at Samer’s house touched our hearts and opened our trip with feelings of warmth and hope, our closing dinner on the beach at Dag Al Hayam with our fellow PPI travelers, the PPI leadership team, and the wonderful girls of the LDP, reaffirmed for us the mission of PeacePlayers International: to close divides in areas of conflict by building bridges between children from all sides – in this case Jews and Arabs – through the game of basketball.

From time to time, I was consulted on the trip for perspective as a “negotiation expert”. The real experts on bringing people together, however, are in the field every day on behalf of PeacePlayers International. Just as I will never forget the children dribbling their basketballs, sharing their experiences, hugging each other and us, and igniting our hopes, I will not forget the greatest bridge builders of all, the PPI team, including: Karen, Samer, Nissreen, Githa, Sharon, Galit, Edniesha, and “younger, taller” Samer.

Any other thoughts?

Let me share some from our family group:

Laura: “Kate and I are still struggling with explaining to our family the true impact of this incredible trip. It is difficult for Kate to discuss it without getting emotional. The opportunities that we had to not only witness, but to join in and befriend these incredible PeacePlayers children were truly the gift of a lifetime…..”

Michael: “The wonderful smiles of the girls, you, and everyone on the journey have been with me constantly since we left our new family last night. Amazing how small the world is, how much we all have in common, and the goodness of most everyone we come in contact with. I’m sure we will be downloading impressions, lessons learned and relationships developed for quite some time…”

John (Herb): “We learned a lot about the conflict from both the Jewish and Arab perspectives and I left more convinced than when I arrived of the importance of the PeacePlayers International programs. Actions from both sides are making the situation increasingly intractable, increasing the importance of establishing some common ground between the two sides. To the extent the children in our programs can establish this common ground, perhaps a sustainable solution to the conflict will one day be achievable. I would have far less confidence in the probability of such a solution if PPI was not actively bridging divides on the ground…”




Jeff Cochran


There are times in negotiations that you will feel like the weaker party. Maybe you are less experienced, have less leverage, or something else entirely. For whatever reason, you feel like David squaring off against Goliath. So how do you combat this problem? Well David didn’t show up with only one stone and neither should you. You must find alternative and back-up plans in case particular proposals are shot down. Finding creative approaches around the seemingly insoluble dilemmas posed by Goliath can lead to a victory for the little guy. Next time you find yourself in a tough negotiating spot, remember to brainstorm creative solutions using the following four rules.

1) Brainstorm in groups of four or less. You must have two to brainstorm, but there’s a point of diminishing ideas. Groups of more than four tend to stifle ideas. The group becomes an audience instead of participants. Judgment sets in. Status can become involved. All of these inhibit ideas.

2) Don’t criticize ideas. Let them flow. A great idea can be the first words out of someone’s mouth. Or the last. Any idea, good or bad, can be the spark that leads to great ideas. Wait until the brainstorming session is over before doing the sorting and sifting.

3) Keep at it. Creativity is more perspiration than inspiration. Effective negotiators are creative negotiators. But many people are intimidated by the prospect of being creative. They shouldn’t be. Everyone has the capacity to create ideas. If you create 20 ideas for a solution that seemingly only has 2, it will help you choose the best alternatives. Volume begets creativity.

4) Make it fun. Like most preparation, brainstorming is not inherently fun. So, make it fun. Sometimes we brainstorm by splitting into two groups. Each side gets a packet of sticky notes. The idea of the game is to write down ideas, one per note, and connect all the ideas into a chain of notes. Depending on the issue, we take from five to fifteen minutes to generate ideas. People become so involved in coming up with ideas, connecting them, and trying to construct as long a chain as possible, they invariably come up with new solutions, no matter how many times we’ve done a problem before.


Jeff Cochran


At some point in your life you will have to deal with a difficult person. It may be when you least expect it or when you’ve been warned far in advance. Regardless of the situation, following the N.I.C.E. system can help you handle a difficult person without becoming one of them.

N—Neutralize your emotions. Dealing with difficult people can be an emotional challenge. The more emotional you are, the less rational you behave. Conversely, the more your emotions are in check, the more you can be in control of a positive outcome.

I—Identify the type. There are three basic types of difficult people (and several permutations of each).
• The Situationally Difficult: those people whose situation or circumstances make them difficult
• The Strategically Difficult: those people who believe being unreasonable is effective
• The Simply Difficult: those people with an ingrained personality characteristic

C—Control the encounter. Once you know which type of difficult individual you face, you can employ the appropriate techniques to help shape and determine the outcome of the encounter. If you utilize the right techniques, you can change the fate of deals, meetings, and everyday confrontations.

E—Explore options. Even after shaping the encounter, you may still be at an impasse. The process of getting “unstuck” often requires the development of options—alternative solutions—so both sides can give and get. (This includes the option of ending without escalating, reserved for those instances in which the best deal is no deal, which can preserve the possibility of a future deal.)