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Innovation: Lessons from Stephen Colbert –

You Can’t Discover the Product Until You’re Making It

By Shlomo Maital


Stephen Colbert

   Some readers may recognize Stephen Colbert as the host of the Comedy Central show “The Colbert Report”, which in its last season drew 1.7 million viewers, amusing them with Colbert’s skill at deflating hypocrites and finding enormous irony in our daily political lives.   CBS chose him to succeed David Letterman, in its “The Late Show”, which launches soon.

   We can learn two major innovation lessons from Colbert and his new venture.

   First, Colbert’s persona for his “Colbert Report” show was entirely different from the one that he must embrace for The Late Show. For Comedy Central’s savvy viewers, mostly young, “wonkish” according to the New York Times, he was perfect. Now, for The Late Show, he has to reinvent himself, to become more genial, softer, kinder, gentler, because who wants prickles at 11:35 p.m., when you’re drowsy and just want to relax, chuckle and doze off in front of the TV?   Jon Stewart, who until recently hosted The Daily Show, has said, “what made [Colbert’s character] work was the thing that Stephen had to hide – which is his humanity”.    Adapting to your clients, when they change, is crucial for any innovator. And above all, it means being highly sensitive and attuned to who they are and what they really want.  This is especially hard when the product is the show host himself.

   So, that brings us to the second lesson, an important one.

   “You can’t discover the product until you’re making it”.  Colbert said this.   I would turn that saying into a sign and post it on the walls of every startup.   Until you make the product, and deliver it to clients, and hear their reaction, you have not yet really discovered the product. Discovery begins not with the idea, but with the first person who actually uses the product.

   So how did Colbert test his Late Show formula? He and his team spent the whole summer producing original content, and then uploaded it, even though they did not yet have a TV program to try it on.   According to The New York Times, Colbert will have to “take command of his work and assert his tastes confidently and unapologetically” – this, at a time when there is an army of producers, directors, joke writers and CBS executives messing around with The Late Show (a machine that prints money) and giving advice.

     So, innovator – discover your product – by making it. It’s so simple. And it’s why many startups fail, when they think they are taking time to perfect their product, without really knowing whether anybody will like it and buy it.

   Be like Colbert. Get serious.   Get your product out there and see the reaction. Before you do that, you won’t have a clue.



Bye, Jon Stewart!

By Shlomo Maital    


    Jon Stewart announced this week that he is retiring from The Daily Show on Comedy Central, after 16 years.  His motive?   “I heard from multiple sources that my family is …really nice people”….  And indeed, that may well be the reason. 

     I personally learned a powerful lesson from Jon Stewart,  born Jonathan Stuart Leibowitz on Nov. 28, 1962.    To make a point, you can yell, scream, protest.  You can write articles and blogs, with massive data, tables and numbers. 

    Or, you can use humor, satire, a sardonic smile, and make a point to get a laugh.

    Which is most effective?  Humor, by far.  Why?    Because, people are never more serious than when they are joking.  I learn far more about what people are thinking from their jokes than from what they say.  Why?  Because some things are hard to say, and if you couch them in humor, satire or a joke,  somehow it’s easier to be frank. 

     Listen carefully to how people kid you. You will learn a great deal about yourself, and about what others think of you.  Even your spouse or significant other.

      Jon Stewart tore strips off Israel, off Israel, off Obama.  He especially loved to expose hypocrisy, which alone can account for the 98 per cent of missing ‘dark matter’ in the universe.  He especially spoke to young people, who hate conventional news but loved the way he presented it. 

     He was great at discovering talent.  And above all, as Senator Tim Kaine (Virginia) says, “even as he cracked jokes, ultimately he was making a serious point.”  Like when he had the Secretary of Health Kathleen Sibelius on his program, and tried to see which was longer, downloading every movie ever made onto his laptop or signing up for coverage under the Affordable Care Act.

      Bye, Jon Stewart. Enjoy your family.  Rest well.   We’ll miss you.


Blog entries written by Prof. Shlomo Maital

Shlomo Maital
June 2019
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