What Reality TV Taught Me About Being an Entrepreneur

I hear a lot of entrepreneurs say they’ve thrown out their televisions in exchange for self-improvement books, meditation, and more hours chipping away at their dreams. If it isn’t Shark Tank, it’s doing nothing to grow the business and put money in the bank.

Well, I’m an entrepreneur that loves to spend hours watching reality competition shows. After a long day of work, nothing is more satisfying than sitting on my couch with a bowl of cereal and watching other people battle for their dreams. Far from being a sadist, not only is competition fun to watch, it also helps me becomes a better entrepreneur.

TV and entrepreneurship can go together

This is not to say I can attribute all of my success to watching The Bachelorette. But, I’m not quick to discount the lessons I’ve learned from this show, and other shows like it, either. Here are three very important things that reality competition shows have taught me about being a successful entrepreneur.

1. There is focus on one goal

If you watch even one episode of American Idol, you’ll notice that none of the contestants want to be the best gardeners, painters, or stock brokers. Thousands of people gather in cramped stadiums, waiting for hours with nauseous stomachs and trembling vocal cords all for the chance to realize one universal dream. Singing isn’t something that’s just another item on the to-do list. It is the to-do list. It’s everything.

As entrepreneurs, we often get swept up in trying to satisfy the demands of the hundreds of things we could be doing to ramp up our successes, get more traffic to our websites, and just gosh darn get noticed. But, if you’ve read Gary Keller’s “The One Thing,” you’ll know that we’re missing the point. Success doesn’t come from doing everything you could be doing to reach success. It’s about doing one thing, and doing it well.

Every once in a while, there will be contestants on American Idol that want to stand out as triple threats. After dramatic entrances, they’ll dance around the stage with their legs flying in the air and their costumes getting tangled in their faces. While it’s entertaining to watch, it does little to prove their worth as singers. American Idol focuses on one goal and expects its contestants to do the same. Those that don’t, fail to make it.

2. Vulnerability sells

Every season on The Biggest Loser, contestants spend weeks on a ranch hoping to change their waistlines and their lives through weight loss and habit change. Despite the research now pointing to reasons why the weight loss strategies implemented on the show are not effective over the long-term, we still eat it up. When the new season airs, I’ll probably think about turning it off, but I won’t. The stories are just too good.

Vulnerability has its time and place, and it needs to be implemented in the right context in order for it to be effective. I wouldn’t suggest standing up in the middle of your monthly financial meeting and rehashing your high school days of being bullied. Instead, go to a ranch where you’re separated from all friends and family; get on a treadmill and run like hell, with a trainer yelling in your face to keep moving at all costs; fall to the floor in a puddle of exhaustion and tears; do some soul searching to figure out why your inabilities to run like Flash are linked to your self-hatred and lack of confidence. Now that’s the time for vulnerability.

We love to see people share their lives, take chances, and put themselves out there for their goals. Whether they are fighting to lose weight, be the best American models, race around the world, or cook a dish worthy of Gordon Ramsey’s standards, there is nothing more captivating, inspirational, and entertaining than being a part of someone’s journey to success.

As an entrepreneur, be sure you are letting your followers join you on your journey. Make your mistakes something to celebrate, instead of hide. Use your stories of defeat and hurt to connect with others who have experienced the same. Take one look at the Chewbacca Mom video and realize that authenticity will drive you to success faster than pre-packaged perfection.

3. It’s about building community, even on an island

Survivor is one of those reality shows that loves to smile when contestants look into the camera and say, “I’m not here to make friends.” Well, they are. And, if they’re not, they’re not going to win.

In a competition where everyone is striving to be the sole Survivor, the nuance of social play becomes the most important factor leading to success. How do you stay friends with someone while stabbing them in the back? How do you build alliances that trust, respect, and like you? How do you balance being both a powerful threat and a harmless ally?

Survivor likes to remind us that, even if we are quite literally on an island, we can’t achieve our goals by working alone.

Even as a writer that doesn’t mind sitting in a coffee shop all day with no human interaction, I can’t deny how much I need to remain socially adept in order to progress in my career. I need readers to buy my books. I need editors to like and publish my articles. I need podcast hosts to think I’m charming, witty, and full of wisdom. I need to build a tribe. And if I don’t, I’ll be voted out of the tribe.

When it comes to business, our own efforts will only get us so far. Yes, we can figure out how to build our own shelters or hunt our own food, but who will save us when our rafts have sprung a leak and we’re sinking in the middle of the ocean? We can only get so far by ourselves.

If your business has been stuck on an island, reach out to neighboring tribes and double down on your networking efforts. Unlike competition shows, there need not be only one, sole Survivor standing at the end. Helping others can create a ripple effect that will propel, not just you, but everyone towards success.

It’s time to stop changing the channel when someone walks in the room as you’re trying to secretly watch your favorite reality show. What you have been shrugging off as mindless entertainment, can actually provide a lot of insights about running your business. So, if you get any grief, smile and say you’re doing research. As I’ve learned from watching reality competition shows, there’s no better way to observe the human instinct to fight like hell for a dream.


This was a guest post by Diana Fitts. Diana is an author and blogger at betterthanalive.com. With three books published, her work focuses on goal setting and productivity. Her most recent book, Better Running Goals, focuses on goal setting for runners. Find her at betterthanalive.com.

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