Two Roads in a wood – II

“Deal or no deal?”
“Is that your identity?”
“Let’s play one verses one hundred!”
“Is that your final answer?”

These catch-phrases all come from simple, formulaic game shows. The shows are the same, every time, right down to the catch-phrases and witty banter. How many different ways are there to say “And we’ll find out, right after this short break” anyway?

You might even say that these game shows are stable, predictable, and repeatable. Moreover, the plan generally works – find a formula that brings in viewers and stick with it until the formula is no longer profitable. Whether it’s asking increasingly challenging questions for more and more money, like the latest gameshows , or having two teams compete and kicking a member off the losing teams, like most reality shows, you basically just do the same thing again and again, and it works.

… but imagine what it’s like to manage Saturday Night Live. That show is comedy; it is new every morning. Comedy shows are funny and entertaining when they are different every time. In that world, the challenge moves from picking a formula and finding sponsors to hiring and inspiring great talent. Late-light shows like Leno and Conan are somewhere in the middle; they have a packaged format, butdifferent guests. A predictable opening monologue, but nobody likes to hear the same joke two nights in a row. Or, twice … ever.

Of the two, which is software development? Well, probably, both. Somewhere out there there is a database-backed website company spitting out the same templated solutions, again and again, and somewhere else there is a company doing things that are “new every morning.” Most companies that develop software are somewhere in the middle between the two, stuck somewhere on the great spectrum.

The bigger question is: What kind of company do you want to work for, and would your organization benefit from moving closer to (or further from) one of the two poles?

“Deal or No Deal” is not going to have a great positive cultural impact, but it could make a lot of money for NBC and small group of writers. Saturday Night Live, on the other hand, has helped define popular culture for twenty-odd years (for good or ill), including The Blue’s Brothers, Wayne’s World, and a Dozen More.

Saturday Night Live is a talent incubator; it brought us Chris Farley, Adam Sandler, Tina Fey, and countless other talented comedians, given them a stage to perform on, and support and ideas to improve.

Picking one of these strategies as an individual can be even easier than doing it as a CIO. On one hand you could pick a mainstream, know-what-you-are-going to get path like education or getting PMP, Java, or other certification. On the other you could try to be different, which probably means lasting and unique contributions to a field.

This season NBC has two shows (a drama and a comedy) that follow the antics of an SNL-like show, mostly off-stage. Despite the cowboy-like mentality I hint at above, the shows do have some bounds. For example, they do need to fit into a specific time slot with commercial breaks. One common theme on Studio 60 is the planning board – a big cork board with 3″x5″ index cards in it that represent skits. They can add skits the board until it’s full, take them down, tear them up, develop them later, and show on.

The board is called a story board. I suppose that makes the cards … story cards?

By now, I hope it is clear that I have chosen my path. It’s nice to know that we share a similar set of tools with other people on that path.

As for what the game shows do, I don’t really know. I suppose it’s not interesting enough to support a profitable “life on the set” drama or comedy.

Go Figure.

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