Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Startup Lessons from Mad Men, Chopped and Other Awesome TV Shows

I'll admit it.  I'm a TV junkie.  But I like to think that the endless hours I spend DVRing my favorite shows and purchasing DVDs (not to mention the hundreds of dollars I spend a month on cable alone) aren't all for nothing.  The other day, while I was curled up on my hand-me-down couch watching one of my favorite TV dramas, Mad Men, I discovered that the episode actually taught me quite a bit about advertising and marketing.  I soon realized I could relate all of the lessons I learned from Mad Men to entrepreneurship.  And then it hit me: All of my favorite television shows can (believe it or not) teach me something about entrepreneurship.

Today, I want to share those lessons with you.  And although some of these television shows may have nothing to do with entrepreneurship (i.e. my favorite Food Network show, Chopped), every single one of these series actually can provide some insight into the unpredictable world of startups.

"Fear stimulates my imagination." - Don Draper, Mad Men
Fear of choosing the wrong business.  Fear of a startup's unpredictability.  Fear of the unknown.  Fear of running out of money.  Fear of failure.  Entrepreneurs fear many things.  But believe it or not, it is fear that tends to drive these entrepreneurs forward.  Because of fear, entrepreneurs tend to work twice as hard with half the amount of sleep (and money) as their colleagues.  It's fear that keeps us's fear that stimulates our imaginations.

"If we can't live together, then we're going to die alone." - Jack Shephard, LOST 
As one of the most famous quotes in television history, this blurb from Jack Shephard of LOST can teach us a lot about entrepreneurship.  But I interpret this quote in two different ways:

First of all, LOST can teach us an overwhelming amount about teamwork.  If it weren't for the teamwork put forth on the island, the group may have not survived (SPOILER ALERT: or were they even alive in the first place!?).  Every single person on the island brought a unique talent that helped the entire group survive--from Jack's medical knowledge and skills to John Locke's hunting abilities--the stranded group had only two choices: to live together or to die alone.  A startup can either thrive or die because of the team that's behind it.  It is the individual people, each with their own unique talents, that move a business forward.

Secondly, this quote in particular can teach us a lot about coopetition.  Coopetition is a word to describe "cooperative competition".  Coopetition happens when competitors work together because  they do not believe they have competitive advantage and because they believe they can share common costs. Entrepreneurs, startups and small businesses have found that coopetition is extremely beneficial for the growth of startup communities.  

"Every man at some point in his life is going to lose a battle...but what makes him a man is at the midst of that battle he does not lose himself.  The game is not over, this battle is not over." - Coach Eric Taylor, Friday Night Lights

Many people may have seen Friday Night Lights the movie.  But in my opinion, Friday Night Lights as a television series can teach us much more about entrepreneurship.  One of the biggest lessons an entrepreneur can learn while watching Friday Night Lights is that at some point in his startup life, he will fail.  Football teams lose games, entrepreneurs lose opportunities.  It's the way of life.  But, it is important to learn from those mistakes and failures and remember that even when all seems lost, the battle is not over.

"Ted, your problem is all you do is think, think, think.  I'm teaching you how to do, do, do." - Barney Stinson, How I Met Your Mother

Any fan of How I Met Your Mother knows that Barney Stinson is a "doer" (in more ways than one).  Entrepreneurs should take this "do-do" (hehe) mentality from Mr. Stinson.  When you're an entrepreneur, it's important to continue to move a business forward.  Progress is not going to happen by holding pointless meetings or assigning goalless projects.  Be like Barney; be a "doer".  Other advice we can learn from Barney Stinson?  Every once in awhile, it is important for an entrepreneur to "Suit Up!".

It's high energy.  It's fast-paced. - Chopped

For those of you who are not familiar with the popular Food Network series Chopped, allow me to explain.  Chopped takes four chefs from across the country and gives them a basket of wacky ingredients.  Each ingredient must be made into a delicious meal in a short amount of time.  Then, each plate is judged by a panel of famous Food Network stars. Chefs compete in three rounds (entree, appetizer and dessert) with one chef eliminated every round.  The winner receives $10,000 and ultimate bragging rights.  

Doesn't sound a whole lot like entrepreneurship, does it?  Think again!  We can learn quite a few lessons from my favorite Food Network show:

  • We don't get to choose the ingredients:  The Chopped competitors do not have the luxury of choosing the main ingredients for their meal, much like entrepreneurs do not get to choose the main ingredients to build the perfect startup.  Sure, entrepreneurs can choose the startup's employees, culture and office space.  But oftentimes, an entrepreneur cannot choose their startup's source of capital, its media coverage or its overall outcome. 
  • There's always a curveball: In every episode of Chopped, there is at least one ingredient that throws the competitors completely off.  Jews Mallow?  Sea urchins?  Gummy worms?  Sometimes, the basket ingredients seem impossible to combine. Entrepreneurs often face similar situations when they are thrown startup curveballs.  The best way to handle them?  Expect the unexpected and roll with the punches! 
  • Time is precious: Chefs competing in Chopped only have 20 minutes for the appetizer round, 30 minutes for the entree round and 30 minutes for the dessert round.  Without a doubt, time is precious. Time is an entrepreneur's most precious commodity as well.  Use it wisely--there's never enough of it!  
  • Winners don't play it safe: Oftentimes, chefs are "chopped" because they play it too safe.  The same thing goes for entrepreneurs.  It's important to step outside your comfort zone and take chances.  Don't let your fears get in the way (see quote #1!).  

"Chris, everything I say is a lie.  Except that. And that. And that. And that. And that. And that. And that." - Peter Griffin, Family Guy
Many of you may not think that the animated television series Family Guy can teach us a whole lot about entrepreneurship.  And in all honesty, it really can't.  But as one of my favorite TV shows, I had to add it to the list.  In my opinion, the one thing we can learn from Family Guy is to not take life too seriously.  As an entrepreneur, chasing your dream should actually be fun.  Enjoy the ride.  Soak up the great moments.  And most importantly, don't forget to laugh along the way.  

"There's always money in the banana stand!" - George Bluth Sr., Arrested Development   

I'm just as happy as the next person that Arrested Development is coming back to the small screen (and eventually, the big screen).  As one of the funniest television shows of all time (in my humble opinion), Arrested Development can also teach us quite a bit about entrepreneurship.  For one, it can teach us that when life brings you down, it's important to face problems head-on, attack the tough situations with your head held high and lean on your family and friends when you need it most.  Although there may not always be money in the banana stand, we always have our friends and families to support us (even though they drive us crazy sometimes).

"Some individuals, it is true, are more special.  This is natural selection. It begins as a single individual born or hatched like every other member of their species.  Anonymous. Seemingly ordinary. Except they're not." - Mohinder Suresh, Heroes

This quote from Mohinder Suresh of Heroes is spot-on.  Not everybody is a natural-born entrepreneur.  Entrepreneurs are unique, extraordinary people with even more extraordinary ideas.  Not everyone is meant to be an entrepreneur.  Are you one of the chosen ones?

"This question comes from Twitter, because apparently that's something which happens now." - Gwen, Parks and Recreation

Last but not least, I had to throw one of my favorite lines from Parks and Recreation into this list.  As one of my favorite comedies on television (alongside The Office and 30 Rock, of course), this quote from Parks and Recreation can teach us just how important social media is.  Entrepreneurs, use your social media resources!  You never know who's watching out in the Twittersphere or on Facebook.

Who else out there is a TV junkie?  What are your favorite television shows?  Can you learn something about entrepreneurship and startups from those series that make you laugh, cry and wonder?  Share below.  

Follow me! @AllisonThinkBig 

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