American Horror Story shouldn't be so successful.
That's because the concept for American Horror Story--the grisly FX show with a rabid fanbase--breaks the cardinal rule for cable television.
At the end of each season, the show not only kills the characters its viewers have come to know, it effectively kills the entire plot in preparation for total rebirth in the next season.
American Horror Story violates a standard schema for continuity. Its seasons do not build upon one another. Viewers do not get to see characters and stories develop across multiple seasons.
Yet the show is still pulling great ratings and stacking awards. At this point, your business-savvy ears should be ringing.
American Horror Story is not only getting away with a routine massacre of its own content, it is succeeding because of it. Should your business be taking notes?
Axe your old material to make way for the new
American Horror Story doesn't follow the formula of most television shows. Its seasons are not chapters in a longer story. Each season is a self-contained mini-series that uses the same actors in different roles. Writer Ryan Murphy refuses to continue any narrative, setting, or cast of characters into successive seasons. This is how he "keeps it fresh."
Murphy is onto something, and it reaches beyond cable television. According to the Harvard Business Review, the ability to re-invent yourself separates lasting high-performers from businesses that see a rapid decline after initial success.
Here's what is really scary: A company that can't re-invent will stall in growth--and when that happens, there is over a 90% chance that it will never fully recover.
Axing your own material isn't scary if, like AHS, you're making room for your own growth. On the flip side, your stubbornness to reinvent could send your business to the Murder House (AHS Season 1, hilarious).
Learn how to keep it fresh from these companies who weren't afraid to reinvent:
1. Don't feel chained to tools you made
Instacart, an on-demand local grocery delivery service app, originally tracked the results of its experiments with a smattering of their own hand-built analytics tools.
It's difficult to admit that something you've built is no longer useful. But Instacart soon realized their data analytics needs exceeded the capabilities of tools they could make themselves. Instacart nixed their own analytics system and started using the behavioral analytics platform Amplitude.
The new analytics platform helped Instacart to better understand user behavior. They were able to make improvements to their core product that led to a 10% lift in conversion.
Don't let your ego regarding things you've built yourself cloud your judgment of their utility. With that in mind, don't feel bad about outsourcing services that other companies could execute better for you.
2. If you want to lighten your load, liquidate the dead weight
The multinational consumer goods company Unilever manages a monstrous number of brands. When they realized that over 90% of their profit came from 400 out of 1600 brands, Unilever methodically killed off brands that didn't meet an imposed set of stiff criteria.
Unilever only retained brands that they determined to have brand power, brand growth potential, and brand scale. These criteria aligned with their long-term goal of building multi-faceted global brands. They axed brands such as Mazola oil, Kingsford cornstarch, and Rit dye, despite the fact that these brands weren't necessarily doing poorly.
This dramatic chop of 1,200 brands allowed Unilever to increase operational efficiency and decrease brand clutter. As a result Unilever made more profit off of the brands that were already top performers.
Your dead weight might seem innocuous, but it could be sucking valuable resources and attention. Lighten up a little.
3. Your side project probably sucks
Wistia, a video marketing platform, had many clients who wanted to create videos but didn't know how to produce them on their own. This inspired Wistia to set up 50 Grove. This video production marketplace was an altruistic side project meant to provide a separate but useful service for Wistia's customers.
Wistia learned quickly that side projects can't be taken lightly. The employees at Wistia ran into many unforeseen problems in trying to simultaneously manage 50 Grove. Assigning ownership was tricky, prioritizing the side project was difficult to justify, and separating 50 Grove completely from Wistia was next to impossible.
Wistia ultimately decided to scrap 50 Grove. Everyone at Wistia breathed a collective sigh of relief when it was gone. 50 Grove never became what they wanted it to be, but they didn't dwell on that. They instead returned their energies to making Wistia better than ever.
Don't cling to the idea of What You Thought It Would Be. If a project isn't working out the way you expected, let it go and direct your effort where it really matters.
Take the shackles off your creative process
Willingness to kill off ideas in order to pursue new ones allows for a more uninhibited creative process. Iterations of your work help you get to where you are, but that doesn't mean you should hold on to those ideas forever.
Acting on innovative ideas opens opportunities for creative and lucrative growth. Reinvention also gives customers a chance to see you making big changes for the better.
You can build faith in your brand by radically reinventing and succeeding. American Horror Story has proved to 5.1 million viewers that any changes it makes are interesting and worth their continued attention, season after season.
Maybe it's a new season for you--maybe it's time to re-invent. Look ahead to what inspires you. Don't be afraid to cut and run.