“If you don’t fail enough times over the coming year you get downgraded.”

Jason Seiken

What the hard-working journos at the Telegraph can expect to hear from Jason Seiken, their new chief content officer, when he takes up his role after leading a successful digital revamp of the US broadcaster PBS, known to generations as the home of Sesame Street.

The quote is from Seiken describing to a TED conference last October the principles he applied at PBS, according to an article by PressGazette’s Dominic Ponsford. The Guardian’s Lisa O’Carroll has a good analysis too. 

This is what he told the conference:

“We wanted to have a start-up mojo…Be faster moving, take risks, be creative.”

“I sat the team down in a conference room and said we are changing your annual performance review, we are adding a new metric. A failure metric. A failure metric with a twist.

“If you don’t fail enough times over the coming year you get downgraded.

“The intial reaction was a lot of nervous laughter, especially from the engineers.

“After a couple of years it led us to a place where we were able to autotune Mister Rogers.”

(A reference to an auto-tuned remix of the US children’s TV character Mister Rogers singing a dance tune called Garden of Your Mind from beyond the grave. It went viral as was celebrated as a stunning marketing success for the company).

He said: “In order to change an organisation you have to be both radical and incremental.

“Start not with a revolution but with an insurrection. We went radical by rewriting the PBS interactive mission statement to two words: Reinvent PBS. It doesn’t get much more radical than that.”


In other words, lean startup culture, with its creed of ‘iterate, fail, learn and iterate again’, is coming to the Telegraph, the grande dame of British newspapers still tied very much to the revenue stream of her pension-age, hard-copy buying subscribers.
So what can we expect?
Coming in from TV, Seiken is guaranteed to light a fire under TMG’s video and multimedia hacks as soon as he hits ‘the hub’, the Telegraph’s much-admired wagon-wheel/panopticon office layout. Expect to see more content taking up the baton of the Telegraph’s recent debut in multimedia story-telling, an Israel feature called Meet the Settlers.

For the full video of Seiken’s talk to TED, see below:

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