Hollywood loves a story about a lone maverick who visualises and acts upon an opportunity nobody else sees. From Citizen Kane to Jay Gatsby, these people captivate us with their layered complexity, keeping the audience perplexed as they come to a realisation: monetary gain is not always the motivating factor. The intrigue of these characters stems from the underlying respect we all have for an underdog who trusts his instinct and whole-heartedly pursues his dream.
So what do these characters all have in common? There are three traits for certain: a vision, a plan, and a determination to see it through. Hollywood has always celebrated the entrepreneurial spirit, here are some entrepreneurial lessons that I have learnt from cinema.
Wall Street (1988)
Business Lesson: Pick the right mentor
Bud Fox is an aspiring stock broker, who finds himself working for Gordon Gekko: a man who, at first, he perceives to be the measure of success. Cue an array of unforeseen moral issues that Bud never realised would be part of reaching his goals. Gekko’s famous words “greed, for lack of a better word, is good” exemplify the extremity of American capitalist culture in the late 1980’s.
Although it doesn't work out as Bud intended, he does what every aspiring entrepreneur should do: he picks a role model to emulate (even though in this case his mentor turns out to be a negative influence). Surrounding yourself with people who possess superior knowledge and experience is vital to the development of an aspiring entrepreneur.
The Social Network (2010)
Lessons: Have a clear vision
In this Oscar-winning hit, Mark Zuckerberg is portrayed as a young, ambitious entrepreneur, eager to push the limits of on-line capability. The clarity of his vision for Facebook from an early stage in its development is a profound if not unhealthy obsession. This idea and vision is something the young Zuckerberg obsesses over to the detriment of every other aspect of his life.
Zuckerberg throws the rule book out the window and starts developing his ideas from scratch, eventually creating an exceptional product unlike anything the world had seen at the time. He also displays three other entrepreneurial attributes in spades: strong-mindedness, non-compliance and confidence in the accuracy of his own judgement.
Jerry Maguire (1996)
Lessons: Be fearless. Be adaptable. Be personable.
When a business is in the early stages of development its value comes from the quality of the people involved (what I call "human capital). Each employee must be personable and share an enthusiasm in the business and confidence in their co-workers. Jerry Maguire’s ability to build personal relationships with the egotistical, self-absorbed athletes that surround him is a useful skill for any aspiring entrepreneur. Maguire deals with unexpected dilemmas with finesse, showing he is a master of problem solving and adaptive thinking.
Ask any entrepreneur: starting a business requires bravery and risk. Maguire is willing to lose it all in order to find congruency with-in himself, if he has to fail to find this sense of peace then that is something he is willing to do.
The Pursuit Of Happyness (2006)
Lessons: Be determined
The Pursuit of Happyness follows the true story of Chris Gardener as he takes a intensive trial period at a company in order to become a stock-broker in a prestigious NYC firm. Gardiner portrays many entrepreneurial traits. The movie does an excellent job of highlighting the period of struggle that many entrepreneurs face at a time in their career: the stage when all you have is faith in your abilities. Having the foresight to work through these hard times, while remaining confident that your business will successfully come out the other side is a great test of your character.
There Will Be Blood (2007)
Lessons: Be smarter than your competitors
I have always been a believer that a good product doesn’t necessarily equate to a good business. A profitable business is created out of various elements, which must all run smoothly for a profit to be made.
Daniel Plainview may be a ruthless sociopath and a pragmatist, but you cannot question the entrepreneurial spirit he shows throughout the Oscar-winning There Will Be Blood. The ‘I drank your milkshake’ monologue hammers home the point (see video above). Plainview was not the only one who saw the opportunity to profit from the oil-rich fields, this was the easy part. His skill lied in the fact that he was the only one with the entrepreneurial savvy to capitalise on the opportunity.
Glen Garry Glen Ross (1992)
Lessons: Always be closing
Great performances by Al Pacino and Jack Lemmon but it is Alec Baldwin that steals the show in this screen adaptation of a Pulitzer Prize winning play. Baldwin has created a cut-throat business culture that is a polar opposite to that of Google or Facebook. "Third prize is: your fired." (I would suggest that unlike Baldwin, you find a better way of motivating your staff!). This film is a cautionary tale in how not to do business. On a positive note, the film also hides some valuable lessons: ABC- always be closing, is a sound piece of advice. Productivity is key in the cut-throat world of business. Sometimes getting the task done is more important then getting it done perfectly.