Movies for Entrepreneurs: ‘We Are the Dreamers of Dreams’
Last week I shared my admiration for all things “Rocky.” This week, I thought I would finish the job by noting seven other movies that offer insights or inspirations that I have found applicable to business.
Movie: “Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory” (Gene Wilder Version).
Noteworthy scene: Mr. Wonka is giving a tour of the factory, and he stops to show off his lickable wallpaper: “The strawberries taste like strawberries! The snozberries taste like snozberries!” The bratty girl stops him and says, “Snozberries! Who’s ever heard of a snozberry!” He replies,“We are the music makers, and we are the dreamers of dreams.”
Entrepreneurial lesson: It’s about the dream. Entrepreneurs have the opportunity to do something new, something better, something amazing. And they don’t have to have graduated from Harvard or even have gone to school (though it helps).
Noteworthy scene: After they have been fired as professors from a university, the Bill Murray character suggests to the Dan Aykroyd character that they go into business together. This is how the Aykroyd character responds: “You’ve never been out of college. You don’t know what it’s like out there. I’ve worked in the private sector. They expect results!”
Entrepreneurial lesson: The math has to work. At some point, even the seemingly greatest business idea needs to transform into a business model that makes money. Hope can not keep it going forever.
Movie: “Robin Hood” (Kevin Costner version).
Noteworthy scene: Kevin Costner gives a speech to the peasants, telling them why they should fight back against the government: “One man defending his home is more powerful than 10 hired soldiers.”
Entrepreneurial lesson: Entrepreneurs have an edge. When your dream, your livelihood and maybe even your house are on the line, you work with more determination than the paid employee of a big company.
Movie: “Tin Cup.”
Noteworthy scene: Kevin Costner — yes, I know, again — plays a golfer who can’t stop himself from taking the more daring shot instead of playing it safe. In defending his actions to his caddy, he says, “Greatness courts failure.”
Entrepreneurial lesson: Sometimes you just have to go for it. Even if an entrepreneur does everything right, the business can fail because you can’t always figure everything out or predict how customers and markets are going to react. Damn those torpedoes.
Movie: “The Caine Mutiny.”
Noteworthy scene: The entire movie is filled with lessons. You probably have to watch it twice to appreciate its brilliance fully, but in particular, it shows in painstaking detail the dynamic of people working together and the potential to mess up the corporate culture, to use today’s vernacular. Unfortunately, Captain Queeg (Humphrey Bogart) was suffering from battle fatigue and felt isolated. He wasn’t always able to think clearly, and he didn’t take the time to build a relationship with his next in command (Van Johnson).
Entrepreneurial lesson: One bad employee can ruin the whole ship. Also, it is important to surround yourself with people who feel comfortable telling you the truth when you need to hear it.
Movie: “The Karate Kid.”
Noteworthy scene: When the master (Pat Morita) asks the boy (Ralph Macchio) if he is ready to learn karate, the boy says, “Yeah, I guess so.” The master responds that they must talk: “Walk on the road? Walk right side, safe. Walk left side, safe. Walk middle, sooner or later, you get squished — just like a grape. Here, karate same thing. Either you karate do yes, or karate do no. You Karate do ‘guess so’ — just like grape. Understand?”
Entrepreneurial lesson: Entrepreneurship takes focus, commitment and continual learning. Understand?
Movie: “Saving Private Ryan.”
Noteworthy scene: There is a pivotal moment when the Captain (Tom Hanks) and his platoon finally pin down a sniper who has been killing their comrades. The soldiers scream at the Captain to shoot him, but he gets in touch with his compassionate, human side and lets the guy go. One of the other soldiers says to him, sarcastically, “Captain, you just let the enemy go. I guess that was the decent thing to do.” At the end of the movie, the sniper is back with his platoon, and he is the one who kills the Captain.
Entrepreneurial lesson: Business is not always pretty. This just might be the most important and difficult lesson to accept in building a business. You cannot forget what your responsibilities are. Whether it is firing someone who can’t do the job, chasing down someone who owes you money or holding vendors responsible to deliver what they promised, you have to say and do some uncomfortable things. It may sound harsh, but it is either you or them. Do you know what is even harsher? Having your business fail, laying off your employees and moving into your parents’ basement.
Jay Goltz owns five small businesses in Chicago.