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Lucy is an award winning British playwright and is the Executive Producer, and writer for the TV show Succession. She is known for her compelling story telling that often explores themes of power, corruption, and the dark side of human nature.

In part one of this episode we are going to learn about Lucy the writer, the storyteller and the world creator.

You’ll hear Lucy applying her techniques for world creation to the company cultures we all experience every day and we'll explore the “note behind the note” - a brilliant mechanism Lucy uses to analyze feedback from above to help her get to the heart of what the right next step to take is.

Lucy helps us to remember that stories are not just entertainment. They can also be powerful tools for understanding ourselves and the world around us. They can help us to see things from different perspectives, challenge our assumptions and help us to feel connected to others. Ultimately, the best stories help us to find meaning in our lives.

Show Notes:

If you love our Pop Culture First episodes, be sure to check out this conversation between Damon, Priya Parker and Gary Ware about a very different workplace run by the legend himself, Ted Lasso.

Culture Amp is excited to announce that Culture First is back and our virtual event series is going global with three events across APAC, The Americas and EMEA.

At this year’s Culture First, today’s guest Lucy Prebble, will be doing an exclusive sit-down with Culture Amp CEO Didier Elzinga. As a thank-you for listening to the Culture First podcast, we’d love to give you access to this brilliant bonus session.

Head to to register for what is sure to be jam-packed conversation between Didier and Lucy.

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Episode transcript

Lucy Prebble

I'd spent most of my career writing on my own and that was a combination sometimes of theatre and sometimes of television. Getting up every day and doing that thing where you drag yourself to the computer. Surprisingly (who knew?), I felt quite lonely and depressed for a lot of that time. So I chose to go on to Succession. And I felt at the time maybe that's a foolish choice because I'll be a small fish in a bigger pond. I won't be making necessarily my own stuff. I couldn't have been further from the truth about how it actually was. It was life-saving in its sense of structure daily, just being somewhere every day. Also being around other human beings, which we're designed to do, and you become much less inward focused.

Damon Klotz

This episode was so good, that we turned it into two parts. Not only that, there’s also the chance to get some bonus content from this episode. But you’ll hear more about that later.

My guest today is Lucy Prebble.

Lucy is an award winning British playwright and is the executive producer, and writer for the TV show Succession. She is known for her darkly funny and often provocative work, which explores themes of power, corruption, and the dark side of human nature.

In part one of this episode we are going to learn about Lucy the writer, the storyteller and the world creator. Communication is at the core of everything we do at work. From in person conversations, to writing an email, presenting at a company meeting or in the art of giving and receiving feedback. And if we have the skills to communicate through storytelling, it’s proven that our messages cut through and are remembered

You’ll hear Lucy share her insights and tips on how to be a compelling teller of stories and the ways in which we can apply her techniques for world creation in the context of company culture. We also explore the idea of the “note behind the note” which is a brilliant mechanism Lucy uses to analyse the feedback she’s given from a director that helps her get to the heart of what the right next step to take is. A skillset that I think can help us take action on feedback and become more effective in our roles.

Alright, let’s get started and head over to part one of this two part series with Lucy Prebble.


So today on the Culture First podcast, I'm joined by British playwright and executive producer and writer from the TV show, Succession, Lucy Prebble. Lucy, thank you so much for joining me.


Hi, Damon, it's a pleasure to be here.


So we do have an opening tradition on the Culture First podcast where we ask people to describe their work in a way that is accessible for an audience of a very particular age, which is a curious 10 year old. So if a curious 10 year old walks up to you on the streets of maybe London or Los Angeles, and they say, excuse me, Lucy, what do you do for work? How would you answer?


I write stories would be what I would say. Keeping it really super simple. I write stories, that's what I do. It involves loads more than that, particularly the way I do it, which is, it's not just to write something down and then hand it in, which is how a lot of writers work. I tend to be there for the whole creation of a project through to the end, hence sort of, the title like executive producer because I'm also basically producing and making the thing exist but what I would say to a 10 year old and what I think is the heart of what I do is I write stories.


I know for I guess a lot of children writing and reading stories is such a core part of you know our early memories and our early childhoods and you know I was actually just recently spending some time with my goddaughter and her sisters and stories are everything. Was there a moment in time where you really remembered that you know you want to actually become a writer? Was it something that was so core to you as a you know young child or was it something that sort of developed over a longer period of time?


I never consciously thought I want to become a writer. You know, it's more that I always wrote, which I suppose is a bit different. I didn't know that it was a job or a profession when I was growing up. And it was much more something I did by myself, probably to express things and live in a slightly different world for a while.

So I think there were emotional, psychological reasons that I did it. And it's more that as I became an adult, I realized that there was potential for those emotional and psychological crutches to become profitable, which is different. And it's something that I talk to a lot of artists about, which is the difference between doing something for quite personal and sometimes quite emotional reasons, and then making that your job. And that's a big transition and has quite a lot of impact on you for better and worse. So I think that's quite an interesting thing. But yeah, I love it. And once I realized that I could make a living out of it, that is what I wanted to do. But first and foremost, it was like a process, like a thing that I did privately, crucially. Like it was all very shoeboxes under the bed full of stories and bad poetry, stuff like that.

Damon I think it's one of those things that people as we sort of talk about on the Culture First podcast, we talk about how much meaning should we create from work? Should the work be something where it's all about connection to something that we feel really passionate about? And for other people, it really is just a place where they want to feel really safe and a place to go work in order to create a living so that they can go support other people. And I think in the creative space that I got that balance between loving something and also turning it into a career is a conversation that probably happens a lot earlier on for people.


Yeah, and turning that coin over, you know, that idea of how much meaning should you get from your work? There's another side to that, which is, do you want your meaning to become your work? Because one thing I often say when I'm teaching students is, you can still write if it's not making you money, you know, and if it's not your profession, because there's something to be said for having things that… that you keep precious and outside of the world of work as well. And some people do want to keep writing and be an artist, but actually not have it be their job. And that's really valid and important. And it's something that not a lot of people always consider. There's this assumption that, oh, if you paint, how can you make money out of it? If you write, how can you make money? How can you make it your full-time job? And actually for some people having a structured, secure job that provides a different role in their life, as you say, is actually a better way of living than that they can still create art outside of it.


When it comes to, I guess all the subjects that you've written about, you've written TV shows about, you know, professional escorts and former child stars navigating scandals and fame. You've created plays about the clinical trial of antidepressants and the true stories and the collapse of a major energy company, embroiled in fraudulent activity, as well as the assassination of a Russian defector. How do you pick subjects and what drew you to, I guess, some of these topics?


Yeah, it's hard for me to quantify exactly what draws me to each of the things. I just know I have a reaction, often quite an intense emotional response. One feeling that I often have is a feeling of excitement or mischief. So sometimes I'll read about something and it's very, very few and far between. You know, I don't work in the way that some of my colleagues do, which is just constantly and on 10 different projects at a time.

I tend to do one or two projects at a time and I tend to be very fussy about what I do, which has not gone affects, like I earn less money than some of my colleagues. But for me, it's a way of working I've found that's by far the most comfortable for me and gives me the most contentment. So I tend to work on one or two projects at a time and when I find that area, I have this feeling of like, oh, I… something about that feels unexplored to me. And I get this kind of feeling of mischief and of excitement. And then I go into quite a heavy research period. So all of those things that you mentioned require quite a lot of research because they're quite big, different subjects. So I'll then go into a different phase, which is the research phase. And the more I read about something normally, the more excited I get. Occasionally I'll look into something and research a subject and it'll peter out a bit for me, and then I'll let go of it. But that doesn't happen that often. Often the more you know about something, the more interesting it becomes.


So I'd love to maybe double click on one of those subjects, which I think in a company culture sort of, you know, lens is a company that gets talked about a lot, which is Enron and you created an award winning play about it. And obviously when people talk about Enron, they talk a lot about sort of, I guess, what went wrong and sort of the negative aspects of the company and the culture and all of the ways that the behavior of the employees ended up sort of really becoming this much bigger story than what the company probably ever could envisage when it was first created.




Uh, what was it about that story that you said we can turn this into something that can be delivered in such a different way of actually telling this story?


Yeah, well, so this play I wrote about Enron was basically an extremely vivid, colorful musical in some ways, very jazz hands with a lot of, yeah, like physical theatre on stage. What it wasn't was 10 people in suits talking about numbers, I guess. And what inspired me to that was, when I started reading about Enron, the first thing that inspired me was it had such a shape. I remember when I was at university was when the trial itself was happening and you had the CFO Andy Fastow testifying against Jeffrey Skilling, the former CEO. So you had the CFO testifying against the CEO and they had been formally incredibly close and the CFO Andy Fastow had worshipped Skilling and so they'd had this very tight odd relationship of master and servant.

And basically, then he had turned against him, which I found so tragic and interesting. So that was the first thing that attracted me to telling the story of Enron. But there was this formal thing that was very interesting to me, which was Enron was a corporate culture that was obsessed with creating this environment of adrenaline and excitement and even somewhat glamor, you know, they hired Cirque du Soleil, you know, this very famous physical theater international troupe to perform at all of their corporate parties. So you'd walk into an Enron party and there'd be gymnastics and fireworks, literally going on. And one thing that I've experienced a lot in terms of looking at corporate cultures is that often the more boring essentially the work is or dry perhaps might be a better way of looking at it, the more the corporate culture needs to inhabit a kind of color and glamor and vividness and even occasionally cult-like qualities of you should be working here, this is exactly where you have to work, it's the best place in the world, you know. And you find that in a lot of consulting firms, accounting firms, things like that. And funnily enough, if you were to come on to set on like a, you know, film or a show business industry thing, you'd find it the least glamorous place in the world. I mean, it's so like trailers, what you asked to put up with in terms of like toilet facilities when you're shooting. It's so unglamorous. It's basically people waiting in caravans to be called with rollers in their hair. It's the opposite. So I've often found that an industry culture is sort of the opposite of the nature of the work that it's being asked to do. So when I was discovering that about Enron, I thought it'd be really interesting to do a show which formerly had the same, tone and the same excitement as the corporate culture that they tried to engender, which was very hyper-masculine, very adrenalised and very almost culty and glitzy. So that's how the show was born because normally it's not conveyed like that. Normally business before then was always represented in quite a dull gray way.


You brought up something that I actually, I think about all the time, which is, I guess, the role of a culture first company in a way that when can it sometimes be weaponized, which in, I think in that case of Enron, but also when you were sharing about the more boring the company, sometimes the more they rely on creating these sort of false worlds of interest and intrigue in order to get employees to feel something. And I, um, it really made me think about WeWork and you know, like that was just office space and co-working spaces. But if you look at both the, you know, the story from a factual perspective as well as I guess the Hollywood version of it, they really kind of painted it like they were changing the world. And I think that's one of the ways that we really have to be careful with company culture when people can be, especially with very, I guess, passionate and like


Ah, yeah.


cult-like leaders who come in and can convince people to go do this work in a way that it starts to question their own morals, values and behaviors because of the way that the culture can be weaponized.


Absolutely, and you see that a lot. WeWork's a great example. Obviously Enron's a classic example of that where you really did have the Emperor wearing no clothes at the end, which and using that cult-like structure and power which is, but you believe in Enron, right? You believe in Enron, you know, you're and the idea that a whistleblower would be, you know, betraying the idea of Enron was a big part of how they kept control of it. And yeah, you've got to be careful. You know, what's, what's difficult is you do want to stimulate and inspire employees by helping them understand and believe that they're doing something important. Of course, that's part of a corporate culture. But as you say, that can really tip into something troubling and possibly even illegal, especially when you combine it with, as you say, a sort of cult-like figurehead or somebody whose personality seeps into the company culture and if part of their personality is that they don't really care about dishonesty and you know that and actually loyalty is the most important thing to them in the world I always find those a troubling combination when you see that at the top of any company somebody who's not really concerned about truth and somebody whose highest sort of accolade that they give to someone's a loyal it's normally a red flag it's a little bit mafia


I, we might have to put a bit of a trigger warning for anyone listening right now, who after listening to that going, I think I might be working for a leader like that, but, um, we've got Lucy Prebble's red flags for what to look out for in your company culture and your leader. But I think, you know, I think that's why we do look to stories to both give us inspiration about what's possible, but also to remind us about how some of these things can play out in a way that we know that you could never imagine a company having so much power over something like that. But when you start to really think about the ways that it can be created in order to do negative things in the world or to manipulate people, then we certainly see that both from a geopolitical perspective as well as the role of companies. But, I want to take this segue into what I guess a little bit more of a positive light which is creating a world. And I sort of, I think like you said, you know, Enron created this, this world of glamorous things and that it was something different than maybe what the product is. And I think your role as a storyteller and as a writer and as a playwright is, you know, we've even come across in some research for this that you said, you know, for whatever dark reason, I want to build a world and control the world and tell people how to feel within that world. So as a, as a writer, as someone who does have to create a world sometimes from scratch or from using some level of context that you have. How do you create a world and do you see any, I guess, learnings from that for people who are trying to create a team and a culture?


Oh, many learnings from it, yeah. I mean, I'm interested, yeah, I don't know why I'm so interested in world creation particularly. I think I was very into books and video games as a kid and they're both particular art forms that really take you into different worlds and I've always been very inspired by that. But yeah, I think the way...Well, there's two ways of doing it. So what I do is I'm a writer who does that on the page, but I'm also a show runner who does that in the real world in order to create atmospheres and groups of people and companies who make a play or who make a television show. So there's two different things that play there. When I try and make a world when I'm writing,

It's based a lot on trying to create feelings and atmosphere within myself that I can then put on the page. Ways in which I do that are to read lots of things and watch lots of things that are in the area that I'm interested in, but also to play a lot of music and create environments that help me get into a certain kind of feeling, so that then when I'm writing I can stay within that feeling and build that world. So it's a task of immersion really, which is harder and harder these days, obviously, as we're more and more distractible. And it's sometimes difficult to create that quite pure environment with all the other demands that life has on you. And I'm not sure everyone can relate to that. But the other way in which it's done is by running a show and employing a group of people and, you know, reading. So for example, in my case, that would start off by possibly being other writers who I want to work with. And that would be reading a lot of their stuff, meeting them in person, and finding that balance between people whose work is right, but who also personally you chime with and get on with. And then after that, what you're doing is you're casting. So you're then widening the net further and employing actors to live in those parts. And again,


That's an art form that you learn a lot about, which is…Firstly, it's that they suit the fictional part. So it's a little bit like employing any employee, as in can they do the job that they're being hired to do? But also, are they a good fit for the other people? And I think thinking about that is really important for casting. I used to cast just thinking that person's right, that person's right, that person's right. But then when you put them together, something doesn't quite work. So what you call chemistry reads are kind of sometimes important, which is when you get actors to read with each other and you see what's happening between them, and then you can cast around that as well. So those are all kind of the practical ways to start building a world, but there's a whole journey after that of actually making it and editing it and all of that.


Yeah, I was really, um, what really caught my attention there was in the same way that like, you know, that, that transition from the creation and the word into what actually happens. And you said like those chemistry reads, I think in a lot of companies, they're trying to understand how to make that same leap from strategy and like things that you put down on paper going like, here's where we want to go. Here's what we want to do. And then you go, does it like inspire enough within someone and do we have the right people in the right teams in order to just go from words in order to creation and you know I'm not sure if there are you know chemistry tests that people are doing inside of companies but it is a really like interesting way to sort of really think about like do we have the right people in place right now in order to kind of make that transition from paper you know to actual behaviors in the same way that you do from story into actual acting.


Mm-hmm. Yeah, and sometimes that's complicated in my business because there's a lot about being in the arts or being in show business as it were that can often attract quite extreme personalities. So you're also trading off. And that's true of quite a lot of industries, but you're sometimes trading off like, this person's brilliant, but they're quite unpredictable or they're, yeah, they're a very strong flavor in a room.

And sometimes, you know, what you wanna do is then offset that with other choices that you make where you're going, well, we need somebody who's really, really good at being more consistent and doing that, you know, so that you're building a team thinking about the pros and cons of everyone you've got involved, rather than, as I say, just sort of randomly going, this person's great for that, this person's great for that, and then hoping it'll all work together as a group.


I know you mentioned at the start of the conversation about, you know, something about Enron having like sort of that, I guess that framework around what a great story could look like. And I know we'll touch a little bit more on the show Succession and sort of the way that's kind of been characterized. There are storytelling frameworks that I think people have tried to lift from the world of writing, you know, things like the hero's journey and things like that, in order to tell better corporate stories. Are there?

Are there any frameworks or are there any kind of like, you know, five steps that you really think about when it comes to creating a world?


Yeah, creating a world, I mean, interestingly, my work is much more about story than it is about creating a world. I have some rules around creating a world. They're things, you know, creating a good work place. They're things like… no assholes. Sorry to say that but like it's a good rule to be like there is a line yeah, which is like and a lot of and some people in the arts, you know, do often say that out loud which is like it's just not worth it. It's not worth the disruption it will cause to this group of people and to this world. So even if that person is whatever, you know, extremely talented, great box office da da. I think having a no assholes rule really makes it feel safe and you tend to do better work that way. So that's one of them. And something else that when creating a world I've changed for me is I experience myself as somebody whose job it is to deliver a really, really good story or a good product to the people I'm employed by who don't know how to do that and that my job is to do that for them. Now that's a very different mindset from how I started out, which was a much more sort of employee focused mindset. So I would start off with this idea of myself as someone who was being hired to do a job, that they knew exactly what the job was. And my role was to kind of guess what they wanted and try and get it right. And I think sometimes when you come out of an education system, because you're so trained that way like what's the exam question let me try and get it right and get a good score for you my employer in this case in my case let's think about networks and channels and things like that and so for a long time I tried that and it didn't always work very well um I often did work that wasn't very good even though I thought I was giving them what they wanted it was it was confusing it wasn't until I started working on Succession that I really understood something fundamentally different, which is that my job isn't to do what the employer says they want as well as possible. It's to listen to what they're asking me to provide and then go and do that and give it to them. But they don't know crucially how to make the thing that they want. I do, or I have some history in that and some expertise in that.

And I saw on Succession, particularly with my boss, Jesse Armstrong, who actually show runs that show, even though I, you know, executive produce with him, is there were occasions where we'd have meetings with extremely powerful network like HBO, who were saying, listen, we, we don't want to do this, or we can't afford to do that. And if you're a reasonable person, of course, you, you balance those factors. You're not just sat there going, I don't care. You're going, right, okay, that's interesting. But


there were occasions where he would say to them, no if what you want is a big prestige-y corporate show about media, we have to have that scene where for example there's two helicopters flying in that scene and they're saying well can we cut the scene or can we just have one helicopter and now we don't care innately about helicopters, like it's not like but the helicopter is the art, it's that what he was saying to them was I know what you want as a show and if we keep making decisions like this in this area, you're not gonna get the show that you claim to want. And so trust me that I'll take the information that we need to save money on this episode, for example, and we'll find a way to do that doesn't change the nature of the show you're making. Because actually by attrition over time, if we keep doing these things, like not having a helicopter scene or only having one helicopter in it over time that's just going to change what the show feels like and then you're going to get a show and not be quite satisfied with it because it looks a bit cheap but you won't really know why. And it was really fascinating for me because it changed my perspective on what my role was which I had always thought was to sort of please the employer or the payer or the boss. And actually what I realized is you please the the employer or the client or the boss, by giving them what they want. And sometimes that means weirdly standing up to them and saying, trust me, I know what you want and that won't help do it. And that's quite, you know, that's quite challenging, particularly when you're younger and less experienced. But I would say that that's a new rule that I have for myself is, it's actually your job to do the job. It's not your job to check with them what they want for the job and then try and do that. And that was a big shift for me. So that's another rule that I have in place now.


reminded me a lot of some career advice that I got really early on in my career, which was every time you are delivered a task, also understand, I guess, the domino effect of who else is going to potentially be thinking about this and who above the person who's asked you will ask a question about it. So like, you know, an example is if your manager comes to you and says, this is the task, understand maybe why they're asking you about that. And what is the other thing that they're thinking about that someone's asked them about that this is going to help deliver. So it helps you get out of just going, someone's asking me to collect this to get it to there and going in order for this to get to there, it's because what we're trying to achieve is something else over here. And I think the earlier on in your career, you can understand, I guess, the ripple effect of all the little things that are taking place in order to achieve a larger goal. It helps you, I guess, separate the task from actually the how and the why of what an organization or a team or a TV show is trying to create. And yeah, like you said, standing up for yourself can feel really hard depending on where you are in your career, but actually going, no, in order for us to achieve this, like this is actually what you're asking. You might not be saying it directly, but this is, it sounds like this is what you actually want to see as the final product.


Absolutely, and sometimes it's useful to not even think of it as standing up for yourself, but standing up for the show, in my example. So you're able to point at it and go, the show that we all agree we want needs this. And you can trust me on that because this is my area of expertise, which is why you've hired me. And that can take a long time to build that level of confidence to be able to say that, of course. But at a certain point in your career, you can say that. And another way, I suppose, of putting what you just described, in my terms is we're often talking as writers about what's the note behind the note. So when an executive or a producer or a manager comes to you and will often note the episode, let's say it's in script form at this stage and they'll go, you know, this bit we're not sure about and this bit doesn't work, part of your job, frustrating as it is, is to work out the note behind the note.

So for example, if someone says, I feel like the building should explode right at the beginning of the episode, rather than in the middle of the episode, often you're thinking, okay, what that means is that they're bored at the beginning of the episode, right? It doesn't necessarily mean that you should move the explosion to the beginning of the episode. So every time you get a no, unless the executive is so good, and I'm afraid they just aren't.

Otherwise they'd be writers, do you know what I mean? Like, so they're doing their job really well, which involves loads of things, including noting your script. But solving, you know, their job is to point out the problem and it's my job to then solve it. So saying they're bored at the beginning of the script doesn't mean what you have to do is what they tell you, which is move the explosion to the beginning of the script. Because then suddenly you're looking at a script, you're like, well, hang on, now what happens in the middle? Like, I've got nothing for the middle of this episode.

So you do, you know, you then spend two weeks doing that, hand it back to them, and then you get the note back two weeks later saying, oh, the middle's a bit weak. And you're like, yeah, I know, because I moved the explosion. Like, and then, and that can just carry on for, you know, forever. Whereas actually, if you listen to the note behind the note, it's how do we make the beginning more energetic or faster? And that's what they've sort of been told. And there's also other much subtler notes behind notes as well, which is, sometimes you're working for an organization which you're not in control of how it operates and it may be overstaffed. There's occasions where you work and you go into a room and there's two writers and 12 executives and you sit there and you have the meeting and you come out thinking, wow, that was a very busy meeting of people. And then you get all these notes. And sometimes the note behind the note is, I have to justify my job here and you're like, okay, so you have interesting thoughts, but there's quite a lot of them, and there's too many for the script to take on. And so sometimes your level of experience is to go, this person is good at what they do, but there's just, you know, we don't have to listen to their voice right now because we have so many other voices. And my job at that moment is to understand that their role is to be proactive, but it's not necessarily my role to try and do all of the, let's say, 25 notes, some of which are competing with each other. And again, it takes a very long time to get to that place where you feel confident ignoring some notes and doing others, but that's from having spent years and years trying to do 25 notes, handing back the script and everyone going, well, this doesn't make any sense. And you're like, yeah, I know, you know? So taking responsibility for that, understanding that the note behind the note on that occasion is this person needs to say something or else people are gonna ask why they're in the room, but not letting that affect your process. Again, it's subtle, but it's something that you sort of learn over time.


I know you were just describing, you know, how a show works, but I'm sure so many people have been in those rooms where it's like, they're just saying something because they feel like they need to based on their level and their position. And yeah, that happens in, in companies all the time. But the note behind the note. Yeah, no, I think.




Yeah, and I don't judge that. I've been that person.


We all have, especially if a meeting is ill-defined and there's no clear purpose, which is going back to my episode of Priya Parker. There's even more reason for people to start talking because they don't necessarily know why they're there and they feel like they have to justify their position.


So I love the note behind the note. I think that will definitely be a key takeaway for people. You mentioned, I guess, some of your experience on the show Succession and I would love to really do a deep dive into some of the things that we learned from that. And I just, I thought maybe to start is I'll just tell you my first memory of actually watching the show. So it was 2018, I was living in the United States and I actually picked it as one of the like HBO is one of the stations you can watch on American Airlines. And I was flying back from New York to San Francisco. And I just put on this show. I'm like, the title kind of sounded interesting. And I think the first few episodes didn't even have like names. That was it was just like Succession episode one and like episode two. So I was like, I really wasn't going off a lot. And I watched it and straight away I was just I was hooked and I'm like, these characters are so vivid and I'm feeling things like positive and negative for some of these people. I'm like, I love that person, then I hate that person. And I'm just was so hooked straight away. And I didn't know how big the show was going to go on to really be. And I didn't know I was going to have a chance to speak to you about, you know, about the show. So maybe we can just start with, I guess, your first memory of getting the call in order to become a writer. And I know that you've been a producer and I know that you've mentioned that this was a really big step, I guess away from something that you knew, which was creating your own worlds, creating your own stories and really being in control and joining a room of others. So can you tell about, I guess, accepting that offer and what it meant for you?


Yeah, sure. I'd spent most of my career writing on my own and that was a combination sometimes of theatre and sometimes of television. And what that involved was being self-employed, getting up every day and doing that thing where you drag yourself to the computer, you say to yourself, okay, you know, I'm going to do this many hours today or whatever system you have in place. Mine has evolved actually, but at that stage I was trying to do a certain number of hours a day. And then, you know, sometimes failing to do that or doing work that I didn't necessarily feel that pleased with and then, you know, going to bed. That was a lot of how my day looked and my life looked.

Surprisingly, who knew, I felt quite lonely and depressed for a lot of that time. And now that's not to say that it wasn't interesting, and also I had some success with that, so you know, it's possible to do. But what I really hoped for was that I would keep doing my own television shows, you know, and I thought, oh, I would hope that I would get to keep show running and then work dried up a little bit, or I was struggling to find work that I wanted to do in writing. And I got offered a couple of things. I was fortunate enough at the same time, probably because I've done this play about Enron, I got offered whether I wanted to look at this show called Succession. The pilot had already been written by Jesse Armstrong, who I knew because he'd done Peep Show, and I'm a big fan of his work.

But the idea was to go into a room and be one of many other writers presumably who would be in this room under Jessie and who would try and come up with the rest of the show. And then I was also at the same time offered another gig which was, Channel 4 at the time were doing Philip K. Dick adaptations. I was a big fan of Philip K. Dick and they were like, do you want to write a one-off drama of one of his books? Like we're having different authors do different books. So that would have been to be in charge of my own thing.


And so I was very fortunate to get two offers and I desperately needed money and I needed work and I didn't know which to choose. And my ex at the time who I was with gave me a really brilliant piece of advice. He said, I know that the Philip K. Dick one seems like the right choice because it's an author you really admire, you'd be in charge of it, you'd be making the whole thing. But he said, watching you and knowing you, the thing that you talk the most about struggling with is how solitary life of being a writer is and how much you find every day to be quite a challenge when it comes to that lack of structure, feeling like you failed by the end of the day because you haven't worked, haven't produced the amount that you wanted to produce. And so it was actually a really good piece of advice from somebody who was observing me carefully. He said, think about what it might be like to be around other people every day, even just for a while, you don't have to do it forever.

So I chose to go on to Succession. And I felt at the time like, oh, I guess maybe that's a foolish choice because I'll be sort of, you know, a small fish in a bigger pond. You know, I won't be making necessarily my own stuff. I couldn't have been further from the truth about how it actually was. It was life-saving in its sense of structure daily, just being somewhere every day.

Also being around other human beings, which we're designed to do, and you become much less inward focused and depressed. But also the show really, like I was able to create a lot for it and work very closely with Jessie and really have a lot of creative input into every element of the show, from the scripts that were written, to the casting, to the locations, to the shooting, to the editing.

And it feels very much like part of my body of work, even though it's his show. And I, so, you know, of course that could have gone a different way, but what's funny about it is, and I think interesting is it took someone who knew me very well to actually see from the outside what I needed. And I kept saying, I was very vocal about how, you know, frustrating I was finding my work process and the structure of my days, but actually hearing someone say back to me but you talk about being unhappy about doing this, so why not change it? As simple as that made me go, oh, suppose I do talk about being unhappy with it a lot. And so I made that choice, which turned out to be absolutely the right one.


Well, I guess we have a lot to thank that ex for, for giving that advice at that, at that time, because sometimes like you said, it's, you know, whether it's a partner, a coach or a therapist, sometimes we need separation from ourself and our work in order to truly understand, you know, what do we need at any moment in time? And it kind of sounded like you were experiencing remote work before many of us experienced remote work, which was this, you know, period of isolation and of deep solid, you know, like being away from others in order to be safe. But I think so many workers, you know, who probably never would have thought that had anything in common with a, you know, a playwright like yourself, but it's like that feeling of connection is what, like you said, it's a very human need.


Absolutely, and yeah, you're right. It's funny when the pandemic first happened, there was a very gallows humor joke that went around professional writers of like, well now everybody's gonna see what this is like, because like honestly, my life changed not a jot, like in that period for the most part, like what I was doing most days, other than the mask wearing, was pretty much the same as what I've been doing every day before that. And I think just by the by, it's often worth thinking about what when you take a job or when you embark on a career, thinking about what that actually looks like day to day and whether that suits your personality is a really important thing to do because you might love writing like I did, but actually the life of a solitary writer is not one that would suit you very well. And so how do you then make a compromise or make a structured plan in order to solve those problems? But yeah, remote work is very familiar to me and has been for years.


You mentioned having a chance to work very closely with Jesse Armstrong, the creator of Succession and the role of mentors and being able to learn from someone is obviously critical at every stage of our career, no matter where you are inside of an organization, it's always important to have people around us that we can both be inspired by as well as learn from. So how would you describe Jesse as a leader?


Yeah, he's a brilliant leader and boss. He's not, he doesn't manifest the very cliched obvious traits that you associate with a sort of powerful leader. It was interesting to me for the first couple of years on Succession. I could really feel HBO's suspicion as to when this guy was going to explode or crack because there's always been a tradition of a particular sort of American showrunner who is normally a middle-aged white male who is extremely talented and considered to be something of a genius, but they're also sometimes toxic, but sometimes just emotionally big things that happen as a result of trying to create the work. And that's not uncommon generally.

But I could really feel HBO waiting for the moment where Jesse was going to, you know, explode with anger or have a moment or there was gonna be something. And it just never happened. He's a very, very gentle, placid, reasonable guy who's got a really, really lovely disposition. And I think there are some areas in my work, particularly in my industry, I mean, where we've sort of forgiven some quite bad behavior or even just sort of not ideal behavior because there's this idea of, well, they're a genius. And actually, when you work for people who are that talented and that brilliant who don't behave like that, that's the key to when you see, oh, it's possible. It's not just possible, but it's really what you should demand in workplace. So he's very, very supportive.

He's not volatile and he's not... There's very little kind of aggression. He's very gentle. But basically when you have somebody like that at the top, it's really hard for anybody underneath them to behave in a irresponsible or difficult way because it all filters down from the top.

And so people who might be inclined to be a little bit, a little bit more, I don't know, conflict-y or anything, find themselves unable to do that because if the boss who's got the most pressure on them isn't behaving like that, then you look like a fool if you do. So, you know, it sets a really great example for everybody. So yeah, I would describe him as funny, a little anxious, extremely fair and kind and fun, but also deeply serious about the work. He's also innately incredibly collaborative. So I think that's another thing is that there's sort of Jesse, then there's a group of us around Jesse as writers who are lieutenanting as it were and helping create the work as well with him. And then there's sort of another group who are in the room coming up with ideas.

So there's also a sort of model of concentric circles, which works quite well as well about making work. So yeah, I can't fault him as a boss. He's absolutely fantastic.


A big thank you to Lucy Prebble for joining me on the podcast. Don’t go anywhere though, that’s only part one of a two part episode with Lucy.

Lucy’s experience as a storyteller, a showrunner, an executive producer and a writer left me feeling inspired and curious about all the ways we can learn from creative geniuses like Lucy to inspire us to think differently about how to approach our work.

At the end, we heard Lucy describe the impact that Succession Show Creator Jesse Armstrong’s leadership style had on not only her, but the culture of the writer’s room on the show Succession.

In part two, we will learn how a culture first writer’s room created one of the most captivating and horrifying examples of company culture in the form of Waystar Royco.

If you’re a big fan of the TV show Succession, then part 2 is going to be the behind-the-scenes stories that will help understand the characters and why they acted like they did.

I’ve been your host Damon Klotz and the Culture First Podcast is brought to you by the team here at Culture Amp, the world’s leading employee experience platform. Learn more about Culture Amp by heading to

We believe in creating a better world of work, If that’s important to you too, please subscribe and leave us a review to make sure you don’t miss an episode as we build a community together where we share stories to inspire us all to create a better world of work.

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