You are going to judge me, aren’t you? That’s fine, I’m going to write this blog anyway.
I love reality tv. I try to live an effective life, but I do make time for wasting time. And reality tv, to me, sits at the top of the pile for that particular choice. I have three vices: The Graham Norton show, talent contests, and…dating shows.
Graham Norton is probably the most shameful, just because this funny little Brit is so entertaining I end up rewatching his interview with Jack Black and Elton John multiple times, even though it has long since stopped adding value to my life. It is because of him that I removed the Facebook app from my cellphone.
I am actually ok to celebrate the talent shows. Watching Simon Cowell unexpectedly, surprisingly, dramatically (!) unearth gold amongst a sea of mediocrity never gets old. Especially when the person about to become world-famous is a Morlock, misfit, or underage protégé. America’s got talent, Idols, X-Factor…I love 'em. They are well-produced, they stick with the formula, and it is fun to watch dreams come true.
So how shall I justify my third illegitimate pastime? That thing we do, in the witching hour, when the kids are asleep and other adults are reading worthwhile books, spending quality time with friends, or at the very least watching something educational like the Discovery Channel?
On Friday night, Caroline and I got stuck into another season of The Bachelor. This is Season 26, mind you, so this show has been going more or less as long as I’ve qualified as an adult. This apex of bad taste, a show that is as fake as a politician’s handshake, as cheesy as last year’s camembert, and as offensive as Elon Musk’s philosophy on tax evasion…has had me hooked for a long time. And I’m finally ready to come out on the reasons why.
For those not in the know, this is how The Bachelor works.
A really attractive guy signs up to meet the woman of his dreams. Over the course of the show, he will be presented, on a platter, a bevy of beauties who are all competing and clamouring for his attention. He is smart, sexy, and sensitive…but also strong. They are alluring, glamorous, and accomplished. He will kiss roughly half of them, go even further with a good number, and profess his devotion and honesty of intention over and over again…right up to the point where he kicks them off the show, because hey: He can only, in the end, choose one. And along the way, the show goes to incredible locations, the dates are impossibly fun things like helicopter rides, picnics in vineyards, hot air balloons, private concerts with rock stars, and exclusive use of Michelin Star restaurants.
It is great fun.
And here’s why.
Jim Collins, renowned leadership guru, author of many bestsellers including Good to Great, and the owner of such enduring business school favourite terms such as Level 5 Leadership, the Stockdale Paradox, and First Who then What, came up with another gem in his book Great by Choice. It’s called SMaC.
SMaC is a recipe for converting defined strategic business plans or concepts into reality. The acronym SMaC stands for Specific, Methodical and Consistent.
It’s the operating code that great businesses have developed. Once developed, it defines what should (and shouldn’t) be done consistently to ensure growth, longevity, and customer loyalty. It is an elevation of the more simple SOP (Standard Operating Procedures) because it talks to the values, mission, and core customer.
If I may, I’m going to show you how the Bachelor uses SMaC to remain a juggernaut in the entertainment industry, despite its many detractors.
STICK TO THE SCRIPT (THE HEDGEHOG CONCEPT)
The Hedgehog Concept calls on companies to identify their core value proposition (or the primary thing that they do well) and focus on that. The concept says that scattering one's interests and objectives causes a lack of focus, competency, and efficiency.
After multiple seasons of watching the show, I can safely report that these three things are going to happen:
For the first third of the show, everyone will be distracted by some ridiculously crazy (but hot) contestant who will cause drama with the other contestants, act whiny and weird with the dude, and generally make things unpleasant. I can also confidently predict that even though the dude knows he should kick her out of there pronto, he won’t do so for at least 4-5 episodes. After all, he is competing as much to fall in love as to create a public profile for himself, and high drama means high ratings.
Our hero will almost immediately fall head over heels in love with at least one (usually two) of the girls. This will be showcased if she is destined to NOT be chosen in the end and downplayed if she is. The idea being that we, as the viewers, need to emotionally commit to her struggle to find love against seemingly insurmountable odds, and her pain and disappointment will be our pain and disappointment. The show is never predictable here, though, because the producers are adept at the bait and switch: Sometimes the girl changes her mind, sometimes she turns out to be a psycho, sometimes the other girls succeed in undermining her even though she has a heart of gold, sometimes…etc etc.
At the very end, there will be two (maybe three) choices. The one choice is the perfect girl: She loves him, she wants all the same things he wants, their families will get along…it’s perfect. Except…he’s fallen for the other one. The one that’s just in it for the fame and fortune, for who it’s all about winning, and he just happens to be the way to do it. Or not. She’s a good girl who realized she made a mistake, they’re too different, oh woe is me I don’t want to hurt him…either way, it makes for great, compelling tv, and has you glued to your screen, futilely rooting for the crowd favorite but despairingly certain he will make a horrible mistake, and true love will be lost forever.
Jim Collins calls it the Hedgehog concept. It’s knowing what you’re good at, and then sticking with that and not getting distracted by externalities. The show has endured and thrived through multiple racist sexist classist elitist controversies, but they know what they’re doing and they know who they’re doing it for. And it’s still a juggernaut.
GREAT CASTING - FIRST WHO THEN WHAT
First Who, Then What - get the right people on the bus - is a concept developed in the book Good to Great. Those who build great organizations make sure they have the right people on the bus and the right people in the key seats before they figure out where to drive the bus.
In Good to Great, Collins argues that great companies hire talent and then figure out what to do with them, instead of “filling a position”. And, as a direct consequence, a great company will make sure that great people are sitting in the right seats, and not wasting their time doing the wrong things.
The show is world-class at this. Every season, they assemble a cast of girls that is diverse yet beautiful, smart and accomplished yet not too overly feminist, and they are all there for one clear goal: To fall in love and get married. But, like a great caper (think the Italian Job), they make sure they assemble the right team. There is a demolitions person (the crazy hot one that will cause all the drama early on), a safecracker (the one girl that will early on crack the code on our hero, and deeply -emotionally – connect with him. Our money’s on her, only it shouldn’t be, because…), the getaway driver (think Handsome Rob. Sexy, unavailable, a dead certainty for making it to the top 3 but will probably do a runner just as our hero declares that she’s the one). Oh, and the leader. The girl in the house that is the voice of reason, that holds it all together, that the viewers all fall in love with, but dammit, the bachelor just can’t see how amazing she is. Take side bets early on her making it to the top 5 but no further because she is a shoo-in to be next season's Bachelorette (more on this later).
Of course, the producers can’t fully control the run of the show, these are real people after all. But by carefully choosing the contestants, and then engineering situations for conflict, drama, and romance, they can pretty accurately steer events to the show’s overall goals of high ratings and maximum viewer engagement. This brings me to my next point…
THE BACHELORETTE AND BACHELOR IN PARADISE: THE FLYWHEEL OF MOMENTUM
The Flywheel effect is a concept developed in the book Good to Great. No matter how dramatic the end result, good-to-great transformations never happen in one fell swoop. In building a great company or social sector enterprise, there is no single defining action, no grand program, no one killer innovation, no solitary lucky break, no miracle moment. Rather, the process resembles relentlessly pushing a giant, heavy flywheel, turn upon turn, building momentum until a point of breakthrough, and beyond.
There have been almost 20 seasons of the Bachelorette so far, and they have now gone to two shows a season because the demand seems to be there. Plus, Bachelor in Paradise is on season 7. These are shows that feature the REJECTS from the other shows. And, in a never-ending cycle of incredible crowd-pleasing momentum, the rejected lady, now in the pound seat as the Bachelorette will reject a dude everyone loves, who will end up next season’s bachelor, so he can have another shot at true love. It is textbook for cross-selling, leveraging your best-selling product, and building collateral around your core offering. Rival networks come up with shows like Love Island? No worries, we’ll just do that too, but featuring all the baddies and goodies from past shows who you know and love, and let’s see if THIS TIME true love will prevail…or will there be more drama, catfights, and bad decisions. You know it.
Bachelor Nation is the collective term that has come to represent the fans of the show, and it has spawned local versions all over the world, including South Africa. The engagement with the fan community is next level, with watch parties held everywhere for the live broadcast of the finale. As long as they keep spinning the wheel and the trials and tribulations of these very real characters are kept front of mind, housewives and teenagers everywhere (and me) will stay engaged.
One last thing:
CHRIS HARRISON: CONFRONT THE BRUTAL FACTS
“Stockdale Paradox": you must maintain unwavering faith that you can and will prevail in the end, regardless of the difficulties, and at the same time, have the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.
Chris Harrison, long-time host of both shows, has been synonymous with the show for over two decades. Firing him could not have been easy, but they did it anyway. Why? Because he publicly spoke out in support of a contestant who made a bad wardrobe choice in college.
There is more to this story, but it comes down to this: Harrison’s comments made him a tacit supporter of racial insensitivity and legacy thinking, in a time when the prevalent theme is “Black Lives Matter.” This made him a poster boy for white privilege. This, by the way, is pretty much at the core of the show, but he, unfortunately, stepped over the line at the wrong time. And he had to go.
While I personally feel sorry for the dude, the showrunners made the only choice available to them. Any other choice would have distracted everyone too much, and forced the entire production to change in a way that would alienate their core customer. Harrison was the sacrificial lamb, signalling an acknowledgement of error while not promising a serious intent to change the formula. A few years later, after experimenting with female hosts and more diverse protagonists, they are back on message.
So, when the Mrs. and I settle in with a cheese and tomato sandwich, some popcorn and two Glenmorangie Lasanta’s…and our choice of entertainment is episode 4 of The Bachelor, the one where she loses her sh*t because the rest of the girls wouldn’t eat her shrimp? Well, don’t judge me, just know that I’m doing more research on effective leadership.