3 Business Lessons From Cult Hit Show ‘American Ninja Warrior’

The skills that make an American Ninja Warrior a cult hit are the same ones that lead to business success.

When you are a professional, working mom … sometimes TV happens. Maybe you need to make dinner or just want some low-key family downtime. Maybe it goes along with that glass of red.

Whatever the reason, the members of the Weiss-Porter household are huge fans of ‘American Ninja Warrior’ — a sports entertainment competition show.

(If you’re not familiar, the show features hundreds of competitors attempting to complete a series of obstacle course to make it to national finals on the Las Vegas Strip, in hopes of becoming an “American Ninja Warrior”.)

My 9 year old son loves the action. He’s motivated to stay active and wants to be a Ninja Warrior someday. And honestly, I can’t complain. Any show that motivates him to keep trying, keep moving and keep working is all good by me.

Funny enough, I’m also completely drawn in. Not just because it shows ordinary people performing remarkable acts of fitness and strength. I’m also drawn to the stories. Regular people making it happen… just because.


Remarkable ‘ninja’ business lessons

Although I never imagined it, there are some real business lessons that come out of American Ninja Warrior.


1. You will probably fail

Competitors don’t just walk onto American Ninja Warrior. Heck, they don’t even have open tryouts. Selection is a rigorous process. Over 50,000 athletes submitted applications and videos for the 2016 season. Of them, only 500 were invited to “run” in one of 5 regional qualifying rounds, with another 20 – 30 people invited to “walk-on.” Add them all up, and total odds of success are just over .01 percent.

This is not so different from starting your own business. By now, we have all heard the statistic that over 90% of startups fail. Yet, people push the boundaries of their limits and their imaginations every day.


Photo: American Ninja Warrior, Pictured: Ethan Swanson; Source: David Becker/NBC
Photo: American Ninja Warrior, Pictured: Ethan Swanson; Source: David Becker/NBC

For warriors and entrepreneurs alike, failure isn’t just a possibility. It’s a probability. Yet, even in the face of disappointment, people still dream and strive and do. It’s an amazing life lesson that more of us need to embrace.


2. You need to be strong – mentally and physically

What does it take to make the cut? For American Ninja Warrior, it takes personality, athletic ability and a certain something extra. You need to bring your A-game. You need to be in remarkable shape, showing speed, dexterity, strength and agility.

More importantly, you need to improvise. The obstacles are constantly evolving. Adaptation is the name of the game, applying what you know to new, ever changing conditions. Some warriors say the mental game is actually more critical than the physical. It’s managing the unknown that keeps you on the course.

Similarly, when running a business, no matter how detailed the blueprint, there will be unanticipated bumps in the road: new competitors, market disruptions, family pressures, partner issues. They will all pop up at one point or another. You need to the right mindset to overcome challenges without throwing in the towel.



It’s for this very reason that so many business leaders emphasize physical wellness as part of their daily routine. Exercise bolsters your mental game. Endorphins ease stress. Moving your body provides a sense of wellbeing and a way to unplug from day to day business pressures. Physical fitness makes you a sharper, more focused business person.

Whether your battles take place in the boardroom or on the obstacle course, fitness – mental and physical – matters.


3. Celebrity doesn’t equal success

In this current season, many fan favorites were disqualified early. Some in regional rounds, some in early stages of the finals. The fact that they were fan favorites didn’t keep them from failing. Fame didn’t change the rules. Celebrity didn’t keep them in the game when fortune turned against them.

In short, believing the hype – whether from the network, social media or their fan base – did nothing to guarantee performance.

Similarly, many companies who are otherwise digital darlings may never see financial success.  Remember Gawker, Pets.com, Joost, Kozmo? All of these companies had their own celebrity, splash, image, and spokespeople (or spokespets). There was lots of hype, particularly during the dot-com bubble. Today, (for various reasons) they are all out of business.

And the solemn tale of defunct companies aren’t just limited to the internet. Consider Hostess, the manufacturer of Twinkies and Ho Hos, and their bankruptcy and subsequent sell-off. One would never anticipate such an iconic company struggling to stay afloat. But, it too couldn’t compete and stay relevant … and is now under new management.

That isn’t to say that one should underestimate the importance of branding, marketing and social media. Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Snapchat, YouTube and whatever platform comes next all provide critical avenues for finding and keeping customers.

But, if you aren’t monetizing those eyeballs and reputation, turning fans into customers — if your product is nothing more than a splashy image that doesn’t return value — then you’re not running a business. You’re just playing a popularity game.


It’s true that most entrepreneurs are probably more comfortable running their business than the floating steps. But the skills that make an American Ninja Warrior a cult hit are the same ones that lead to business success.


This article has been edited and condensed.

Jess Weiss is a digital strategist, seo copywriter and blogger. A former attorney and web developer, she learned that helping small businesses present themselves online – particularly those in health and wellness – was her passion. From branding to social media, from blogging to website content – and everything in between, she will help you craft your online message and stand out in a crowded marketplace. She lives outside Boston, Massachusetts and likes pizza, cats and red wine. Connect with @jessweiss on Twitter.


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