Stone Yamashita Partners and PBS (C)

By Victoria Chang, Chip Heath
2004 | Case No. SM119C
In mid-2000, 34 year-old Keith Yamashita, founder and principal of Stone Yamashita Partners (SYP), a nine-year-old strategy, branding, design, and culture change consultancy, sat in a conference room in SYP’s loft office space in San Francisco. As he adjusted his square and stylish black-rimmed glasses and waited for his team to assemble in the room, he thought about the pro bono project he’d recently agreed to do for Public Broadcasting System (PBS). Yamashita was quite excited about the project; he had grown up watching PBS programs such as Sesame Street and Nova and had long admired PBS’ dedication to education and public service. Yet PBS was facing substantial changes such as increasing competition from new media including the Internet and cable television, as well as organizational, funding, and governance issues. The new CEO of PBS, Patricia Mitchell, had asked for SYP’s help. SYP had worked with a number of high-profile corporations, including IBM, Disney, Nike, and HP. Its unique brand of consulting drew more on communications and design than number crunching. Rather than PowerPoint decks of market analyses or positioning suggestions, its deliverables had included a cityscape and role-play exercise for Nike managers that forced them to spend a day as kids from the city of Chicago; a “Summer Jam” session at IBM that helped college kids brainstorm about the future along with the famed scientists and engineers of the Watson Laboratories at IBM; and an in-house amusement park mock-up at HP that showed concrete ways that HP technology might alter the experience of guests at Disneyland. SYP had avoided traditional consultancy buzz phrases such as “change management” or “business process redesign.” Instead, it talked about “heart,” “visceral experiences,” and making ideas “gritty”…Yamashita said, “We reinvent companies and cultures. We work in the boardroom and on the front lines, taking companies through change.” PBS was an organization that was facing substantial environmental challenges and would likely need to change its longstanding structure, routines, and conservative, change-averse culture. As Yamashita waited in the conference room for the team to arrive, he thought about how SYP’s approach and principles could be tailored and modified to help PBS transform itself.
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