By Stephen Jay Schwartz



“Somewhere along the way, someone is going to tell you, “There is no “I” in team.” What you should tell them is, “Maybe not. But there is an “I” in independence, individuality and integrity.” Avoid teams at all cost. Keep your circle small. Never join a group that has a name. If they say, “We’re the So-and-Sos,” take a walk. And if, somehow, you must join, if it’s unavoidable, such as a union or a trade association, go ahead and join. But don’t participate; it will be your death. And if they tell you you’re not a team player, congratulate them on being observant.” – George Carlin

Dammit, George, I wish I’d said that.

For months I’ve wanted to write a blog about “teamwork” and then, just last week, a friend posted the above quote on his Facebook page.

My entire adult life has been a study in individuality versus conformity. I can’t help but feel I’ve been the odd duck at every job I’ve had.

I remember when I was young and just out of college, working as an assistant in the marketing department of Buena Vista International at Disney Studios, Burbank. I spent the previous year making a half-hour, 35mm film which I wrote and directed, but hadn’t finished. It was a crazy, amazing, impossible feat built on the backs of a hundred or so craftsmen and artisans, everybody donating their time and talents. I had some wonderful actors involved (it was Chuck Connors’ last role) and I’d spent all the credit I didn’t have to put the film in the can. But I needed to reshoot a few scenes before taking it all into post-production, and I didn’t have a dime of credit left.

I took a chance and sent an inter-office memo directly to Jeffrey Katzenberg (man, am I dating myself) and two weeks later I got a call from the head of production. First thing he said was that I had a hefty set of balls. Then he told me that Jeffrey had forwarded my memo to him with a note saying, “Can we help this guy out?”

So, I had Disney on my side, but they could only offer free services on certain things, like time in the sound studio and foley rooms. I’d still have to pay for the sound editors and foley artists. And, since they rented their production equipment from other studios, I’d have to rent this equipment myself, at a discounted rate. Ultimately, things fell apart and the project died a slow and painful death (Chuck Connors called me once and said, “Schwartz, are you going to finish this film before I die?” A couple months later he died. I guess the answer to that question was, “No, Chuck, I’m not.”)

I was in the middle of this mess when my boss at BVI Marketing “took his business across the street,” meaning he left BVI to take a job at Universal. Shortly thereafter, a new President of Marketing came to Disney. In an effort to bond with his staff, he scheduled lunches at the Rotunda (special VIP-only restaurant at the studio) with everyone in the department. I met him for lunch and mentioned my aspirations to direct films, and the note I’d sent Jeffrey, and Jeffrey’s favorable response. The new president nodded sagely and then, at the end of lunch, said, “Remember, now. We’re in the business of marketing films, not making them.”

I went back to my lonely cubicle and posted his quote above my computer. I wanted to read it every day as a reminder that I did not fit in, that I was in the wrong place, the wrong job. This, at a time when Disney was pushing the word “Synergy” into every inter-office memo. Trying to convince us that we were one big, happy team. Home Video supported Marketing supported Distribution supported Production supported Public Relations. I’m surprised I never heard the phrase, “There is no ‘I’ in Synergy.”

Two weeks after my lunch date I was fired.

I always had mixed feelings when I left a job. I recall the scene in the movie Jerry Maguire when Tom Cruise is driving away from his job, singing Tom Petty’s “Free-falling” (“I’m freeeeee….free-falling…”). It’s a perfect metaphor. So free, before the fall.

It sucks being a team player, but just try making a living if you’re not. I’ve spent a good part of my life in sales, where the world is defined by Dale Carnegie (“How to Win Friends and Influence People”) and a thousand Carnegie off-shoots. Most of the popular business and management books include chapters on “Teamwork,” or “Corporate Unity,” or “Synergy.” Somewhere along the way some smart-ass came up with the phrase, “There is no ‘I’ in Team.”

I’m the square peg in the circular hole. I can talk the talk, but my heart won’t sign on.

For most of my life I’ve felt alone in my day jobs, wondering why I can’t seem to get with the program.

And then I became a published author. I met thousands of people just like me. They wore their “I’s” on their sleeves. Independence, individuality, integrity.

I feel comfortable in their company, as we all seem to come from a similar place. At the core we’re fragile individualists. It’s as though something in our past drove us to protect ourselves from the hypocrisy we observed. We learned early that we cannot trust what is written in books, and so we were drawn to write books of our own.  We understand the irony.  We don’t believe political ads or commercials or the narcissistic views of our employers.

We share the same struggle and plight. We balance our individuality with conformity. We join the Team while suppressing the “I.”

Hey, boss, there’s no “I” in Weekend, but it’s here just the same.

14 thoughts on “THERE IS NO “I” IN TEAM

  1. Sarah W

    I saw a cartoon a little while ago in which one stick figure says, "There's no 'I' in team," and another stick figure walks away saying, "No, but there's a 'me' in there."

    My problem with teams–and I'm on several at work–is that the support and effort often (if not always) only goes one way. It's neither motivating or synergistic to discover (or know going in) that the team as an entity actually does not think its individual members are essential, no matter what that clockwork image on the supervisor's framed wall poster might imply.

    Of course, that's the difference between a business team and a loose-knit tribe of like-minded people who band together for support, encouragement, and freely-offered assistance.

  2. Stephen Jay Schwartz

    Sarah – I wish I'd said that! Especially the part at the end, about the loose-knit tribe of like-minded people. Which, to me, is Murderati.

  3. Lisa Alber

    What I find interesting is that I long to have a team around me–an agent, an editor, and so on. The "I" in writer can be lonely at times and progress can be slow. I think that's part of the reason I haven't gotten into self-publishing yet–the idea of doing it all alone overwhelms me. I'd love to have a team! (But, as Alexandra say–of my own choosing.)

    I'm writing this comment from my office at work (thankfully I have an office, not a cubicle!), and I'll admit to be an okay team player if I'm mostly left alone (is that ironic?). Micromanage me and I'll bolt. And anyone around here who doesn't like my neon pink tights can go to hell. 🙂

  4. Stephen Jay Schwartz

    Alex – Good for you for making that happen. It has taken me a long time to pick my team – a good agent, my wonderful film manager, my accountant, my doctor, and my all-important car mechanic.

    Lisa – I'll take your neon pink tights and raise you a pair of purple Dittos. You can stalk my office anytime.

  5. lil Gluckstern

    What I love is how like minded individualists enjoy each other, and then scurry back to their cubicles of choice.

  6. Allison Davis

    My day job has a lot of autonomy, NOW. The road to get here was filled with land mines and pot holes and the criticism I had to bear pissed me off. (I remember being told, "You're just not like us." No shit.) NowI work with a team I love but I'm the leader and as long as I'm steering the boat, I'm fine with company. But I agree that writing always drew me in because I'm just not like the others, I like the individual that spills out on the page. That's not to say I don't take advice when I'm forging my own way — that's different I think. And I like a tribe…

    But we don't always get to go our own way, so I think that the path we take when we have the choice is important. We learn to live with (or surpress) the b.s. (sometimes). And celebrate the joy of "I" when we get it. What Steve Jobs said: Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life.

  7. David Corbett

    There is a "me" in team. It's just dismembered.

    I'm not sure all writers can claim the "integrity" label, and those who can't invariably point to their sales numbers as proof that they've discovered a bolder wisdom.

    Oh, and there's a big fat "one" at the heart of money.

  8. Stephen Jay Schwartz

    lil – I think my cubicle of choice is the beach with my wife and kids.

    Allison – You deserve getting that leadership role – you paid your dues. And that Steve Jobs quote stings a bit – too much truth in it.

    Davie – nice, your description of the dismembered "me." I think I'll steal it.

    Zoe – I remember that you have that t-shirt! I'm not sure if I saw it in person or on a photo of you in your blog. Now I get it!

  9. PD Martin

    Very late to the party…great post!

    I've worked in the corporate world in team jobs and if you're part of a good team it's great! But if there's someone who doesn't carry their weight…

    I'm surprised how many non-writers ask "Don't you get lonely writing?" I just don't. I love those quiet times. And as you stay, the community of authors is fantastic (when we do get out).

    And I love your comment, Alex – "…I'm a great team player – but only if I get to choose the team."

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