Dave Goetsch: Collaboration – Lessons From The Big Bang Theory

June 04, 2019 | Episode #11

In an exceptionally competitive industry, Dave Goetsch has thrived. Co-executive producer of the Emmy-nominated sitcom “The Big Bang Theory” and long-time writer for “3rd Rock from the Sun,” Dave has mastered the lonely existence of the Hollywood writer. But how? By embracing the power of human connection and collaboration. In this episode, Dave reveals the secrets behind getting things done in the boisterous writers’ room and tells us why few things are better than making your friends laugh.

“Always pitch the fix. Sometimes people will want to point out what’s wrong about everything, but it’s just a lot easier to solve the problem, rather than pointing out the problem and not having the solution.”

Announcer: The true WELLth podcast is made possible with support from Brighton Jones. Helping clients, colleagues, and the global community live a richer life. To learn more about how you can live a richer life, visit brightonjones.com.

Dave Goetsch: I remember being in a writer’s room and this was before the financial crisis and somebody said, “Hey, do you think Apple is going to go up?” And I said, “I don’t know.” I think the iPhone was going to come out but hadn’t come out or something, and I was like, “I don’t know, maybe.” He’s like, “Okay. Yeah, because I have $1 million and I wonder whether I should sell it.”

Dave Goetsch: I was like, well, I remember, even though, even the moment I was like, “What are you doing asking me that?” I know you should not be asking me that. People have said this, but just because you’re great at one thing doesn’t mean you’re going to be great at something else.

Manisha Thakor: Hello. On the true WELLth podcast, we bring you experts from the four core areas of wellbeing; social, emotional, physical and financial to share both their professional expertise and their personal stories. Our goal with these interviews is to provide you with a range of mental fodder that you can use to identify what action steps or mindset shifts will help you better align the way you spend your money and your time with what matters most to you in life. For when you are living from this deeply aligned place, you experience true Wellth.

Manisha Thakor: Our guest today is an expert in the human condition. His name is Dave Goetsch and he is a professional storyteller. More specifically, he’s a sitcom writer with quite an impressive track record. Among other accomplishments, Dave has been a co-executive producer of the Emmy nominated Sitcom, the Big Bang Theory. He wrote for 3rd Rock from the Sun where he started as a staff writer and ultimately rose to executive producer.

Manisha Thakor: And along the way, he’s even done what millions dream of and only a handful actually accomplish, and that’s selling a film script to DreamWorks. As you’ll come to see in this episode, Dave has had a unique set of experiences both in his professional work and in his personal financial life, which underscore the power of collaboration.

Manisha Thakor: Why is this important and how can it help you? Ask a history student who it was that coined the term rugged individualism, a phrase that in many respects has come to represent a core component of the American dream, and they will promptly, incorrectly tell you it was president Theodore Roosevelt.

Manisha Thakor: However, what those of us who aren’t historians may not realize is that there were other traits that Teddy felt strongly should go along with rugged individualism. For example, he said, and I quote, “I am a strong individualist by personal habit, inheritance, and conviction; but it is a mere matter of common sense to recognize that the State, the community, the citizens acting together, can do a number of things better than if they were left to individual action.”

Manisha Thakor: In today’s world, we’re facing the unique situation of being more connected than ever digitally while often feeling more disconnected than ever in real life. As such, it’s my hope that this episode will both serve as an uplifting reminder of the power of human connection and inspire you to think about whether there are any areas of your own life that might benefit from increased collaboration.

Manisha Thakor: So, without further ado, let’s dive into Dave’s story. Our hour long wide ranging conversation, which has been edited down into this 25 minute episode, started off with my asking Dave how he knew the screenwriter’s path was the one for him.

Dave Goetsch: I remember telling somebody that the only two things that made me feel good that I could do by myself were running and writing, and I wasn’t fast enough to become a professional runner, but maybe I could be a professional writer. To the credit of my parents, they were incredibly supportive of me and they made great sacrifices when I told them that I wanted to become a sitcom writer. They didn’t even balk and were always very supportive of that.

Dave Goetsch: But one of the things that I had to do first was even find out that that was a job. There was a guy I knew in high school, he was a teaching fellow at my school and then he moved to Los Angeles and within a year and a half or so became a writer on Cheers. And it’s when I heard about his life and his schedule that it always stuck in my mind, and I didn’t say right then, “Okay, I’m going to become a sitcom writer.”

Dave Goetsch: But when I compared this idea of putting on a little play that is written by incredibly funny people, that you sit around a room and that play gets to be filmed by these incredible actors and then your grandparents can watch it at home, I have yet to find a job that sounds better than that.

Manisha Thakor: So, off to Hollywood Dave went and he stayed and he thrived in an industry that is known for being exceptionally competitive and demanding and also lonely. So I asked Dave what it was about the screenwriter’s life that he’d liked so much.

Dave Goetsch: I think it was the collaboration. The idea of writing with other people. And when I think back of the most fun times for me are making my friends laugh or having them make me laugh. And so, I love that communal aspect of it. And D, I have so much respect for the novelist, the solitary screenwriter, the person who can wake up every morning and write a thousand words and then keep going and keep going and keep going until they have a novel. I find that extremely hard. And so, this career suits the way my mind works.

Dave Goetsch: I have much better… somebody once said that if you’re in a writer’s room and everyone agrees and everyone’s having a good time, then the product is not going to work. Sometimes you need people to object to it. There is a necessary push and pull to this whole creative process. And so, it’s hard to quantify and there’s a certain magical quality to it. But when you’ve got this group and you know that works, it’s so special that you don’t want it to end.

Manisha Thakor: Dave’s comments about the communal aspect of his work and particularly how there is a necessary and vital push and pull to the creative process made me wonder what actually goes on in the mysterious sitcom’s writer’s room. In particular, while my business had, I wondered, how did this process scale? In other words, creativity is about making something new. And yet if every time you get in a room as a creative free-for-all, how do you get anything done on a consistent and timely basis?

Dave Goetsch: Well, there’s some really good rules in the writer’s room, which often are unspoken. Sometimes a veteran writer will be nice enough to tell a new staff writer about some things that are helpful. The first one is to always pitch the fix, right? Don’t point out what’s wrong about someone’s joke that they pitch. Because if you pitch the joke and people might laugh, but it might not go in the script because the showrunner might not think it’s right.

Dave Goetsch: And so, at least if you’re pitching the joke or the story that you’re trying to solve the problem, then you are all headed in the right direction. And sometimes people will want to point out what’s wrong about everything but it’s just a lot easier to solve the problem rather than pointing out the problem and not having the solution.

Dave Goetsch: Then the other thing is, in your pitching, some people will re-pitch something as though, and then you often have the awkward moment of somebody saying, “No, we heard you the first time.” So, you have to… the parallel would be maybe like catch and release, right? You work really, really hard to catch that fish, to pitch that joke, to do whatever it is, you pull it in and then you let it go. And that’s maybe the goodest part of it, which is like, it just goes out there and it’s part of the process.

Dave Goetsch: Then another useful thing is to try to have the highest percentage of success. There are decent, magical writers who say five things a day and four things go in the script. And that’s so much better than somebody saying 60 things a day and having six things go in the script because you’re sharing this stage with all these people and the more thoughtful you can be and the more efficient you can be, the better.

Dave Goetsch: That’s something I strive for, but I probably veer more on the pitching a lot than less. And I really admire those writers that can be present and stay in it. And then they’re like a… they just like step up to the plate and hit a home run. It’s really like a sight to see.

Manisha Thakor: When I hear the word Hollywood, my immediate visual associations are that infamous Hollywood sign pursed to top the Hollywood Hills and the iconic red carpets used by stars posing for photographers before entering various award shows. As for words, my immediate associations are ambition, glamor, glitz, and lots and lots of competition. So I was fascinated as our conversation turned towards this topic, and especially by the universality of Dave’s very human response. It doesn’t matter what industry you work in, I think his words will resonate.

Dave Goetsch: Particularly in your younger years, like you’re in your 20s and you move to LA and it is… there, it feels like it’s even more competitive because you don’t know whether or not you’ll succeed. When you have lived in longer, I’ve been doing this for 25 years, you know that everyone has ups and downs and even if you don’t see it, and even if they’re not in the trades. One of the interesting things about going back to my 25th reunion at Yale was that something bad had happened to everybody, and somebody might’ve had a career setback. Somebody might’ve lost a parent early or had a marriage blow up, but there was a humility that everyone had that I spoke to because life has a toll on everyone.

Manisha Thakor: The other phrase that comes to mind when I think of Hollywood is fame and fortune. Dave clearly orbits in rarefied air surrounded by a level of opulence the vast majority of human beings on the planet will never experience firsthand. So, I wanted to hear Dave’s take on money.

Dave Goetsch: So, I used to have a really terrible relationship with money because once I started working in television and I had some money saved up, I didn’t know how to invest it and didn’t know what to do with it and I had so much fear about the future. At my craziest, I had an overall deal after working on 3rd Rock from the Sun, and it was for two years and the checks would come once a week and it’d say, check one of 104, and check two.

Dave Goetsch: And it, honest like watching that much along realizing, oh my God, this is going to end. And rather than feeling like, what incredible gift in life that I’ll know that for two years I’ll be getting an income and I’m so grateful and I should enjoy this and enjoy this time in my life, it was incredibly stressful. Then I thought, I’m going to lose this money. I’m not going to… I don’t know what to do because I won’t have any money afterwards. And so, for a while I just held onto these checks and I wouldn’t even cash them.

Manisha Thakor: So, Dave, what changed?

Dave Goetsch: I was reading the New York Times one day and I saw this article about Gordon Murray and he was writing a book about investing in a race against the cancer that would ultimately take his life. And the book hadn’t come out yet, but I ordered it on Amazon and it came to me and I read it and it just spoke to me. I think it was the right time in my life to read that book.

Dave Goetsch: And I realized it was, I don’t think it was after the 08-09′ the crisis had happened and the world hadn’t ended. I thought it was going to end, but it didn’t end. And I had a kid and I just realized I couldn’t live like this anymore. So, I read this book and I… this idea of investing, in being a long-term investor, which gives you a horizon so that you don’t have to think about the ups and downs of the day. You can tune out the noise. Being an investor who buys the market broadly means that you can get the chance to pick up the successes wherever they are, even though they can’t be predicted.

Dave Goetsch: And when you think about how these ideas, which can be complex but can be understood on a basic level, you can realize like, “Hey, I don’t have to try and be smarter than the other guys. I just want to try and capture the market return.” That was a story that made sense to me for really like the first time. And so, that’s when I sought out a financial advisor. And this idea of having a fiduciary financial advisor suddenly made sense to me. Well wait, somebody is on my side. Somebody who’s not going to benefit from every trade they make, that makes tons of sense to me.

Manisha Thakor: Okay. So you became a transformed investor and found the right fiduciary advisor. How did this improve or not improve your day-to-day life?

Dave Goetsch: For me, this idea of being a transformed investor is not just somebody who can feel like, okay, I’m doing the best I can for making sure my kids are going to be okay for college and they’ll have money for retirement. It’s not about as much about protecting yourself for the future as it is this chance to feel better now, to feel relief. And it’s not the relief that everything’s going to be okay and you’re totally insulated from anything happening.

Dave Goetsch: It’s more like having a philosophy in investing that matches up with a philosophy in your life. And so, there’s more time for me to hang out with my kids and live life better. I don’t mean to say that I am like at peace guru. It’s still stressful and it’s something that I’m still working on, but the exciting thing for me is feeling like at least I have an approach to deal with it.

Manisha Thakor: Let me interject here. Dave was educated in Andover at the prestigious Phillips Academy Boarding School, and graduated from Yale where he took macro economics from the Nobel Prize winning Professor William Nordhaus. My point, Dave is a highly intelligent person, and yet like virtually everyone else I meet, his personal finance education came not formally in a class at school, but rather from life’s school of hard knocks. As our conversation came to a close, I asked Dave, what does he know about money today that he wishes he had known 25 years ago.

Dave Goetsch: That everyone can benefit from having a financial… that I needed a financial advisor. I remember I was 28 and I was working on 3rd Rock from the Sun and my, I mentioned Jason Ross and I sold the movie to DreamWorks and I got this bit of money and I wanted to invest it and I didn’t know what to do with it. And so, I really wish right then that somebody said, “Oh, this is a great time for you to talk to a financial advisor and this is a great time to have a plan. They can walk you through all this stuff.”

Dave Goetsch: There’s a good chance that I might’ve gone to a non-fiduciary investment advisor, because I didn’t know what the difference was. But I think things would be really different if… boy, I mean, imagine if I had a financial advisor who 20 year or 25 years later, I’m still talking to and we’re still walking with. We’re still adjusting the plan based on what’s happening, but he’s known me forever. I would just be one of the most meaningful, both personal and professional relationships I think I’d ever have.

Manisha Thakor: The phrase that kept popping up for me throughout my entire conversation with Dave was, the power of collaboration. And I mean this on three distinct but related levels; the value of collaboration with colleagues and community, the value of collaboration with financial advisors, and the value of collaboration with yourself. Let me break that down. Collaboration with colleagues and community. Here, I love the three rules Dave shared about how he effectively and creatively collaborates in a sitcom writer’s room.

Manisha Thakor: A, pitch the fix, i.e., don’t whine, present a solution. B, Catch and release. By all means put your ideas out there, but if they’re not the right fit, have the confidence to let them go. Not every idea is meant to come to fruition. And C, aim for the highest percentage of success, i.e., it’s not about the quantity of input, rather the quality of output. To me, those are great guidelines, not just for a sitcom writer’s room but for any type of collaboration; be it in a corporate boardroom or a Cub Scouts den meeting.

Manisha Thakor: Two, collaboration with financial advisers. The article Dave spoke about reading in the New York Times, the one that so dramatically changed his financial life for the better, it’s called A Dying Banker’s Last Instructions, was written by Ron Lieber. It’s one of the most shared personal finance stories in the New York Times history. I strongly encourage you to visit our show notes where you will find a link to this article, to give you a sense of how powerful the piece is.

Manisha Thakor: I can still remember exactly where I was when I first read it back in November, 2010. I was sitting on a sofa in my living room in Santa Fe, New Mexico where I resided at that time. Since then, I’ve forwarded that link onto others, gosh, probably a hundred times. And the book Dave referred to, well, that’s called The Investment Answer by Gordon Murray and Dan Goldie.

Manisha Thakor: This slim book is a quick read and for many, a transformative one when it comes to your personal investment philosophy. Taken together with Dave’s comment, these two additional resources provide clear guidelines for the kind of financial advisory relationship that will truly enhance your life.

Manisha Thakor: Number three, collaboration with self. I was struck by Dave’s comments about the experience of attending his 25th year college reunion. Specifically the observation that quote, “Something bad had happened to everyone.” This notion, as he says, that life takes a toll on everyone. That reminded me of Hemingway’s saying. “The world breaks everyone, and afterwards many are stronger at the broken places.”

Manisha Thakor: It also explained the notable air of humility Dave experienced at that reunion. When paired with something else that Dave and I spoke about during our hour long chat, i.e., how authenticity that comes from embracing rather than fighting one’s own rough patches in life. It felt I’d been given the first chapter of a guidebook on how to collaborate with myself. Then it was now up to me to fill out the remaining pages with knowledge and experiences still to come.

Manisha Thakor: There were a number of powerful resources referenced in this episode and a few others that came up in my conversation with Dave that we didn’t have time to include in this episode. So please be sure to visit the show notes for this episode at truewellthpodcast.com. And remember, here we spell wellth, W-E-L-L-T-H. On this page, you can also share with us your takeaways from this episode, which we’d love to hear and also strongly encourage you to share.

Manisha Thakor: Lastly, if you enjoy this episode, please help other listeners around the world find this podcast by going to true WELLth iTunes page and leaving a star rating and written review. I’m Manisha Thakor and that’s it for this episode of the true WELLth podcast.

Announcer: The true WELLth podcast is made possible by Brighton Jones. Financial wellbeing firm founded 20 years ago in Seattle. Today, Brighton Jones helps their clients with their balance sheets and beyond in markets all across the nation. Learn more about how you can live richer life at brightonjones.com. Today’s episode was produced and edited by Stan Hall with help from Michael Stubel, Marc Asmus, Chris Sylvester and John Dougherty. To get in touch with the true WELLth team, drop us a line to truewellthpodcast.com.

Resources Cited in the Episode
Daniel C. Goldie and Gordon Murray's The Investment Answer