Since F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote his heralded anti-capitalist masterpiece in 1925, it was triumphed as the most important American novel of the 20th century. Earlier this year, director Baz Luhrmann encapsulated the mood of the novel perfectly with his glamorous depiction of Gatsby’s conflicted existence at the height of the “Roaring Twenties”. Many of the themes in the novel still resonate today, albeit 88 years later.
In this latest adaptation Gatsby (Leonardo Di Caprio) takes centre stage in what is a cinematically stunning tribute to a great American novel. The paradoxical character of Gatsby fails in many areas of his life, but there is one subject that he has mastered: entrepreneurship. His extreme focus is symbolised by an unattainable green light that glimmers across the bay towards his mansion, transfixing him in a constant state of yearning.
Gatsby is one of the most conflicted and interesting entrepreneurs in the history of fiction. He is an idiosyncratic character of bi-polar extremes: a charming businessman who is driven towards success by an intense, internal void that he needs to fill. However, with all his emotional flaws, he plays the role of the entrepreneur to perfection, with many lessons to be learned from his brilliance.
Here are some business lessons that we can learn from “The Great” Gatsby:
Jay Gatsby understands the role that the entrepreneur must play and the brand he must project. He is outwardly charming, well-dressed and sophisticated, always making sure to leave a lasting impression on key strategic contacts and the rest of society. He understands that first impressions are vital in the business world, so he ensures he is never forgotten by anyone he meets. As a master-networker, he is focused, astute and an ambitious master-of-intrigue. He uses these refined skills to successfully capture the hearts and minds of West Egg’s high society.
Focus and Ambition
Jay Gatsby's obsession with the glimmering green light on the opposite side of the harbour reflects the role that focus and ambition play in his life. While much of his life remains shrouded in mystery, Gatsby admirably creates a hugely successful career for himself from humble beginnings. For any individual to make it to the top of the Long Island business-world is quite a feat, and one that he appears to take in his stride. Forever the showman, he throws lavish parties which he rarely attends. This is because his focus is elsewhere. His absence from his own events speak volumes and rumours about Gatsby begin to circulate. These range from the sublime to the ridiculous. Who is he? What does he do? Gatsby recognises the value in being able to entertain guests and put people at ease. However, this is not the centre of his focus. The sole focus in his elaborate rise is to win the heart of one woman: Daisy Buchanan.
It is important to find your own motivations, although not ones as self-destructive as Gatsby’s. He focuses on his business, but the desired result of his every action is winning the heart of Daisy. This is what drives him to success. While focus and ambition are vital in making it to the top, Jay Gatsby's story is a cautionary tale suggesting the entrepreneur must tame his ambitions and not allow them to become all-encompassing.
In saying this- without ambition your likelihood to achieve is slim. However, as with all endeavours: balance is required. Ambition and goal setting will give your life a daily purpose and if you have a destination in mind, your ability to navigate the business world will increase ten-fold. In the Great Gatsby, Jay is tortured by his ambition. This holds an important message. He sacrifices everything to achieve his goals. Although hard work and dedication are vital attributes that will lead you towards success, an extreme approach is not recommended. The attendance (or lack thereof) at Gatsby's funeral is a particularly powerful image and one that should remind us all of the importance of our family and friends - something that ultra-driven entrepreneurs often lose sight of.
Push the Boundaries
Many highly-successful entrepreneurs highlight the importance of pushing the boundaries. Market leading businesses are borne out of observing the market, identifying inadequacies, and challenging the status quo. Such an attitude requires bravery, accurate foresight and an element of risk. Those courageous enough to take a measured chance create an opportunity to propel themselves and their business forward, often exponentially. Those that don't hold such lofty ambitions experience more stable lives but rarely experience a "step change" in their careers. Gatsby’s need to push the boundaries and be the host of New York's most extravagant parties have ensured that he remains in favourable discussion. He pushes the definition of extravagance in a time already known for excess. If we want our businesses to stay at the top, we must also push the boundaries of what is considered the norm in our sectors. Sometimes, the things we try will not work, but the key is to keep innovating and thinking laterally. When new ideas do work, we can experience the same "quantum leap" that young Jay Gatsby did at the tender age of 32.
Gatsby is in many ways deserving of the controversial title the "great" Gatsby. His ambition, focus, strategic networking ability, and personal brand building skills are both admirable and timeless. Although he is a fictional character, his hunger for achievement also captures the zeitgeist of 2013 as we climb out of recession and focus our minds on growth again (or as Gatsby puts it: "My life, old sport, my life... my life has got to be like this. It's got to keep going on" ). His relentless hunger for achievement presents a mirror of contemplation for many of us, as we see bits of ourselves in him. We all have our "green light" across the bay that focuses our minds. The question we have to ask ourselves is how far are we willing to go to cradle that green light in the palm of our hands.
Before we jump straight back on the hamster wheel after the summer holidays, we should take a deep breath to pause, look inwards, and ask some fundamental ‘life’ questions. How do we take to our day to day lives the mental clarity we felt while standing atop that Mediterranean cliff edge? To answer this question, I’ve sought inspiration from Buddhist thinking
The recent World Cup in Russia has left me inspired. But being more of a ‘business nut’ than a ‘football nut’, I can’t help but try to draw the parallels between the two. Football, like the world it exists in, can be as beautiful, or as ugly, as complex, or as simple as you want it to be. Like business, it requires strategy, grit, determination, humility, and smarts.
There’s something special about the number 100. In sports, the American football field is 100 yards long. In science, 100 degrees Celsius is the boiling temperature of water at sea level. In finance, most currencies are divided into 100 subunits. So, when a high growth start-up I invested in five years ago increases in value by 100 times, for me, it is a special moment…and worth pausing to write about.