The late-2014 cyberattack against Sony Pictures had long-term impacts that reverberated throughout media and entertainment. Security awareness elevated industrywide. Content owners changed how they vetted vendors. And, from the C-suite to the entry-level employee, protecting assets became daily mantra.
Eric Iverson, then-SVP and divisional CIO for Sony Pictures Television, was at the front lines when the studio mapped out its response to the attack. And much like with today’s COVID-19 pandemic, a sense of unreality was pervasive at the time for those at the studio.
This second entry in Iverson’s timely “Our Finest Hour” series of industry observations makes connections between how Sony responded to their crisis, and the one the world is dealing with today. Connections that lead to, hope.
At the very beginning of the crisis at Sony, I vividly remember my initial meetings with executives where I fielded questions like, “OK … so it looks like we are going to be down for a couple days. Right?”
While we were still assessing the damage, some of us knew immediately that we were going to be in the recovery for a long time. This job was big. Really big. I recall looking some of the executives in the eye and delivering the honest news: “This is not going to be days. This is going to be weeks, even months.” I also remember the initial look in their eyes too. The information was too far out of bounds from the rules of “normal risk.” The news didn’t seem quite real at first. Weeks. Months. This was something different. Not risk. Uncertainty.
Had to sink.
It sunk. We then began the journey down our transition road to the next stop. Most took the Candy Land “ice cream bar card” and skipped a few spaces ahead. A few wanted to argue with the circumstances. “This situation is not acceptable! This is not my box! These are not my chocolates!!!”
Yes. They. Are.
Acceptance. We find ourselves in similar circumstances today. Weeks. Months. And yes, in this crisis the stakes are much higher than the Sony cyberattack. Health. Sickness. Life. Death. I understand. Our family has already lost a work colleague to this coronavirus. This is not the uncertainty we asked for! Uncertainty. Tragedy. “These aren’t my chocolates!!! I had summer vacation plans!!!”
Yes. These. Are. Our. Chocolates.
At Sony, the news had to sink in. It took days. And then it did. From realistic acceptance emerged a powerful trigger in our spirit. We did not ask for the challenge. We did not want the challenge. But when we faced and accepted the challenge, we rose. We began to see clearly the mountain that we must climb. Our optimism and determination dragged us to the climb. Optimism drove us to persevere, to make it through the climb. Acceptance led to clarity, fed optimism and nourished hope.
Realistic acceptance also gave us a second gift, the gift of more rapid problem-solving. Why? Our realistic acceptance guided our focus on the problems we needed to solve more quickly. Once we recognized we have a multi-month problem to solve, we invested our time more effectively. Providing a five-day solution to an 18-month problem would only send us back to the rework station. Time lost. Realistic acceptance sped problem solving as it set us solving the right set of problems over the right timetables with the right people. Focus. Certainty.
For Sony there were mid-term focuses such as:
-Think 12-plus months
-Take care of each other
-Workers back to work
-Active productions producing
-TV deals get done
-Network channels stay on air, get ads current
-Movies distributed to theaters
-Financial systems validated
So. What does realistic acceptance look like now? While we are all still clarifying it, it might look something like:
-Think 12-plus months
-Take care of each other
-Slow the spread. Containment.
-Assume people will get sick. Some will die.
-Get more tests
-Grow medical caregiver capability and provide for their safety (and support them like crazy)
-Increase treatment capacity (facilities & equipment)
-Develop medical solutions and a vaccine
-Improve and deploy remote work and education solutions
-Identify the immune so they can help and work
-Protect our supply chains and support the people running them
-Keep the ‘normal economy’ businesses solvent so we can return more quickly
-Develop safe work solutions so we can get back to work sooner
-Design safe schools and caregiving protocols so we can better focus
-Create a plan for us to return safely to our gathering places so we can reopen restaurants, theaters, churches, and parks.
-Confront next winter’s cold and flu season, now, so we are prepared.
As we clarify our situation, we will begin to see even more of what we need to do. The mountain we must climb or the ocean we must cross. As the character Chuck Noland (played by Tom Hanks) in the film “Cast Away” said: “I know what I have to do now. I gotta keep breathing. Because tomorrow the sun will rise. Who knows what the tide could bring?”
We can accept the facts of the situation, as hard as those facts can be. We do not have to accept that the “situational facts” predetermine poor outcomes.
We can accept the possibility of some potential poor outcomes. We do not have to accept that poor outcomes are inevitable.
We can accept the real reality of the challenges and struggles we will face. We don’t have to accept that these are insurmountable.
We can also accept that we are all going to work harder over the next 2 years to get to our new, bright future.
We can choose to believe that we can write a better story, for humanity, through our spirit, creativity and actions.
As Forrest Gump told us, “My mom always said, life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.” Friends … these, are, our, chocolates.
Let us rise and accept our box. And ask: what are we going to do with our chocolates?
Read more: Our Finest Hour S1: E1: ‘The Great Upheaval’ | Our Finest Hour S1: E2: ‘Not My Box of Chocolates!’ | Our Finest Hour S1: E3: ‘The Hour’ | Coming Soon: Our Finest Hour S1: E4: ‘The Colossal Opportunity’
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Eric Iverson is a global senior technology and business leader with more than 20 years’ experience in the media and entertainment space, including more than 17 years working with Sony Pictures Entertainment, culminating in the role of SVP and divisional CIO for Sony Pictures Television, and more than three years as CIO and CTO of Creative Artists Agency (CAA). He is president and founder of Iverson Consulting, offering advisory services around strategy, innovation, digital transformation and data in the M&E space. [email protected].