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Great Pipes in a Mad World - HCIT Lessons From Idol

May 9, 2009
by Joe Bormel
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Great Pipes in a Mad World

HCIT Lessons From Idol

This past week, many HCIT executives I’ve met were disappointed that 17-year old Allison Iraheta was sent home from American Idol. These same executives were comfortable with the hope that Danny Gokey would be sent home, and a bit impatient that the crown wasn’t just handed to Adam Lambert. Adam, it turns out, “has great pipes,” and stylistic range. And it turns out, there are some interesting observations that apply to leading HCIT projects:

1. Know your audience

If you are a 17-year old female, competing for the votes of a largely 15-year old female “voting” audience, and competing against three male heart throbs, you might want to consider singing a Miley Cyrus/Hannah Montana song. Expecting them to connect with Janis Joplin, no matter how soulful your rendition, is too much to ask.

Same is true for HCIT.If your audience values a rounding list, don’t spend even 10 seconds with them explaining the importance of medication order management.

2. Talent and execution are not enough

This one continues to be personally painful to me. Many of my most admired mentors and coaches have not been rewarded in their organizations for their talent and often flawless execution. Connecting with an audience, i.e. point #1 above, requires having social radar. That’s a combination of listening skills, finding and using “judges,” and going out of your comfort zone. It’s a lot more work to develop and maintain a broad vision. It’s often necessary to get beyond the tactical to win the bigger game.

3. Creativity and risk taking count, to a point

The lesson I took here is much more subtle than the first two. The job this week was to excel in the rock-n-roll genre. That required both doing a classic “rocker” song that was clearly recognizable for certain elements, and simultaneously, “making it your own” through creativity.

Allison did Joplin (Janis, not Scott) so well that the judges faulted her for failing to distinguish herself. The lesson for HCIT execs here is be technically very good in your management and executive style, and you must bring your own brand to it to connect to the greatest possible audience. Flawlessly copying a great example, ironically, is not great.

4. Failure need not be lethal

Danny completely botched his performance, with one judge (Simon, aka Mr. Common Sense) comparing it to “watching a horror movie.” It was. He came on the next night, acknowledged that he completely missed the high note, and that the performance was far from perfect. His fans, both at the event and the larger audience, pulled him through. The same is equally true for being an executive in HCIT. That’s a good segue to my last observation, “There will be good days and bad days.”

5. All of the "Challenges of Being a Public Figure" apply

The blog post, The Challenge of Being a Public Figure, from John Halamka came to mind when I was putting together this list. Every bullet on John’s list applied to each of the singers, and each of us. That post is classic.

I suppose there’s one last observation that I’m choosing to not give a number and put on the list. Ten years ago, I wouldn’t have watched American Idol, much less critiqued the lessons to be learned. I prided myself on not reading USA Today, because it was targeted at a mass audience, with limited depth, colorful simple graphics, and broad banal coverage. I joked that reading it would make one stupid. My boss at the time, a friend named Tom, said, “Joe, it will make one stupid if you read it for content. But if you look at it to better understand the audience it serves, it can be very rich." I now think that can be important with many things, including Idol.

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