Robert Downey Jr.
First Look Pictures
Robert Downey Jr. plays director Dito Montiel in the film 'A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints'
By contributor
updated 10/23/2006 7:22:49 PM ET 2006-10-23T23:22:49

After seeing the new film “A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints,” which Dito Montiel directed and adapted for the screen from his book about growing up in a rough New York City neighborhood, you’re likely to come away with a strong sense of the chaos that prevailed in his young world.

Yes, there is real violence. But there also are a lot of people talking at, through and over the heads of each other, as the young Montiel (played by Shia LeBoeuf) grows into an adult (played by Robert Downey Jr.).

The film’s vibe well describes the “chaos filled with love — completely twisted and crazy; but it was love” — of his childhood. And Montiel, 36, concedes that making the movie — it won a director’s award for him and a best ensemble performance award for the cast at Sundance earlier this year — had a bit of the chaotic element as well.

“Chaos has always been a part of me,” he says. “I can really get fixated on things. Making this movie became a delusional obsession.”

Fortunately, his film editor understood Montiel’s vision.

“We spoke the same language,” says Montiel. “Anything you’re going to do, you have to find people who 'get' the way you work. When you work with someone else, you have to adapt. But if you’re running the situation, that’s a completely different thing. If you’re going to work 24 hours a day on an obsession, you need compatibility.”

Although he has embraced chaos all his life, he’s no fan of the word, which he calls negative, and no fan of what it connotes, which is “no objective, no point of view and no hard work.”

Nevertheless, many companies tend to have two pockets of personalities, seemingly at constant loggerheads with each other. On one side are the “creatives” — like Montiel and his editor — who tend to revel in the chaos of spitting out ideas, working at a clipped pace and using dialogue incomprehensible to anyone but themselves. On the other side are administrators and managers, who often tend to look on from the sidelines, feeling excluded from the private party.

Marc Gobé, a co-owner of the branding consultancy Desgrippes Gobé in New York, says that while creative input from certain team members is well recognized there might be a better way to open the process to more colleagues. One solution, which Gobé writes about in his forthcoming book “Brandjam,” says it’s critical to get everyone on board in a process of  “extreme participation to share ideas” by getting in touch with their emotions. “Information that’s shared can become more powerful,” says Gobé, adding that the Japanese are well-known for leveraging the creative process. “There is an inner designer in everyone,” he says.

Gobé says creating this type of participatory structure is not easy. “The word ‘provocative’ is not part of the corporate mantra,” he says. Companies generally have a dogmatic and systematic approach to problem management. That’s why, he suggests a once-a-week event during which “people interface with each other and create a stage” — even using actors to keep things moving — can improve collaboration.

As an example, Gobé imagines trying to come up with creating a new fragrance by articulating ideas surrounding what  the product might finally evoke.  “You want to bring a company to that level of excitement,” says Gobé. “You need to go to an extreme form of communication to transcend your reality.”

Despite the shot of innovation such events can bring, Gobé acknowledges that this type of intense activity works best in the short term. “You can’t run a company every day on that energy,” he says. “It will waste people.” 

But others believe the real waster — or at least depleter of energy — is the “us and them” stand-off that prevails in many businesses. Herb Greenberg, president and founder of Caliper, a human resources consultancy in Princeton, N.J., says many people fall into clearly defined classifications at work—either very chaotic or very organized — and simply have problems living in each other’s realms.

The co-author of "Succeed on Your Own Terms," Greenberg admits that he falls into the “chaotic” camp. The solution, he says, typically comes from within the more chaotic person, who “knows they need the administrator,” Greenberg says. “We know we need someone to clean up our mess.”

Montiel’s advice is you’d better hire well. If you don’t, the variance in styles, he says, “will kill you. It’ll kill someone. Someone’s going down.”

One thing that has stuck with Montiel is something he learned from director and writer Stephen Gyllenhaal (father of actors Maggie and Jake).

“I used to say that I like things to be free and crazy,” says Montiel. “Steve would say, ‘Yeah, that’s chaos, you like that, because you can hide inside it. If you really want to be able to go crazy and have the freedom, you need to have a plan. Freedom’s on the other side of discipline.’”

It’s worth noting that despite his unorthodox working style, Montiel didn’t bring his movie in on time. He brought it in early.

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