NBC’s Jay Leno and Conan debacle is a lesson in bad ideas winning

I’ve written a lot about the topic of “good” ideas gone bad, but was inspired to pen this post today by a tweet from Suzy Welch.

What is the best evidence of a bad idea? When the decision makers have to revert to a prior idea and shelve the new concept. That is exactly what happened on NBC. The Wall Street Journal reported that “NBC was abandoning its prime time experiment with ‘The Jay Leno Show’ after tepid ratings and a backlash from local TV stations.” You probably have heard that the network plans to move the comedian back to the 11:35 p.m. slot.

This is the best new example of bad idea brought forward by great communicators. Until this point, the “New Coke” story held the dubious distinction of “best bad idea,” when in 1985, Coca-Cola, amid much publicity, attempted to change their formula. The new Coca-Cola formula caused a public backlash. The company returned to the old formula under the name Coca-Cola Classic only three months later.

The story of New Coke has crossed the desks of nearly all MBA students. Now we have a new case study. We will be talking about the Leno decision for years. Interestingly, NBC executives publicized every step in this decision process. Over five years ago, NBC chief executive Jeff Zucker had committed the hosting role of “ The Tonight Show” to Conan O’Brien to secure his contract. Viewers anticipated Leno’s exit from the prized slot for years. As the hand-off neared, NBC splashed the concept of a prime-time Leno show across the media and made the high-profile decision to move Leno to the earlier slot.

When bad ideas win, a very strong communicator is usually behind the idea. In the case of New Coke it was clearly the then-CEO of the company, Roberto Goizueta. Now, we have years to point fingers and study everyone involved in this decision that nearly halved the viewership of “Tonight.”

At one end of the spectrum, you have bad ideas developed by poor communicators. No foul here. They may have bad ideas, but they are never implemented. At the other end, you have bad ideas backed by world-class communicators, resulting in a wasted investment.

So what about good ideas? All organizations need these ideas. In a perfect world, strong communicators have fabulous ideas and organizations consistently bring forward great concepts. Not always the case. Think Dilbert. We all have a favorite. They all take place in and around cubicles. And often they poke fun at what happens in these cubicles. I, on the other hand believe many of our best ideas sit in these exact cubicles. Maybe these aren’t the best communicators in the company, but they have great ideas. I wonder if the NBC chief asked any of the rank and file about the Leno idea?

I have told the Coke story hundreds of times to cubicle bound corporate work horses and challenged them to bring forward their great ideas. Now the Leno story will take the lead. A good story of a bad idea always inspires those with good ideas to stand up and take the stage.

No one likes to see a bad idea win. This is why I developed Fast Track Tools to help you improve the quality of your ideas and will give you the tools to make sure your organization hears and implements your ideas. In my workshops you will gain confidence, which others will perceive. As a result, your colleagues and superiors will have a different attitude towards you, which will put you on the fast track.

photo by Simon Davison

Subscribe to the Blog

Get new templates and tools each week!

6 thoughts on “NBC’s Jay Leno and Conan debacle is a lesson in bad ideas winning

  1. The most interesting aspect of the Jay Leno/Conan situation is that it shows how one bad idea can create a chain of bad ideas.

    With Coca-Cola they learned their lesson quickly. By releasing Classic they tipped their hat to the public demand. But with this Jay/Conan scenario those in charge ignored the public criticism and past information in blind hope that “it would just work.” Now they have even a greater mess on their hands.

    It seems to me that all communicators can have bad ideas. But the difference is that good communicators let their bad ideas fail quickly, dust themselves off, and try again.

  2. I was not a big Conan fan but I must say his final speech on the last night was very heartfelt and much more dignified than I had expected. The man has much more class than I thought.

  3. Great article. Not only is it a lesson in how bad ideas can manage to win, but it also shows how not bowing out gracefully can create its own situation. Unfortunately for Conan his name is now synonymous with biting the hand that feeds you — Pulling a Conan.

  4. Pingback: Change for change’s sake does not equal success | Fast Track Tools Blog

  5. Pingback: Problem solving and your career, part II | Fast Track Tools by Ken Revenaugh

  6. Pingback: Don’t ignore Facebook for authentic business networking with people who “have your back” | Fast Track Tools by Ken Revenaugh

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *