Lessons from the Shark Tank About Work

Several years ago while visiting my mom, I stopped by to find her watching “Shark Tank,” a TV show where entrepreneurs seek investments from wealthy “sharks” to help them take their business to a new, and sometimes substantial level.

Back then, my mom was a little old lady in Indiana with no illusions of starting a business. I asked her why she watched it and she said she got a kick out of the show, that the sharks were “characters,” and that she really loved that Mark Cuban! 

Wow, my mom loves Mark Cuban! Given that Mark Cuban owns the Dallas Mavericks and I’m a longtime Sacramento Kings fan, this was a little hard to swallow. So I sat down and watched an episode with her anyway and found it hugely entertaining. 

Fast forward a few years and I became hooked on Shark Tank for it’s great storytelling and life lessons. It showcases people and their passions, their stories of challenge and triumph, and it’s heavily layered with personality dynamics. Shark Tank is just like work in a lot of ways!

Here are a few things the Shark Tank can teach us about work:

Be the person who solves problems for other people. Mark Cuban says one of the most important things he looks for in an employee is someone who reduces his stress. Guess what? Your boss wants the same thing! If you can be a person who relieves more stress than you create, that brings tremendous value and it has a carryover effect to your customers, peers, and results.

Be decisive and seize opportunity. One of the things you regularly see on the “Tank” is an offer that gets withdrawn or goes down in value due to indecision on the part of the entrepreneur. The same thing holds true at work. Jump on opportunities quickly. Get them up and running even if you haven’t figured it all out yet. Too many useful things get stalled out because people spend too much time talking and not enough time giving something a try!

Know whether you run a service or a business. I run a small consulting practice that is more or less just me. This a service not a business. Yes, it broke my heart to hear Barbara Corcoran say this on the Tank and she’s right. My business doesn’t scale easily unless I can clone myself. I can’t step away and generate revenue. If you work inside an organization offering a service, bring the most value you can by offering a great service and keeping your expenses down. Doing so can help other parts of the company generate revenue and make all of your more successful.

Know your numbers. Nowhere is this more true than on the Shark Tank. When someone comes in and doesn’t have a good handle on their sales to-date and profitability, things go downhill quickly. This carries over into so many things in life. We manage what we measure. It’s easy to think we are winning, when in fact we are busy. Come up with simple metrics that tell you whether you are winning or losing so you can face the hard truth and shift as needed. 

Embrace your inner Mark Cuban. Having watched at least 100 episodes of Shark Tank now, I have developed a soft spot for Mr. Cuban. Not only is he the most successful Shark on the show (net worth over $4B), he knows what he’s good at and what he’s not. He gets visibly excited by the things that tickle his fancy (electric 3-wheeler scooters?). He also quickly says “I’m out” to things that would simply be a distraction or aren’t in his wheelhouse.  

A few years after introducing me to Shark Tank, my Mom entered a long term care facility for dementia. So although it became less likely that she would start a business one day, we watched the Shark Tank together whenever we could.

Your Take on the Tank?

  1. What are lessons you can apply from the Shark Tank in your workplace?
  2. Who is your favorite Shark?
  3. What ideas do you have for a business?  Have you tried it?  What would you need to get started?

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