The Cousin Oliver Syndrome

We have all been involved in (or reviewed) projects that where in absolute desperation – always at the very last minute – Management has instituted a new process or person in the hope that that single event will reverse the fortunes of a project in terminal decline.

Welcome to the Cousin Oliver Syndrome.


Oliver Martin, usually known as Cousin Oliver, stayed with the Brady Family during the final six episodes of The Brady Bunch.

As explained in the episode “Welcome Aboard”, Carol’s brother and his wife traveled to an archaeological dig in South America, and son Oliver was unable to accompany them, so he was sent to live with the Bradys. Oliver was played by actor Robbie Rist.

The producers added Oliver because they wanted a younger character to balance out the maturing cast. The Brady “kids” were by then all over twelve, and the producers hoped that adding a younger cast member would improve ratings.

The addition did not work, and Cousin Oliver proved unpopular with the viewing audience; some fans would later call the addition of Oliver the moment the show fell into fatal decline. 

Interestingly – well at least for McLeod Governance!!!! – this also paralleled The Partridge Family, who brought in a precocious four-year-old neighbor named “Ricky” for six episodes of its simultaneous final season.The term “Cousin Oliver Syndrome” has since been used to refer to a cute child actor added to the cast of a long-running show in hopes to boost ratings, or to replace child cast members who have since grown up, usually with disastrous results for the series.**So step away from Marcia, Cindy et al at 4222 Clinton Way for moment and consider the ramifications of the Cousin Oliver Syndrome in a work environment.McLeod Governance suspects that, by now, you are thinking that this very phenomenon is at play in a disproportionate number of major projects.

But why, when – not only in television but in real life – it is shown to fail more often than succeed.

Perhaps it is because we all become fans of the projects that we manage and we will see in any diversion, a salvation.

How then can this Syndrome be addressed.

As with most issues McLeod Governance suspects that acknowledgement of the existence, or at least the possibility, of the Syndrome is the first step.

The second – and we would argue the more important step – is to manage a project (or a television series about a blended family) better such that you never find yourself in need of a Cousin Oliver to save the day!

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