Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Value Proposition: American Idol

I've been thinking a lot about this weird show, American Idol, lately. I'll be the weirdo I guess when I admit I had never watched it until this season. I've been busy.

What I find rather fascinating about it is how much it reminds me of business. It actually reminds me of what happens when you talk to venture capitalists.

You go before a bunch of folks who have the power to tell you your ideas have a future or are a big waste of time.

Similarly, with American Idol, you go before three judges, sing for them and ask them if they'll invest in you by taking you to Hollywood and helping you sell your stuff.

What I find completely STRANGE is how poor a judge of their own talent these people are. Many of them are simply TERRIBLE singers. They go flat, they go sharp, they float from key to key, as if their singing were suffering from anti-gravity. What gives? Do they really NOT know that their singing stinks?

I guess the same question comes up with the value proposition for a business idea. You need to know your idea has value. You need to know you're building something that people will want to give you money for.

Sometimes, it's true, that even not-so-great singers are given the "thumbs up" signal by the judges because they have something just plain FASCINATING about them. The judges understand that they may not have their product together quite yet, but they are just pretty entertaining to watch.

This was the case on last week's show, with the funny young cowboy who sang to his turkey on the ranch because no one else would listen to him. His voice wasn't great. But there's something so winning about this kid. And the "cowboy" brand is so solid and has a primal interest for Americans and others worldwide, I'd say. He is very appealing.

They have turned Simon -- the toughest judge -- into the bad guy -- but of course he's the hero of the show. He tells it like it is. He's the king. You're but a lowly peasant and you come to the king and ask, "Is this junk I have, or is it gold?" You can get a straight answer from him -- which is often amusing because everyone else is candy-coating all their responses.

This show also reminds me of the Antiques Roadshow in many ways, instead of finding tarnished treasures in the attic, these people come asking what their personal value is.

I find it strange to ask someone else what my value is. As a writer, you have to believe deep down in your value, in the value of your world view, which is why the best modern novel title ever written is The World According To Garp. You dare to describe YOUR world and dare to believe in it and value it.

You have to know your value proposition cold. You have to put it out there and expect to get rejected on a regular basis. It's so much like all my years in sales. You put yourself on the line, you show what's unique about what you can do. Sometimes they buy it, sometimes they don't.