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Unemployment, layoffs, and uncertainty are part of a familiar economic chorus these days. But while America may not feel like a nation of optimists, it certainly plays one on TV.
The wave of reality programming that promotes entrepreneurism and free enterprise may be symptomatic of a changed country. Shark Tank’s Kevin O’Leary writes in The National Post on the post-recession mindset:
A generation ago, it was a safe bet to get an education, take a job in a large company, buy a house, start a family, and then retire with a pension. It was a straight route to a good life. Those days are over. The recent global financial crisis has been a wake-up call to a new generation of Americans and Canadians, who now see the risks of starting a new company as about the same as working for a large existing one.
It’s an interesting phenomenon. With tightened credit and pervasive uncertainty, the natural assumption is that the appetite to start a new business would shrink. But entrepreneurial activity tends to rise. Television programming, particularly the slate of reality shows, can serve as a cultural mirror. What Real Housewives and Honey Boo Boo say about American culture should prompt concern, but it doesn’t take a Nielsen analyst to realize that this country has been bitten by the free enterprise bug, and there are several themes that entrepreneurs can empathize with and learn from.
Create Something That Inspires
Entrepreneurs on Shark Tank have just minutes to convince the panel of “sharks” to invest in their ideas. If they don’t inspire quickly, they lose their chance at critical funding. But if they succeed, they can create a frenzy among investors looking to get in on the ground floor. Similarly, shows like Project Runway and Top Chef offer cash prizes to the winners so they can start their own businesses, resulting in countless garments appearing in department stores and on celebrities, and restaurants popping up across the country.
Nothing exemplifies the free market quite like the spate of shows set at pawn shops, storage facilities, and backyards. On Storage Wars and American Pickers, to name a few, the “trash to treasure” eye can turn abandoned or unwanted stuff into a bona fide payday. On the receiving end? Pawn shops and collectors, as depicted by the family businesses in Pawn Stars and Hard Core Pawn, that are benefiting from a keen eye, shrewd negotiating skills, and a thorough knowledge of the marketplace.
Do What You Love
A few years ago, Duck Commander, the hunting company featured on Duck Dynasty, was a mom-and-pop company run out of the living room. Today, helmed by much-beleaguered CEO Willie Robertson, it’s a family business working to manage exploding growth and its unruly employees. Si, Jase, and the other bearded members of the Robertson clan who make the company's famous duck calls are notoriously distracted—by everything from beaver dam blasting to hot doughnut eating competitions. But shenanigans aside, Duck Commander is an example of doing something well and adapting it into a successful business. Now just imagine how successful it could be with employees that put in a full day's work.