By Jim McCarthy Oct 26, 2011 0 comments

Return of the Great Pumpkin…wait, no

A couple years ago, I wrote about something I called the Great Performance Delusion right around this time of year because it reminded me of one of my most treasured TV childhood Halloween memories: the Great Pumpkin.  Enjoy:

In the clip, Linus convinces Sally to wait with him in his pumpkin patch because once a year, the Great Pumpkin visits the “most sincere pumpkin patch” and gives toys and presents to the good little boys and girls there.  Linus is convinced it’s his year because, as he says, “I don’t see how a pumpkin patch could be more sincere than this one.  You can look all around and there’s not a sign of hypocrisy.  Nothing but sincerity as far as the eye can see.”

But, spoiler alert, there’s no such thing as the Great Pumpkin and Sally is ticked: “I was robbed!  I spent the whole night waiting for the Great Pumpkin when I could have been out for tricks or treats….what a fool I was!  I could have had candy apples, and gum, and cookies and money and all sorts of things.”

But Linus is a true believer.  The fact that the Great Pumpkin didn’t come this year simply means that he must be coming very soon, if only his faith is strong, and he re-doubles the sincerity of his pumpkin patch.

The parallels between this little story and the way that many people in the live entertainment business feel about Great Performances is almost uncanny.  There are people who simultaneously feel contempt for commerce, and yet have the nerve to charge people to see their shows.  These people believe, religiously, that “all you need is a great musician/actor/singer/whatever” and that thinking about anything else is corrupt and wrong, and yet when it is proven, again and again, that this isn’t enough, they, like Linus, re-double their belief in the Great Pumpkin.

We don’t need marketing.

We don’t need research.

We don’t need to worry about the customer experience.

We don’t need to know how we’re doing statistically.

We just need a great performance.

Sure, let us know how that works out.

Here’s the deal: you need a great performance, but it’s not necessarily enough.  Without something remarkable on the stage, you’re in trouble, but it’s not enough.  Necessary, but not sufficient.

If you’re not audience oriented in the sense that you’re THINKING ABOUT what people actually might like, it’s not enough.  Steve Jobs, rightly, said that people don’t always know what they want yet, but he didn’t give that to them by producing whatever the first thing was that popped into his head.  He wasn’t self-indulgent.  That’s what people don’t get about the Jobsian philosophy.  He understood the customer better than anybody else.  He didn’t ignore them and just riff.  Far from it.  You could even say he knew them better than they knew themselves.

That, and not just some inherent “greatness” is what made him a great marketer.

This whole line of thought is, plainly, fundamentalism.  It’s a totemic belief that if we’re “true” to something, we’ll be rewarded in an “afterlife” of amazing, unexplained sales and interest.

Let us know how that works out for you.

Yes, the most important thing is the thing on the stage, and it better be good.  But that alone doesn’t guarantee anything.

There are a lot of people who believe that if you’re good enough, you’ll be “discovered” eventually.

Maybe.  Maybe overwhelming talent will get you a modicum of attention, eventually, when you could have done much, much more.  Is your faith in the Great Pumpkin worth that much to you?  Wouldn’t you rather take control of your destiny?

Remember, Halloween only comes once a year, and like Sally, you’ve only got one chance for tricks or treats.

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