Business Lessons from Movies and TV

When you’re an entrepreneur, you’re always on the lookout for ideas or tips, or business lessons to improve your business. That could be both from a personal development standpoint, but it could also be ideas to make your business run better.

Luckily, pop culture has no shortage of examples of what to do (and a few of what not to do). Here are a few movies and shows we love that we believe offers some good insights for entrepreneurs.

Less Is More:  Jiro Dreams of Sushi

You might not work in the food or hospitality industry, but there’s still plenty to learn from the documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi. This film looks at the life—and business—of Jiro Ono, an 85-year old sushi master and one of the most revered sushi chefs in Japan, if not the world.

There’s a lot to take away from this movie, such as Jiro’s endless pursuit of perfection and his dedication to quality—but one lesson that stands out is the less is more. The sushi Jiro creates is often very simple and traditional. People don’t flock to his business for an elaborate meal or presentation. It’s literally him and his son, working on the counter, and serving the freshest fish on a formed mound of rice. What’s more, his restaurant is small, only seating 10 people. Yet, that hasn’t stopped him from becoming a 3-star Michelin chef.

The Lesson:  You don’t always have to have to be the biggest, nor do you have to have a complicated product or service. You can be highly profitable even when you’re small, and keeping it simple can help with that.

Emotion Drives Purchases:  Mad Men

During its seven seasons, Mad Men certainly had its fair share of insights into how to grow and manage a business. Don Draper is known for his suave salesmanship and proves that time and time again, but one scene that stands out is from the final episode of the first season where he uses his own family photos to pitch the ideal of the “Carousel.” While he uses his own slides to project his own memories of happier times with his family (after a full season of domestic upheaval), the point he makes is that it’s the emotion that sells the product; in this case, the emotion is nostalgia.

The Lesson:  Emotion drives people’s decisions and tapping into that will help people not only be interested in your product or service, but will create a bond with them that goes beyond the logical, rational thought.

Stay Focused on the Goal:  Glengarry Glenn Ross

Another iconic business scene from movies is Alec Baldwin’s speech to an underperforming sales staff in Glengarry Glenn Ross. The speech may come off as harsh, with Baldwin’s merciless berating of the sales team, but it makes an important point: Stay focused on the goal. In the film, this is called Always Be Closing (ABC). While it’s probably easier to sympathize with the salesmen, who complain about the leads they’ve been given, there’s a brutal reality that they need to face. Either they sell more or they get fired. The message is a bit out of sync with today’s workplace environments, which tend to be more employee-focused. But smart entrepreneurs can look past the message he has for the salesmen and glean a much more important lesson.

The Lesson:  Stay focused on your goal. For the salesmen, that’s closing sales. For entrepreneurs, it might be closing sales, acquiring new customers, improving customer service, or a variety of other goals. The point, though, is that it takes focus to achieve these things. And in today’s world of nearly endless distractions, staying focused is harder than ever.

Bonus:  Alec Baldwin turned his dramatic motivation speech into comedic gold by parodying himself on Saturday Night Live.

Deliver a High-Quality Product:  Breaking Bad

One thing that stands out in this show is Walter White’s seemingly endless pursuit of producing the highest quality product he can. This is evident throughout the series, from the scene where Walter White throws out a batch of product that doesn’t meet his standard to the infamous “fly” episode, where he’s trying to track down a fly that could potentially contaminate the lab. We see him time and time again reject the results of a cook or discuss with other characters the superior quality of his product. 

The Lesson:    The quality of your product or service matters, and it’s what keeps customers coming back. There are many things you can pursue as a business, but turning out the highest quality product or service can make the difference between success and failure.

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