Bob Lefsetz’ History Lessons


Succeeded with radical breakthroughs. Failed with incremental improvements.

Shed your past if you want to succeed in the future. You may be angry that Apple changed its connector, but look what backward compatibility did for Microsoft… It kept the company in the doldrums to the point where the Redmond enterprise completely missed tablet computing and is now playing catch-up ball. Poorly.

The spoils go to the innovator. If he is willing to double down and never rest on his laurels. Apple will fade without a breakthrough product.

Your fans will give you momentum, but they won’t keep you relevant. We’re trained to look for the new, to be titillated by innovation. He who worries more about the past than the future is doomed.


Three bad elections in a row. The Sony of polling is now vulnerable.


When you put the bottom line first, you head straight towards obsolescence. There’s so little in the newspaper now, it’s not worth reading. Either it’s got to be the repository of all things local or be a fount of investigative journalism. Now it looks like a child’s toy, a Coleco headed for the dumpster.


“Hollywood Reporter” changed its mission. “Daily Variety” was sold. “Billboard” is already irrelevant, but it will lose its imprimatur when everybody wakes up and realizes its charts are meaningless.

In a world where Nate Silver triumphs slicing and dicing data, we’ve got no quants in music, no one who can make sense of the data and tell us who is truly succeeding and failing. Mediabase will tell you what radio is playing, but radio is the new MTV, a ruling force that will crater. When you can hear what you want to on demand, who’s gonna wait to hear it played on radio? We need people to tell us what to hear, we don’t need it as radio.

No one has figured out how to decipher the reams of online data to tell us who is happening, who is trending and who is over. But they will.


You want to get Medicare and hide under the roof of self-reliant entrepreneurship.

But people can see what that truly is. Self-interest, putting yourself first. Kids are now brought up in a do-gooder environment, they’ve all given back via charity. If you don’t realize we’re all in this together, you’re going to be marginalized.


Just because Karl Rove said it was so didn’t make it true.




The media tells us to all be alike, fashion tells us to be an individual.

You succeed today by liberating people and respecting them. Imprison them, talk down to them, and you’re history. This is what killed the record business. Instead of getting in the river and swimming alongside its audience, the record business insisted consumers play by its rules. It will never recover. Because the record business continues to follow, not lead. If you want to be relevant, you’ve got to lead.


In a world where everybody can get his message out, most messages are ignored. You must establish a bond, trust, in order to succeed today. Mainstream media is in bed with publicists and advertisers, neither of which have a direct relationship with the audience. You want to get the public to trust you, people will do your marketing if they believe in your product.


It started with that astronaut in diapers…

Now we’ve got Patricia Broadwell. Who cares if Petraeus had an affair. But once we know he was brought down by a crazy woman fearful someone else was honing in on her territory, we were fascinated!

Stunts don’t work. You’ve got to be Charlie Sheen, willing to put it all on the line.

What sold both Broadwell and Sheen was passion. People who cared enough about their mission to cast off the rules of society, who were willing to risk everything to achieve what they wanted.

If you don’t do this, you’ll never be a rock star. We’re drawn to the heat as well as the music. We can tell when you’re playing it safe. We’re not interested in that.


That’s the story of the election. Fox and the Republicans had it wrong. Karl Rove melted down.

The hurricane is the turning point. Bloviating is secondary to statistics. He who forgets this is destined to die.

Digital is 1’s and 0’s. Intimidation and obfuscation are passe.


In a four team test in the last two weeks of the season, 12% of Major League Baseball e-ticket purchasers opted for Passbook delivery of their tickets, even though iOS 6 had just been released.

Paper baseball tickets were less than 33% of the total in 2012, down from 55% in 2011.

If you’re not on the paperless bandwagon, if you’re not doing your best to get concert tickets into the hands of your true fans, eliminating the middleman/scalper/reseller, you’re going to get caught in the middle soon, you’re going to be subject to fan ridicule.

In other words, technology is going to solve the scalping problem, since the acts and business were too greedy to address it.

Digital delivery of tickets is here. Use it to your advantage or be exposed as being greedy.


The food revolution is not being led by me-too bland tastes. Turns out the public is adventuresome. They’re the same way in music, which is why the doubling-down on me-too Top Forty music is hurting the business, no one as much as the major labels.

If the major labels were smart, and they’re not, they would immediately start investing in that which is not radio-friendly, which takes a long time to develop, that can hook fans like velcro.

If you’re not preparing for the future, you’re destined for the scrapheap.


Reality TV might be fake, but its underlying appeal couldn’t be more now. The blander you are, the less traction you’re gonna get. If you want to be famous, have a personality, offend somebody, be real.


It’s not on HBO. It’s not at the movies. And it’s the most talked about visual entertainment in America. “Skyfall” got all the press, but it will be over in minutes. “Homeland” is built to last.

If you’re excellent, the public will sell you.

And the public made “Homeland.” Publicity no longer works. If anything, it comes after the fact, on the victory lap. “Sons Of Anarchy” is triumphing years in. If you’re not in it for the long haul, you’re never gonna make it. Don’t change the formula, improve it.


Smart is sexy. Gay or straight, ugly or beautiful, in a sea of b.s., we’re all drawn to intelligence. If you’re betting on the unwashed masses, you’ll be stunned to find out everybody under thirty knows how to use a computer, everybody under thirty knows geeks rule.


Once upon a time, we had Frank Zappa.

Thank god for Jon Stewart. Poking fun at the absurdity of a society of which music is a baked-in element. Yes, music used to lead, now people make fun of it.

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