Prime Time Innovation: Why Audiences Can’t Get Enough of “Shark Tank” and Other Entrepreneurial Reality TV Shows

Prime Time Innovation Move over rose wielding bachelors and cha-chaing celebutantes, reality TV has crowned a new ratings darling: ABC’s “Shark Tank”. The show’s premise is simple: it’s essentially a business pitch competition where entrepreneurs pitch their business ideas on live TV to a panel of investors known as the “sharks”. Rapid-fire deals are negotiated on the spot with sharks using their own money to give entrepreneurs the funding they need to turn their dreams into million dollar realities. Over 300 deals have been accepted over the show’s past six seasons, and the sharks have collectively offered more than $60 million to bankroll an array of entrepreneurs and their business ventures. To date, the most successful “Shark Tank” business is the Scrub Daddy sponge that has raked in more than $18 million since its TV debut (shark Lori Greiner made a deal with the creator for $200,000 in exchange for 20 percent of the business).

Despite its Friday 9 p.m. time slot (a.k.a. “The Friday Night Deathslot”), the show has taken off—it’s the most watched show on Friday nights in the coveted 18-49 demographic with Nielsen ratings consistently rising each season. Now with 108 episodes under its belt, “Shark Tank” has become a cultural phenomenon in its own right, inspiring a whole new crop of entrepreneurial reality shows (Food Network’s “Food Fortunes”, CNBC’s “The Profit”, and ABC Family’s “Startup U”, just to name a few). So why have audiences flocked to the show like sharks to blood? I believe these are two of the main reasons this entrepreneurial reality show has resonated with viewers:


Armchair Entrepreneurship: The Thrill of Vicarious Success

Many people believe that entrepreneurs are born not made, and that because they weren’t born with the innovation “gene” that their entrepreneurial dreams are just that—dreams. However, while such people may not be able to do it for themselves, they still derive pleasure from watching others succeed. “Shark Tank” lets viewers vicariously experience the thrill of innovation and ultimately entrepreneurial success without ever having to get up off the couch, spend a single dollar, or sacrifice a minute of sleep. “Shark Tank” takes armchair, wannabe entrepreneurs on a low-stakes (or more accurately, no-stakes) thrill ride. For 60 minutes each Friday night, it’s (almost) all the fun of the real thing, but with none of the risk.

Is your fear of taking risks and failure holding you back? What’s keeping you on the couch when others are taking action on their ideas and fulfilling their dreams? After all, of the ten imperatives to Roberts Rules of Innovation, “No Risk… No Innovation” is arguably one of the most important. As discussed in the book, without risk there can be no innovation. In a tough economic environment, the willingness to take risk—given the cost of failure—can wither. Fear of failure can kill innovation.

Those who can’t do, watch (on TV). Which type of person are you?


Red, White, and Blue Revenues? The American Dream 2.0

Nothing stirs up patriotism quite like the idea of the American Dream. In the past ten years, there’s been a significant paradigm shift in the business world. The American Dream no longer has such a clear-cut trajectory. The risks are bigger but so are the rewards. It’s no longer about patiently climbing the corporate ladder to achieve success; this is a new era where business idols can be college drop outs who build billion dollar business while living in their parents’ basement and wearing pajama pants to business meetings—the Mark Zuckerberg effect, if you will. “Shark Tank” gives audiences the opportunity to route for the underdog, the rags-to-riches fantasy, and the American Dream 2.0.

For more in-depth guidelines on how to promote innovation in your business, refer to Robert’s Rules of Innovation, one of the best business entrepreneur books. Be sure to keep an eye out for the forthcoming Robert’s Rules of Innovation II, “The Art of Implementation.” Also check out innovation coach workshops and online webinars through the Innovation as a System™ Seminar Series.