Conan O'Brien takes the helm of the Tonight Show tonight, and there's been much talk about how nervous the NBC suits are about the fragility of NBC's $100 million-per-year franchise.
But I can see into the future. Conan is going to do very well.
How do I know? I've learned one big thing in studying the science of talent and intelligence over the last few years: Greatness is not a thing, but a process. And Conan figured out a long time ago how to implement a very smart process that enables him to take risks, adapt, and continually improve until he gets something right.
Past is prologue here. In one of the most extraordinary events in the history of television, Conan was picked out of the blue to succeed David Letterman in 1993. He had little performance experience and zero on-air television experience. Lorne Michaels has done some brave stuff in his time, but selecting Conan has to be at the top of that list. Clearly, Michaels also understands the paramount importance of process.
Please don't take this as a blanket prediction that the Tonight Show will reign forever as TV's number one show. It may well lose viewers. Leno's prime-time might help or hurt Conan. The radically-changing technology/media landscape will surely deliver its own list of winners and losers. But on the question of whether or not Conan can win over the 11:30 Tonight Show audience, I'm quite bullish. I believe in smart, humble people who keep working at something until they get it right. Conan is one of those guys.