Six Business Lessons You Can Learn From Project Runway

I am coming out of the closet, so to speak. No, not like THAT!

My family’s favorite television show, Project Runway, began season 13 last Thursday night.

For the next 16 Thursdays, my family and I will live and die with the escapades of an unknown group of eclectic fashion designers. We will make it work as we watch and re-watch every episode of Project Runway courtesy of our DVR.

We haven’t decided yet who we want to win, but we definitively have decided who we want to lose – Amanda. If you don’t remember Amanda from Season 11, she was particularly uncivil to the other contestants, and we in the Fox family have long memories, so, if we have our way, she’s out. Sorry Amanda, but that’s just how it goes.

Project Runway’s format is similar to Donald Trump’s old show, The Apprentice. Each week, the designers are given a design task to complete in 24 to 48 hours on an almost non-existent budget. (Does this sound familiar to anyone who’s lived the start-up life?).

There is a judging panel composed of former supermodel Heidi Klum, Marie Claire Magazine’s Fashion Director Nina Garcia, and American fashion designer Zac Posen. Each episode features a runway show of the week’s designs. The judges ask the designers questions about the designs, and each week a designer a designer is eliminated after the judges caucus. It is remarkably similar to pitching to VC’s!

My wife and I are constantly pointing out to our daughter the real-world lessons you learn from Project Runway. They include:

  1. Perseverance. I can’t think of a more important lesson or key to success than perseverance. The back stories of many of the designers on Project Runway are amazing. Many of the designers have toiled away for years in near-poverty, pursuing their passion, a dream of becoming an elite fashion designer. It’s not enough for you to be talented. We all have obstacles to overcome, and, each week we are inevitably treated to a story about a designer overcoming incredible adversity to succeed.
  2. Time management. Watch one episode of Project Runway, and you get an appreciation for just how important time management is to success. Inevitably, there is at least one contestant struggling with getting their design completed on time. The finalists always manage their time well. I don’t know about you, but a key to my success is my ability to manage my time well. We are all typically faced with too many tasks to complete in too little time. Prioritizing, just like the successful Project Runway designers, is a key to your success.
  3. Budgeting. Each designer is given a miniscule budget to complete the week’s task. The successful designers do an excellent job of budgeting how much to spend each week. Project Runway takes it very seriously if you go over budget. In fact, Project Runway makes you get under budget to compete. You should take budgeting seriously too. It can be the difference between success and failure of your enterprise.
  4. Teamwork. A few times, a season the designers are paired in teams. Sometimes the designers choose their teammates, and sometimes their teammates are chosen for them. Tension makes for great television and a great opportunity to learn. Just like in real life, you need to work well with others to win. And, just like in real life, sometimes you are handed a bunch of losers as teammates. The designers scream, “Oh, its so unfair!” Of course it is. Sometimes, life is unfair!
  5. Taking Risks. One of the joys of watching any reality TV show is handicapping who will lose on any given episode. On Project Runway you can usually figure out who’s about to be toast when you hear the immortal words, “I decided NOT to take any risks this week.” It’s a guaranteed way for a designer to fail. We’ve all worked with people that don’t like to take any risks. You need to take risks to succeed in today’s world where employment is no longer guaranteed.
  6. Gatekeepers Make Mistakes. Have you been blocked by an investor, boss, or other gatekeeper from pursuing your dreams? It happens all the time in business, and on Project Runway. If you’re a fan of the series, you can’t forget the judges’ gaffe when they selected Gretchen over Mondo as Season 8 winner. Just like in business, the gatekeepers power is weakening. Mondo used his season 8 near miss as a springboard to a successful fashion design career. Now each week, the viewers have a chance to vote, in real time, on whether they agree or disagree with judges decision. Sure enough, 70% of viewers disagreed with the judges Week 1 decision this season.

Don’t let the gatekeepers, whoever they are, keep you from pursuing your dreams. Remember Lesson 1: perseverance.

Amazing, isn’t it, how much a television show about fashion design can teach us about succeeding in business?

That’s all for now,


Photo: Fotolia