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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.



Thanks for your comments, Gwen, Anthony and Tim.

Gwen, to your comment regarding 'watching American Idol,' like many, I started because a family member was obsessed. At that point, however, I found that there are a lot of professional people who are have strong and interesting opinions. Watching Idol is a social win.

Anthony and Tim, thanks for your notes about failure. I'd love to get your thoughts on the Richard Farson quote:

"we learn not from our failures but from our successes — and the failures of others"

"We learn from everything and all things if we intentionally take time to analyze and reflect." A.G.

Organizational consultant Robert Tannenbaum says that too many senior managers who may have been at the job thirty years don't necessarily have thirty years of experience - they have more like one year of experience, thirty times.

I agree that we should learn from our experiences, both positive ones and failures.  The point that Richard Farson makes in this short chapter, pages 113-116, is that real world psychology (including workplace analysis) doesn't support that we do that.  I agree with both of you, AG and Tim, we should learn equally from all experiences.

To get you started:

WarningDon't be like Joe!  When I first read this book, I found it powerful and worthwhile.  I did, however, falsely conclude that the author was mean spirited.  When I listened to it on tape, the same content generated the opposite conclusion.

Wow. Just one more thing to admire about you, Joe - you're not afraid to admit to watching American Idol. :)

I particularly agree with you on Point #1 - Know Your Audience. It's so important to "speak to" your audience when giving a presentation, writing an article, conducting an interview, or "auditioning" for a new job one size does not fit all, and it pays to do your research so that you can personally connect with your audience. Great post!


Excellent post (again) Joe! I think your points are 'spot on". I would add to your point #4 that failure is almost a pre-requisite to success. And, yes there will be good days and bad days - and some will get rained out. have to get dressed for all of them!

I'm not in total agreement with that quote Joe. I feel like the major lessons learned are from the struggles and mis-steps along the way. Just beyond every failure is the sweet taste of success. Super post!

Joe. You touch on many points that revolve around leadership. Leaders know their audience, work hard, but more importantly, make people want to work hard for them. This is done by having vision, passion and ETHICS. Great leaders clear debris out of the way and allow those following them to concentrate on their areas of strength, to do their best work.

Failure is, in fact, good. Failure means one has tried something difficult. It is impossible to truly achieve without failures. Good leaders, however, are able to mitigate their failures because they recognize, earlier than others, that things are going wrong and they have the courage to "admit" defeat and put things on a new track.