Lilyhammer: Why Grafted Ideas Rarely Work

“One thing about us wise guys, the hustle never ends.” – Tony Soprano

I am a diehard Sopranos fan.  Because I grew up in Brooklyn, perhaps, Tony Soprano (and I say this with all due respect) can sometime rival Peter Drucker, Jim Collins and a range of management gurus in his ability to adapt and reinvent his view of his enterprise and maintain control of his empire.  I am not the first Sopranos fan to notice this.  Of course, it could also be the Jersey Don’s non-stop non-sequiturs and goofy facial expressions.  I don’t know, but I found the show hilarious and addictive.

So when I learned that Netflix created Lilyhammer – a made for the web streaming series pretty much lifted from the Sopranos — my interest and expectations were peaked.  Lilyhammer (a malapropism of the Norwegian city Lillehammer) effectively plucks the New Jersey underboss character from the Satriale’s crew and drops him via the witness protection program into the one time Olympic village.  You start the first episode and there he is, the Silvio Dante character (portrayed by Steven Van Sandt), Tony’s consigliere, playing, well, another underboss with the same hunched physical mobster character, from the squinted face to the head rolling down the chest and the classic shrugging.  Different name, same loud suit.

But something clearly is wrong.  This was not the Sopranos; it was not even a pale imitation of the Sopranos.  This show reminded me of the fake town in Blazing Saddles (the a decoy for the bad guys in the finale battle scene).  I plowed through 5 episodes of Lilyhammer, but it was hopeless. The character is off; the timing is off; and the plot is off.   Maybe Thomas Wolfe was right, maybe you can’t go home again.

Story grafting rarely works.  In the movie trade, the pairing of superheroes and villains from other films rarely works.  OK, the Avengers was pretty good, but for every good one, what about  Alien v. Predator, huh?  There is 100 minutes of your life you will never get back.

There are a few lessons here for fellow entrepreneurs:

  1. You cannot lift some one else’s plot line and transplant into your own.  You are not building the next iPhone unless you work at Apple and built the last one.
  2. You cannot take someone else’s go to market strategy and graft it to your company.
  3. And you certainly cannot surf off another company’s success through vacuous me-too comparisons and arm waving.
When someone tell you they are the “next” anything, they probably aren’t.  The prior thing is probably the next thing in it’s category, too.  If you do not believe me, look at the marketing and story line for a MacBook vs. a  HP Laptop .

The top line message for the MacBook Pro is

  • State of the Art Processors
  • All New Graphics
  • Breakthrough high-speed IO

The top line message for the HP

  • Powerful performer geared for a fast pace; available in dark umber or steel gray metal finish
  • Operating system – Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit
  • Processor – 2nd generation Intel(R) Core(TM) i5-2430M Processor (2.4 GHz, 3MB L3 Cache) Turbo Boost to 3.0 GH
  • Screen size – 15.6″ High Definition HP LED Brightview (1366×768)
  • Memory – FREE UPGRADE to 8GB DDR3 System Memory (2 Dimm)
  • Hard drive – 750GB 5400 rpm Hard Drive

Ok, this isn’t even fair.

If you are going to lead, if you are going to build a new market, you better have a unique, compelling and defensible product and story line.  Everyone figures out the pale imitation, the story graft.  If not friends, you are going to be swimming with the fishes.

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2 thoughts on “Lilyhammer: Why Grafted Ideas Rarely Work

  1. Annmarie says:

    Brillian!

  2. “When someone tell you they are the “next” anything, they probably aren’t….” The dead-on, absolute truth about every profession….and congratulations on a fantastic blog Mr. Cohen, which I shall keep up with. Carl Anthony

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