Spoiler Alert -- This Season's Hottest TV Shows Hold Valuable Lessons for Entrepreneurs
As network television enters another week of season premieres, viewers across the country prepare to reunite with some of their favorite sitcom families, saucy couples, adorable nerds and vile politicians. Other shows will hit the small screen for the first time, hoping to woo audiences and land a second season.
Entrepreneurs should watch closely because the difference between a show that makes it and one that tanks could hold valuable insights for their business. Here are three lessons entrepreneurs can take away from network television’s hottest shows:
1. Failure is necessary.
Failure is the norm in network television. From 2009 to 2012, on average 65 percent of network television shows were canceled within the first season. That doesn’t include the hundreds of ideas and scripts that were narrowed to a handful of pilots, then cut down to the one or two shows that were broadcast.
While some in TV criticize this massive cutting-block approach, others liken it to research and development, a fundamental step on the way to the creation of gems like The Office and The Big Bang Theory.
For entrepreneurs, a high failure rate certainly isn’t good, but finding a formula that allows room for failure is. Not every idea that comes out of a company in technology or advertising (or insert any industry here) is going to be great. But businesses that provide room for creative exploration empower their employees to take risks in their work, pursue multiple ideas and uncover the gems that can lead to big payoffs.
2. Diversity drives a winning formula.
Think about some of TV’s most recent hits, from the hottest dramas, like Scandal, to comedic powerhouses like Modern Family. What hey have in common is that they are uncommon, breaking away from cookie-cutter characters, themes and expectations to bring unique and powerful perspectives to the forefront.
Diversity in the workplace delivers the same significant advantages. By looking to diverse talent (in race, gender and experience, among other factors), entrepreneurs can craft a team with a richer vision and a rare strategic and creative lens. Through the collaboration of unique minds, skills and backgrounds, these teams can help their companies develop the best products and services possible.
3. Personality in the workplace works.
Shonda Rhimes is the creator, head writer, executive producer and show runner of Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal, as well as one of the driving forces behind this season’s new drama How to Get Away With Murder. ShondaLand, her production company, dominates ABC’s Thursday nights and Rhimes is credited in large part with changing the landscape of today’s network television.
One way Rhimes has accomplished this is by refusing to create characters and casts according to the narrow confines that other shows have established and follow. But she’s not the only one responsible for bringing these shows to life.
At ShondaLand, Rhimes “oversees some 550 actors, writers, crew members and producers,” The New York Times reported. Together, this team generates an impressive quality and quantity of creative output, delivering stories and characters that are all-at-once audacious, heartfelt, heartbreaking, romantic, thrilling, conniving and even comedic. How does ShondaLand do it?
In my experience, a team’s ability to work well together and its capacity to push boundaries and elevate an industry reflect the workplace itself. Work cultures that are open to engaging personalities can help team members bring their lively, valuable and diverse voices to the table, rather than stifling them behind what’s expected and widely accepted.
Give employees a dynamic, innovative workspace and expect to see creative and inspired work. Build a flat and sterile workplace and expect a similarly flat and sterile output. Rhimes works on a production set so the office is a little different to begin with. According to the Times profile, Rhimes' two daughters have "offices" across the hall from her, with the 1-year old clinging to her mother during meetings. From the article, it is clear that Rhimes plays multiple roles in her office: doting mother, friendly co-worker and authoritarian boss. Rhimes frequently doles out compliments, but she is blunt and matter-of-fact with her staff, ending meetings brusquely when they run too long.
With a new TV season kicking off, ripe with network debuts and returning favorites, now is a good time for entrepreneurs to tune in and take notes. Both the shows that garner a big following and those that flop in their first season hold valuable lessons for entrepreneurs looking to produce major hits of their own. Show business is still business, after all.