The Shark Tank Effect

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  • by Keanan Barbour-March

I always find it interesting to watch the show Shark Tank. In fact, it’s one of my simple go-tos when I’m clicking “Next Page” over and over on the remote. Why? Because I love ideas. Especially those that aren’t researched or fully fleshed out. Google “worst Shark Tank ideas” and you’ll find a slew of articles outlining some really great flops. In fact, there are many a year that don’t make it and get more attention on the backend. Maybe they’re not thought out, maybe they’re not designed well - or oftentimes, they’re just ideas that haven’t gone much further than the creator’s own mind.

As a researcher, I love watching pitches struggle. No, not because I enjoy entrepreneurs squirming in their seats, but because I like the process of understanding the basis for the business or idea. My wife would tell you that I start way too many sentences with “I wonder…”, and it’s because of this: I’m trying to find the solution of how we got where we currently are. I love the moment people realize something they’ve missed. Sometimes it’s as complex as a missing number, while other times it’s as simple as the phrasing of a sentence. Even better, I love the challenge of understanding the root of an idea and where it went askew. And in turn, what ways we can realign.

The foundation of an idea or product is in solving some kind of need. That’s pretty simple and straightforward. Where the fault lines begin can oftentimes be correlated with the depth to which we understand the problem. When you scratch the surface, you get to see the cause of a situation. When you truly commit to understanding, you experience the true root causing the tension. Case in point, and one we often like to point to, is SEEK’s diabetes example. Another simpler example would be the infamous Throx from Shark Tank. Problem that needed to be solved? Check. Great solution? I’ll let you be the judge. 

What’s the tension that’s being solved with the addition of a third sock? My guess is that it’s based on the insight of being stuck with a sock that is missing its second. Yes, I’m sure we all have a few orphan socks just waiting for the resurfacing of their mate, which in reality will most likely not happen. So in comes a solution: Throx. 

At the surface, it’s a smart idea. Does it solve the insight? Yes. 

Does it solve the consumer tension? 

What’s the consumer tension in this situation? 

The resolution for this consumer tension is not needing another sock. In fact, that’s the problem as it stands: ending up with only one sock after a load of laundry. Insert Throx. Now, you’re to host a bunch of single socks in a drawer awaiting their moment of glory, rising into the world and paired with a now-orphaned sibling?  Did you need a third sock just in case you lost one? No. You could have gotten by with safety-pinning your socks to each other so they come out together. Problem solved. No money or space wasted, with something you probably already own.

I’m using socks to make a point: it’s not until you go deep that you begin to capture a glimpse of all the trees in a forest, and sometimes the other things you can’t see or hear. And no, I’m not the first to say ‘research and talk to your customers to make sure you’re doing it right’. I also hope I’m not the first to tell you that all of this is why you shouldn’t base ideas on singular moments with your consumers. In the same vein, if you go in seeking an answer, you’ll most likely find it. 

Think back to Throx. If you asked someone, “Would this solve your problem?” the answer would most likely be “Yes”. But, quick answers are not what last. In the diabetes example, did Emily need a better reminder service in order to take her insulin? No. What she actually needed was a simpler solution to administer her life-saving medication.

At SEEK, sometimes projects take us digging to really understand the consumer and discover what may work best for them. Other times, we’re looking for that next big thing to drive objectives of $Xmm in business. And, sometimes, we’re seeking to backfill insights to prove a business move. Regardless of the reasoning behind the research, you must seek true human understanding to figure out how best to solve for human tension. It doesn’t matter if the solve is in innovation of product, language, or business stance: without a true understanding of the people you serve, the why behind research becomes moot and sometimes falls flat. 

Real solutions take time, dedication, thought. Without foundational research, without true human understanding, you’re pushing to create something that comes with a shorter shelf life. Humans aren’t designed solely to prove or test ideas, we’re here to share true life experiences that can help inspire lasting ideas. By taking in the full experience, you begin to truly understand that you’re creating the best pathway for the item or brand you’re offering. That moment when we’re left saying “Ahh.” instead of “I wonder...” is what makes research, and SEEK, so worthwhile.