I think the warning signs in The Big Break Legacy began during episode four.
The challenge was interesting enough - build a website and YouTube video for crafters at the Bryanston Craft Market and track the traffic to the video and clicks through to the site.
The teams seemed to suffer from a “group think” that resulted in both Letsatsi Inc & Newton's 4th developing the same video that attempted to bring political satire into play as the hook for the website.
While they may have received hits on their sites, the videos seemed to highlight a profound lack of innovative thinking on the part of the teams and individual contestants.
This warning sign became an alarm bell in episode five.
Fresh from the website and marketing video task, new teams were formed and given R1 000 start-up cash to create a retail venture at the Chris Hani shopping mall in Vosloosrus.
The teams fell into an old pattern in which they seem to reach for whatever hackneyed ideas had worked in the past and roll these out in a new location.
As I watched the episode I couldn't help wondering - “are these the nine best entrepreneurs in South Africa?”
Group dynamics aside - the contestants seem to be spending a lot more time storming and backstabbing than in prior episodes - there still does not seem to be a sharp innovative edge to their ideas, execution and approach.
Thinking back over the last five episodes, this is in fact a consistent theme - innovation, or a lack thereof.
Any entrepreneur worth his/her salt will tell you that innovation is the only sustainable competitive advantage for a start-up business.
It is innovation that moves a business forward and my expectation as a teacher of entrepreneurs at the Gordon Institute of Business Science in Johannesburg is that innovative thinking is evident in bucket loads when entrepreneurs start and develop their ventures.
Both teams seemed to believe their own PR - they were the nine best entrepreneurs in the country, surely all they created was by definition innovative and highly entrepreneurial?
The creation of a car wash (Newton's 4th) and a market area for local traders (Letsatsi Inc) did little to showcase these contestants' abilities.
It could have been that the task itself had limitation in terms of resource availability (R1 000) and locational opportunity (Vosloosrus) but I still contend that an opportunity to be entrepreneurial and innovative was missed.
Innovation is variably defined but widely understood as “the change that creates a new dimension of performance”.
The quote comes from management theorist Peter Drucker, who suggested that there are nine sources of innovation.
One of these sources would have been applicable to the team task in episode five.
Drucker speaks of demographic factors as being a driver of innovation; however, this implies that the innovator (or entrepreneur) has taken the time to understand the target market and develop products or services that suit this market's needs and wants.
In episode five there appeared to be a lot of “top-down thinking” where the team developed their ideas largely in isolation from their customers.
Innovative thinking needs to be far more inclusive and expansive, drawing on a multitude of inspirations and influences so that the final offering is linked to customers rather than just a “cool idea”.
On the subject of “cool ideas”, I find it hard to imagine any car wash as an innovative market offering.
Notwithstanding Newton's 4th offer of a free car diagnostic test, I think a car wash remains near the bottom of the pool of innovative entrepreneurial endeavours.
The use of a few rather scantily-clad young women to market the car wash and engage in some of the work thereafter may have titillated some customers but it was surely in extreme bad taste, not least of all during Women's Month in South Africa.
Come on guys - “out the box” doesn't have to mean “out the ballpark”.
Interesting to note was how fast the team's ideas degenerated into a wheel spinning and drag racing event controlled by the crowd rather than the entrepreneurs.
I sense this came down to poor strategy and an almost knee jerk reaction to 'opportunity' as the teams scrabbled to make money.
The importance of strategy in a business cannot be overstated enough.
Strategy defines your direction whereas implementation describes how you intend to get there.
It stands to reason that if you are a great implementer but have no strategy you could be going anywhere, except you could be doing so in an efficient manner.
Stephen Covey in his book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People explains this phenomenon by describing a ladder leaning up against a wall.
Efficiency and productivity may be measured by how fast (and safely) you climb the ladder, but if it is leaning against the wrong wall then the efficiency means nothing.
This seemed to be the problem of both teams in episode five.
They are getting better at implementing a task (team problems notwithstanding) but still struggle with building a strategy for a successful implementation.
The market idea from Letsatsi Inc was testimony to this fact.
While this team won the challenge, their very eclectic mix of activities with no discernible link between them, seemed to be evidence of a lack of a coherent strategy.
Schools of thought regarding strategy abound and there are a number of approaches, models and tools that can help individuals develop and even implement their strategy.
For early-stage entrepreneurs, a simple four-stage approach of suitability (does the strategy address the mission), feasibility (is it likely to succeed), acceptability (will it meet the demands of our stakeholders) and implementation (how will we make this work), will probably suffice.
Building and implementing an innovative strategy is a tough challenge - one that should be well within the skills and abilities of any of the remaining nine contestants.
It would, however, do the contestants well to remember Edison's quote - “genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration”.
Big Break Legacy is broadcast on SABC 2 at 9pm on Saturdays and re-broadcast at 12.30 on SABC1 and NCBC on Sunday.
Dr Jonathan Marks is a senior lecturer and Director of the full-time MBA programme at the Gordon Institute of Business Science.
He teaches, researches and consults in the field of entrepreneurship and family business.