Thomas Tull: Following Intellectual Curiosity [The Knowledge Project Ep. #59]

Thomas Tull, founder of Tulco and former CEO of Legendary Entertainment shares valuable lessons on learning from our own mistakes, asking difficult questions, and protecting our intellectual curiosity.

Thomas Tull

Listen and Learn with The Knowledge Project on iTunes | Stitcher | Spotify | Android | Google Play

Today I welcome former film executive, Tulco founder and part-owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers, Thomas Tull.

Though Thomas prefers to remain behind the scenes, you’re definitely familiar with many of the projects he’s been behind as CEO and Chairman of Legendary Entertainment. The movies he’s produced have grossed over 13 billion dollars worldwide and include blockbusters like Inception, The Dark Knight Trilogy, The Hangover, and Straight Outta Compton.

Thomas deployed AI, machine learning, and data analytics to determine how funds would best be used to market his films in a way that was new and innovative. After selling Legendary Entertainment in 2016, Thomas founded Tulco, a holding company that is using similar technology to identify and support businesses with high growth potential.

In this discussion, we discuss the movie business, how to think differently in an environment that’s resistant to change, learning from our mistakes, and following our intellectual curiosity wherever it may lead us.

Here are a few highlights from our conversation:

Be as intellectually honest as you can be about not only your skill-sets, but what you enjoy, what motivates you, because if you’re constantly saying like, okay, this is the ideal profile of myself, or my projected self, versus no, this is actually the way I’m wired, this is what I enjoy, this is what motivates me, this is something that I’m really good at, you have to put yourself in a position to be successful. Otherwise, I think you’re going to end up frustrated and not as productive as you can be.

I have a supercomputer in my pocket and I can listen to any song I want, see any clip I want and I think, certainly, you’re seeing the attention span come down. Entertainment is coming in faster and faster increments and so that makes it much more challenging to get people’s attention.

I want to deliver a much more customized message to people and I want to be able to insert ourselves into the decision point electronically, both mobile and online. If it’s clear to me psychographically that you’re not interested in this movie, I don’t want to bother you. Conversely, if you’re someone who is persuadable and we could make interested…and so it had a pretty material impact on our business.

I think you just have to look at it and understand what were the things within your control where you made good or bad decisions.

There were times that were very hands-on throughout an entire project, certainly. Then you’re making a movie with Steven Spielberg or you’re making a movie with Chris Nolan, you just make sure you get their catering right. You have to know too when to just stay out and let amazing people do their job.

I’ve always felt like great culture will trump a great business plan every day of the week because you can have an amazing business plan and I guarantee that it will morph and change. You’re going to have to make sometimes big changes. But if you have a culture that people are excited about working there and you have the right mindset, then making those changes in that journey is going to be a lot easier.

That’s the other thing that I think either kicks in or doesn’t kick in. What got you here may not be enough.

I’ve always been a pretty voracious reader across a lot of topics. I just am so fascinated by the way the world works—that’s just involuntary. It’s not even something that I set out to do, it’s just the way I’m wired.

Unless somebody has invented something I’m not aware of, the one thing that we can’t make any more of is time, so I try to be as thoughtful as I can about how I spend my time and trying to do everything I can do at this point.

Listen and Learn


Would you like your own hand-edited transcript of this and every other Knowledge Project episode?

If so, consider becoming a Knowledge Project Premium Member. You’ll get exclusive benefits like podcast transcripts to highlight and revisit your favorite insights, behind the scenes commentary, and member-only AMAs with host Shane Parrish.

Your support also allows us to continue to produce high quality shows in the future. Learn more about it here.