Steve Youngwood, CEO of Sesame Workshop On Business Transformation, Goals, & Balancing Short-Term With Long-Term Success

Steve Youngwood is the CEO of Sesame Workshop. He grew up in New York, attended Yale University, and graduated as a History major. After concluding his studies, he moved to Germany and indulged heavily in learning German history.

The recent fall of the Berlin Wall and the fact that he was living in a newly unified country was an exhilarating experience for him. After an initial adjustment period to the new environment and a career route introspection, Mr. Youngwood opted for a career as a Management Consultant.

He initiated his new professional course with a job at McKinsey. After some back-and-forth moves between USA and Germany, he ended up at the prestigious Stanford University. His next move involved attaining a role in Viacom, the current Paramount company. The Paramount company comprises broadcasting channels like Nickelodeon, MTV, and Comedy Central.

Now, he is the CEO of Sesame Workshop, an educational media organization producing the incredible kid’s series Sesame Street. Sesame Street is currently running its thirty-third consecutive year and has won more than 200 Emmy Awards.

Click here to get the transcript or listen to your favorite player.

Sesame Workshop was initially founded in 1969 as Children’s Television Workshop. It is a non-profit educational media organization with the scope to facilitate children’s growth intellectually and emotionally.

The exact mission of the organization is to focus on facilitating kids in the pre-educational age with entertaining programs that will cultivate their intellectual potential and social-emotional intelligence. A renowned program that fitted perfectly with the organization’s mission was Sesame Street.

Nowadays, the headquarters of Sesame Workshop is in New York, but the organization has extended into various countries such as India, China, Mexico, South Africa and several European countries.

A fundamental lesson Mr. Youngwood acquired throughout his career was that a media organization should build a robust relationship with its audience. Therefore, even when modern technology, such as the World Wide Web, dominates the market, the bond with the audience is so potent that there is no disruption in the relationship.

The concept of downsizing the effect of the internet was a detrimental pitfall for many businesses, according to Mr. Youngwood. On the other hand, Mr. Youngwood has always been a staunch supporter of adapting and rewiring.

If something novel emerges, an organization should adapt to the new environment and acquire as much knowledge as needed to rewire its mission. Then with a newly established paradigm, a successful evolution to something more significant is guaranteed.

Mr. Youngwood recalls a sort of exercise they were accustomed to practicing at Viacom. They would try to foresee how the world of business would transform in a time span of five years. Then, they would rewire and reinvigorate all the processes underlying a potential disruption of the modus operandi. All these processes led to the development of successful applications, such as the Nickelodeon app and other high-rated shows.

Mr. Youngwood recognizes the value of leading with the head and the heart. This means that a leader should preserve the organization’s mission and inspire others to follow him.

The preservation of the scope of an organization mainly entails several micromanaging duties, such as financial planning etc. But, it also entails positively influencing the rest of the organization by deploying traits such as empathy and vulnerability.

The process of filming the episodes of Sesame Street is rather lengthy and conducted in batches. It is a research-driven process based entirely on the needs and wishes of the kids, and this is achieved by contributing their opinions throughout the process.

After the conclusion of the filming, the showrunners conduct extra research to achieve the best possible outcome. The entire process may last 12 to 18 months.

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The outbreak of the recent pandemic was a crucial moment for all humanity, and Sesame Workshop could not have stood idle in the wake of the imposed restrictions on the public. Therefore, they rose to the challenge and provided unique and positive experiences to the kids via the Youtube platform. The need for something entertaining and educating was more crucial than ever, and Sesame Workshop was again for its loyal audience.

Mr. Youngwood introduced the concept of rewiring to his brain after a horrific accident with his bike in France. He was paralyzed from the waist up and had to endure enormous pain and endless hours of physical rehabilitation to return to his normal state.

During this period of discontent, he decided that alongside the rewiring of his body, he would indulge in rewiring his brain and become a more optimistic person. The entire experience morphed his undisputed leadership qualities and reinvigorated his body and soul.

The process of rewiring also comprises the aptitude to adjust to the corporate world’s business model. Therefore, when Sesame Workshop faced financial struggles, Mr. Youngwood opted for a more pragmatic approach and established a partnership with HBO.

The cooperation with an esteemed business partner, such as HBO, resulted in keeping Sesame Workshop afloat while maintaining the educational scope of the organization.

According to Mr. Youngwood, rewiring is feasible when the following conditions are met:

1) You have to be able to adjust your perspective

2) You have to assemble a suitable team and structure

3) You have to exhibit fortitude and belief when the inevitable adversities arise

In Wrapping Up

Mr. Youngwood has a balanced process in his final determination of the feasibility of an idea. The first and foremost question is how appealing and engaging this novel idea is. The second question that arises is if the new idea covers an identified need of the market.

If the idea passes the first two stages, it slowly transcends to the implementation questions about the requirements of the production and the logistics behind them.

Therefore, every major decision always consists of the heart’s yearnings and the head’s calculations. This balanced approach is the embodiment of leadership.

https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/leading-the-future-of-work-with-jacob-morgan/id907990904?itsct=podcast_box&itscg=30200&ls=1&at=1001l36vC
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http://open.spotify.com/show/4NtwiXeQCceo2iayiabYAi

Listen to the episode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, or your favorite podcast platform.

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Jacob Morgan

Jacob Morgan

11.8K Followers

4x Best-Selling Author, Speaker, & Futurist. Founder of FutureOfWorkUniversity.com. Exploring Leadership, Employee Experience, & The Future of Work