3 Ways Reality TV is Exactly Like Disruptive Innovation

by Clinton Bonner

3 Ways Reality TV is Exactly Like Disruptive InnovationIt seems America’s appetite for reality TV hasn’t yet curbed and possibly even continues to accelerate. Want proof? You know that show where people buy delinquent storage units “blind”, then rifle through them looking for valuable collectibles, antiques and other goods? Which one? you say, yeah, that’s my point; there are multiple series that fit that bill including Storage Wars, Auction Hunters and in a tangential way, Pawn Stars. The interesting part is that reality shows like these offer us many parallels into the world of innovation. How so? No, it’s not blind luck turning up a Honus Wagner and thankfully it has nothing to do with the Kardashians.

Parallel Reality #1 – You Need to Take Risks

On the reality show Auction Hunters, Allen Haff and his business partner Clinton “Ton” Jones have to make quick decisions based on very little information. If you’re unfamiliar with the rules of storage unit bidding, here is a crash course. Based on the tidbits that they can see from outside the storage unit – keep in mind very often these units are completely packed, greatly limiting what you can actually see – they have to ascertain the potential value of what is inside that unit and then immediately enter a live auction to bid on purchasing the contents. They discuss the potential value of the unit, come up with a price they are willing to bid and execute their auction plan.

With all that said, it boils down to one fact. With very limited knowledge of the space, but careful dissection of the clues that were afforded them, they leap forward and take on risk. That storage unit could prove to be a complete dud and waste of time and money. Or, it could be a huge score for them. Sound familiar?

The first stage of innovation is exactly like this. You can’t see all the way down the innovation funnel. Sure, you can host ideation contests to drum up scores of what you believe are worthy ideas, you can rapid-prototype several ideas and leverage a platform like TopCoder to generate multiple looks and feels. (Disclosure: TopCoder is my employer) This will get you further down the product-life cycle and hopefully allow you to make better choices as to what you ultimately bring to market, but the fact remains you will still need to show leadership by getting behind an idea and owning its outcome. To innovate, you will need to take risks.

Parallel Reality #2 – You Need Both Broad & Deep Knowledge to Capitalize

The Knowledge Economy Generalist

Both broad & deep knowledge - 21st Century Innovator

If Allen and “Ton” purchased a unit, but had no base of knowledge as to what they were about to look at, what value would that unit have to them? None. The most amazing part of this reality show – to me at least – is their broad and deep enough knowledge of all things collectibles, antiques, and general Americana goodness. Once they have accepted risk, they are prepared to look for every single opportunity the unit will afford them. Again, leaders who are bringing about disruptive innovations might enter a venture with a certain outcome in mind, but once they are inside and actively seeking to monetize the invention or service innovation, they don’t keep blinders on throughout. Instead, they are constantly researching and idea hunting for ways to take their invention and make it truly marketable and therefore valuable to the business.

Interesting to point out from Auction Hunters, the duo of stars have very different backgrounds and areas of expertise, meaning their shared collective intelligence and how they can apply their knowledge to spot opportunities to monetize is stronger than if they were doing this on their own.


Parallel Reality #3 – You Need to Bring it to Market to Create Value

Once “Ton” and Allen are done gutting the contents of the storage unit, they quickly discuss the very best people to bring these items to. Over the years they have compiled an incredible network of experts, collectors and re-sellers they can turn to immediately to try and unload their goods and turn a profit. Whether it’s firearms, neo-impressionist paintings, silverware or even a 19th century embalming kit, they know who to bring their items to. You as a leader of innovation must understand how you will ultimately bring this to market and by doing so create value for your business. To simply invent will not cut it.

Not all TV, especially Reality TV can deliver to us a lesson in disruptive innovation. But in this instance, these Reality TV stars are a lot like any leader who is attempting innovation. They must take calculated risks, they must be able to recognize all opportunities and ultimately, they must be able to bring it to market and by doing so, create value.

Not to worry, a Part II, “Real Houswives of Innovation” won’t be coming soon.

Image Credit: yourdailyjournal.com
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Clinton BonnerClinton Bonner (@clintonbon) is a Marketing Manager at TopCoder – the world’s largest competitive community of software developers, algorithmists and digital creatives. Fun Job!!!



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  1. I hardly watch reality shows, but when I do, I always look for Pawn Stars or American Pickers. The latter is very similar to Auction hunters. Anyway, since we’re speaking about innovation, I’d like to think reality TV is also innovating. Singing shows are dwindling, which means people are getting tired of it. “Smart” shows like Storage Wars and American Pickers, on the other hand, are accelerating.

    • Thx Mae, I think as Reality TV evolves, the niche shows – like these – will find their audiences and fill a need as well. It’s always about bringing it to market!

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