As we sit illuminated by flat-screens, covered in Doritos dust, it’s easy to imagine the day we fuse with our couches while binge-watching all the terrific new TV shows..
Why are there suddenly so many riveting shows?
- AMC’s Breaking Bad and Mad Men
- Netflix’s House of Cards
- SyFy’s Battlestar Galactica
- HBO’s Game of Thrones, Girls, Curb Your Enthusiasm, The Wire, and True Detective
Our TV renaissance can be partially explained by more competition among networks, more devices and platforms to consume entertainment, more leisure time, cheaper technology and production costs.
But the main reason TV got so good is the emergence and empowerment of visionaries.
Every one of these shows has a visionary creator who has been liberated of Hollywood’s notorious meddling, focus groups, and politics. (For a brilliant satire of how traditional TV networks crush creativity – and souls, check out Matt LeBlanc’s show, Episodes. You can also read Brett Martin’s book, Difficult Men: Behind the Scenes of a Creative Revolution, detailing how these visionaries did it.)
The Corporate Conundrum
One place untouched by this trend is the large corporation. You’re likelier to find a mermaid in the elevator than an empowered visionary in the conference room.
To many executives, letting a visionary make radical changes to a company or product can feel both alien and threatening. They prefer steady shepherds to risky heretics.
But it’s the heretics who see the world differently. The good ones can tell what’s missing. The great ones know how to build it. No focus group is a substitute for those instincts. Given the opportunity, most will rise to the occasion.
Like old Hollywood, corporations punish visionaries with their own version of warmed-over Tim Allen sitcoms, spin-offs, and CSI:Costco.
- Cookie cutter promotion paths demand that everyone does the same type of job, regardless of their mix of skills. This buries creative people under PowerPoints, endless meetings, and TPS reports – crushing their will to keep trying.
- Months of internal negotiations, politicking, and creativity by committee turn visionary ideas into muddled, soulless compromises. Whatever launches barely resembles the original.
- Just imagine how much better Picasso could have been if he had a boss with a hefty mortgage and a budget for focus groups… Like TV executives cover their asses by having retirees and Hollywood tourists decide the fate of new shows, corporations expect customers to tell them what products to make. This insane notion is best depicted in a classic Seinfeld scene where the carpenter expects Jerry to make every little decision in remodeling his kitchen.
So who are your company’s visionaries?
Shhh… Listen. They’re the ones packing their bags – to start their own business, work for a startup, or write a hit musical.
Many have creative hobbies, blogs and passions outside of work. They ask for budget to try new things, but get frustrated by bureaucracy. They don’t always say the right thing or easily ‘fit in’.
Despite their quirks, many influence others, build strong networks, and attract followers who value their ideas.
A Safer Recipe
So how can you align a company’s desire for certainty with the visionary’s itch to disrupt? Here are some basic steps:
- Find them. Identify the visionaries and risk-takers.
- Empower and challenge visionaries to to make their vision real. More often than not, they’ll rise to the occasion.
- Start them with a modest budget and a team to help.
- Trust their instincts, not made-up metrics that mean nothing in the formative stages of any business.
- Make some of the traditional naysayers accountable for operationalizing the vision.
- Make it safe to fail and try again. Tie incentives to the effort, not necessarily the results. (Read more on how to incentivize innovators in my 9 Corporate Personality Types article from Forbes. Free log-in.)
So are you ready to shoot for the next Sopranos or does your focus group prefer Homeboys in Outer Space?
Photo by AMC – Breaking Bad