Friday, June 17, 2011

...from Sesame Street

As a kid, your parents and teachers guide your first lessons in life. The rest is sometimes left to a magical stage called TV. Millions of Americans, including my generation, grew up watching lovable characters in a fantastical neighborhood called Sesame Street.

Now that I’ve grown up, I want to pay tribute to Big Bird and Kermit, Ernie and Bert, Cookie Monster and The Count, even Oscar the Grouch for their lessons and wonderful memories.

“…Let me tell you how to get…” what I learned from Sesame Street. 

The Ten Things I Learned...from Sesame Street

1. Have a diverse workplace
Sesame Street is admirable in that it’s, literally, the stage for a diverse and inclusive group of friends. Its obvious when you look at the broad cast of African Americans, Seniors, and Hispanic actors…including a Mexican born Muppet called Rosita.  No other place is more welcoming than a neighborhood that is home to yellow, green, blue, pink, and red puppets! Make your work a diverse place by welcoming and encouraging diversity.

2. Reposition yourself for success
“Baby Monster” has been around since 1972, but he didn’t get his big break until the early 80’s. He went from being a backup puppet that no puppeteer could bring alive, to a cuddly red monster with his own TV segment, movies, and sold-out toys. Today, we know him as Elmo. Hard work and dedication can reanimate anyone, but it might require you to change and your own personal rebranding.     

3. Be passionate about something
This comes down to one word and its symbolism: COOKIES!!! There’s nothing more memorable than watching Cookie Monster enjoy endless amounts of cookies. That visual of crumbs flying everywhere, never leaves your mind. Be that obsessed with something; call it profits, share, career promotions, home life, or coaching. Strive to find it and when you get there, enjoy! 

4. Leverage stars to deliver your message
Through the years, multiple guests have walked those streets delivering messages that help kids around the world; from newer pop performers like Will.I.Am to latin hall-of-famers like Celia Cruz. Political figures like Michelle Obama and Barbara Bush have also shared the spotlight with Elmo and Big Bird. Sometime’s you need to reach out to star power to drive your message, whether it’s advertising your brand or consulting services to your team.

5. Make fun of yourself.
Some of their most memorable TV moments have been their spoofs. It’s a break away from a kid’s reality and the enormous pressure they might feel learning numbers and letters. Check out “Grover does the Old Spice commercial” on Youtube which became a news channel sensation and now has over 7 million views. Don’t underestimate the value of having fun (or making fun of yourself) without losing sight of your ultimate message nor falling out of character.

6. Expand your business model
What began as a public television show aimed at educating kids has become to me an example of business expansion. The crew now ice-skates live across of the world, entertains in amusement parks & cruise ships, and hosts at Caribbean resorts. They reach millions of homes online at not to mention the toys, ITunes episodes, movies and more. Break away from operating in a traditional business model, like public TV, and evolve into newer channels outside your comfort zone.

7. Provide the forum to listen to others
Remember episodes where Kermit the Frog sat down to chat with kids? Many Muppets gave kids a spontaneous and unrehearsed forum to provide their innocent perspective. It’s a practice still done today, including on Leno. Give everyone in your company a means to voice their opinion and listen to them; you’d be surprised what you learn. 
8. Adapt to changing behaviors
Although my generation grew up watching Sesame Street, I’d be surprised if their kids know anyone else besides Tickle-Me Elmo. Times changed and kids’ viewing behavior with it. More channels, more shows, and more gaming have been hard on the show’s ratings. Keeping our business (and ourselves) relevant to an even faster changing world will keep us on-air for the long run.

9. Plan for long term success
Despite the economic difficulties and competition, the program has found ways to stay on air since 1966, for over 40 seasons, and winning 118 Emmy Awards by 2011. It’s considered one of the most viewed children shows in the world. Our job is to make our company and brands endure time, creating a neighborhood that can be home to more than one cast and season.

10. Chase a good cause that inspires others to follow
Sesame Street left an impression not only on 77million Americans but also on other shows that followed; it created an American cultural movement that is referenced in many popular shows today. The newer TV show Blues Clues is built on the same teaching methods, according to its producer. When you chase a good cause, you get not only your people but others to follow too.

So you see, we don’t outgrow Sesame Street, we just learn different lessons as we grow up. They are beautiful and nostalgic memories of the past that can teach us new business skills for the present.

Putting some of these to practice might make you a business celebrity and land you a guest spot someday on the show - make sure to thank them.

1 comment:

  1. Never underestimate #1 in importance to an organization and #7 for yourself.

    Made to Stick details the child psychology behind Sesame Street's success.