The Renewal Curve

Patterns can be powerful. When you see a pattern that occurs again and again, you could look at that as a window into the design of nature itself.

One of those patterns is something called the S-Curve, which looks like this:

scurve1

The idea is this: Something starts out, and if it’s successful, it grows. This growth is rapid at first, and for a good, long while it gets bigger, or better or larger or makes more money or whatever. At some point, though, this growth begins to slow down, then it flattens out altogether and then at some point, it starts down.

Whether it’s Microsoft, the Roman Empire, the population of a certain kind of deer in a national park, this pattern recurs, leading to both the rise and fall of anything.

Unless …

Unless the first “curve” is replaced by a new curve. Apple, for example, was at the end of its curve in the mid to late ’90s. I remember people literally laughing at Apple’s prospects in my first year of business school in 1996. No one was willing to buy an Apple laptop because they didn’t expect the company to be around to support it in the future. Heck, if you invested one dollar in Apple in February of 1997, you’d have made $135 by now. Things were bad. They were cycling out, and everybody knew it.

Everybody knows what happened next though. Steve came back; they reinvented their computer line, coloring them blueberry and raspberry and calling them the iMac. The success of that led to the iPod, which led to the iPhone, which led to the iPad, and today they’re bigger than they ever were before their near-death experience in the ’90s.

In other words, their first S-curve was dying out, but a new S-curve came rushing in.

I thought of that as I read this Venues Today piece about the Fort Worth Stock Show & Rodeo. The event is 118 years old, but over the course of its recent three-week run, it drew more than a million paid visitors, including about 200,000 paid tickets within the show to the rodeo events.

Highly traditional events have the challenge of being perhaps too familiar. If you take into account the formula of “two parts novel to one part familiar,” traditional and long-standing events have a built-in bias toward the familiar. And, of course, that’s part of the strength. Mess with tradition in the wrong places, and an event like this could die a swift and brutal death.

But where tradition isn’t important, you have to innovate like mad. This year the event created a team-based version of the rodeo event called the Super Shootout, which took champions of other events, made them into teams and created a rich prize for the winners. The sport itself didn’t change, but the framework around it was renewed and made more exciting.

They also created a VIP Experience, which included “tickets to the rodeo, a chance to meet contestants backstage, behind-the-chutes access and more, all for one bundled price rather than a la carte.” It was a bit of a test this year, but they outsold their goals significantly.

I highlight the story because it illustrates that even the most traditional category of live entertainment product can and has to innovate. And the age of an organization doesn’t matter.

That’s because even though nature seems to feel that any one S-curve must grow, mature and die, that’s not necessarily true of an organization unless it doesn’t innovate. If it replaces the S-curve that got it to where it is with one that can get it to where it needs to go next, it could theoretically live forever.

Which looks like this:
Scurve2

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