Smartt Principles

Nicole Smartt Serres is an author as well as president of Star Staffing, based in Petaluma. She also writes the Business Journal column Smartt Principles (nbbj.news/smarttprinciples). This article was originally published in Inc. magazine.

Some days we’ve got to indulge in guilty pleasures a little bit. After all, focusing too tightly on one’s goals can sometimes lead to goal blindness, where we don’t’ see options and outcomes as clearly as when we step away for a few minutes.

It turns out, though, that some seriously entertaining shows might be able to teach us about business while we “indulge” in downtime. Here are eight shows that have smart things to teach about business without putting you to sleep while you learn.

1. "The Profit"

Shown on CNBC, the show features Marcus Lemonis, offering expertise, guidance and even funding, to struggling small businesses. My first observation is that he’s 100% in charge.

I had the pleasure of meeting Lemonis at the Inc. 5000 event a few years ago. I’ve been a huge fan since the show began airing in July 2013. I’ve learned a great deal about people, processes, products and how important knowing your numbers are. Lemonis takes ownership of companies going out of business — or really struggling — and transforms them through his process, and we get to watch everything!

2. "Shark Tank"

This is probably the most popular show about entrepreneurship and learning. Franchised from the Japanese show “Dragon’s Den,” "Shark Tank" showcases entrepreneurs who pitch their ideas to a panel of experts who then choose whether to invest.

Though steeped in TV drama, the parameters the Sharks use to evaluate the entrepreneurs’ ideas are solid: They expect strong pitches, knowing your numbers, production costs, margins, where you’re selling products and customer acquisition. We get to see how the Sharks think and their reasoning behind agreeing to invest.

3. "Undercover Boss"

A unique franchise, this show with several versions internationally features high-level executives masquerading as new hires in their own companies to discover what it’s actually like to work for them.

Many episodes uncover huge systemic issues, from problems with distribution, to failing or missing essential equipment, to employees going above and beyond despite their own life struggles. Many episodes resolve with executives shelling out cash, training experiences, new equipment, and many other bonuses to help employees get on their feet and improve working conditions.

The strongest takeaways from "Undercover Boss" are that businesses are not “set it and forget it” environments. Communication, high standards, humility and strong business sense are all essential.

4. "Million Dollar Listing"

I am a huge fan of this show, and yes, while most of it may be scripted, you still have an opportunity to learn about negotiation.

"Million Dollar Listing," a franchise from the Bravo Network, follows individual American real estate agents through their professional and personal lives as they sell high-dollar properties.

As a staffing firm owner, we are in a similar business. Real estate agents match buyers and homes, while my company matches companies with top candidates. This show also features excellent examples of networking, marketing and negotiations.

5. "Billion Dollar Buyer"

This show follows Tilman Fertitta, chairman, president and CEO of Landry’s Inc., as he travels the country discovering innovative new hospitality products.

The biggest takeaways from "Billion Dollar Buyer" center on the details of producing a product with consistent quality at a volume that can support mass orders, and that’s presented well enough to get sold as part of a big contract. The show contains a wealth of useful information, as well as sensible rules of thumb, for any small business or product producer.

Smartt Principles

Nicole Smartt Serres is an author as well as president of Star Staffing, based in Petaluma. She also writes the Business Journal column Smartt Principles (nbbj.news/smarttprinciples). This article was originally published in Inc. magazine.

6. "Suits"

The big thing for me with "Suits" is the quick-witted work humor. They deal with tough situations and always come out on top. Their positive attitude mixed with their problem-solving savviness is a win-win. Created by Aaron Korsh, "Suits" follows lawyers at a fictional law firm in New York City.

The show champions perseverance, the importance of sticking to one’s ethics, the fact that there’s always another choice, strong communication and rising above the occasion. You can learn a ton about negotiation, communication and navigating complex situations. Plus, it’s a really fun and absorbing watch.

7. "Billions"

Created by Brian Koppelman, David Levien and Androw Sorkin (of "The Newsroom" fame), "Billions" is a fictionalized take on the experiences of former U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara as he battled with hedge fund manager Steve Cohen.

Perhaps surprisingly, the show has a lot to say about ongoing learning, earning career advancements, loyalty and sticking with your own long game. It can teach a ton of internal tools to help you stay oriented and self-confident, even when the pressure is turned way up.

8. "Ballers"

Starring Dwayne Johnson and created by Stephen Levinson, "Ballers" follows a retired NFL player as he figures out how to be a financial manager for other football players. This show has a lot to say about sensible spending and what can happen if you spend stupidly. "Ballers" navigates serious interpersonal and internal complexity with grace and humor.

So next time you feel a little guilty for wanting to tune out to a show for a while, remember there are very real things you can learn and real skills you can hone watching shows that don’t seem particularly educational on the surface.