Emily Tan
Mar 27, 2014

Robert Redford and Richard Sherman managing risk, success and fame: Adobe Summit

SALT LAKE CITY - Attendance on day two of the Adobe Summit swelled to 7,000 in anticipation of keynote talks by film legend Robert Redford and American football player Richard Sherman.

Robert Redford and Richard Sherman managing risk, success and fame: Adobe Summit

While Redford spoke from a 60-year career in the film industry and Sherman, at 27, dwelled mostly on the most recent two months (during which he helped his team, the Seattle Seahawks, win the Super Bowl), both had insights on handling the heady rush of success, fame and attention that, in a sense, mirrors the experiences of major brands.

Humble, articulate and charismatic, Redford spoke from the heart about his journey from sportsman to artist to actor to director and producer and now to activist and the founder of non-profit organisation, the Sundance Institute.

“I have operated less by calculation than by instinct," Redford told Adobe CMO Anne Lewnes. "Sometimes, that will take you to a not so good place, but that gives you a chance to learn. Not taking a risk is a risk. I think that taking a risk is what pushes you forward.”

When Redford was struggling to establish the Sundance Institute more than 30 years ago, he lacked both support and funding and came close to failing a few times, he shared. “I see failure more positively than most would. I see it as a step along the road and not a stop point. If you use it right, it propels you along the road. I'd try something and if it didn't work, something in me felt so strongly—now, it could be ego—that it was a good idea that needed to be pushed and pursued until you either come to a complete stop, or get institutionalised, or find that failure was just a bump on the road.”

Just as Redford doesn't let failure overwhelm him, he's learnt not to let success take over his life either. “I've always seen success as something you shadowbox with but don't embrace," he said. "It's dangerous to embrace it too tightly. You say thank you, you bow in gratitude, but if you get too attached it can stop you. It has a dark side. People can get so consumed by their own success they can forget to move on.”

That smug contentment stemming from a perception of success that stops both men and corporations from innovating and evolving is something Redford adamantly avoids. In the early 1980s, he could already see how big a role technology would play in the film industry, so he leaned into it by approaching Adobe co-founder John Warnock to gain both his and the tech company's support for the Sundance Institute. Yet embracing technology and the change it brings should not come at the cost of replacing what truly matters—the art—he added.

“I may have used the word 'infected' in the past to describe technology in film... that's a little extreme, Maybe the word I'm looking for is 'infiltrated'? I could see that tech would create special effects that wouldn't exist before and it would have an impact on the youth culture on film. Films today use special effects to excite the audience with spectacular imagery... which is great. But I didn't want to see it at the cost of the more humanistic side of cinema.”

Being human and being genuine, even if it offends some people, is Richard Sherman's strategy for not only weathering but riding the social-media storm he ignited when he clashed with opponent Michael Crabtree and immediately boasted about it in an amped-up post-game interview. With a degree in marketing from Stanford, Sherman had some inkling of the storm he was igniting and his statements to the press were, he claims, pre-planned. But, he said, his passions were running high in the moment and he may have come off more angry than he planned.

Acknowledging that the price of standing out is to inspire both like and dislike, Sherman has no intention of backing down. “Take the criticism and the spite, but also enjoy the acclaim and celebration on social media, if that's what sells my field I'll be honest and genuine out there.”

When brands and celebrities try to please everyone they often sound inhuman and dull. “People love the Muhammad Alis of the world," he said. "Too many athletes give the cookie-cutter response: 'Great game, great opponent, great respect'. It's not always like that. You have to tell it as it is. Sometimes... it's 'I hate that dude',” said Sherman to general applause. “Football is about conflict. After a game sometimes you just don't want to shake hands with a guy after what he did to you.”

Following the incident, Sherman's Twitter following swelled from 200,000 to 900,000 today, and he's attracting the notice of major sports brands—which was, he said, his ultimate goal all along. His more recent Twitter wars have kept him at the top of social media and sports media buzz, and he went from a relative unknown to an international star.

Sherman does have a few guidelines though. “I wouldn't say anything I couldn't back up with evidence," he said. "You can't argue with facts." But regardless of which way the social-media storm blows, he believes it's crucial to stick to your guns. “Be consistent," he concluded, in words oddly similar to Redford's despite the vast differences between the two men. "Don't let a few bumps and hiccups scare you away. Not everything's going to be sunshine and roses.”


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