Michael Sansolo has a new book being released called “The Big Picture: Essential Business Lessons from the Movies” Here is a short introduction to the book.
Far more than she wishes, Shelley Broader, the former president of both Michaels craft stores and Sweetbay Supermarkets, finds herself quoting Yoda, the Jedi Master of Star Wars.
It happens when she’s counseling an employee who she sees drifting into bad habits. She sits the employee down and has a little talk about the Force. (If somehow you managed to miss all six Star Wars movies, the Force is the invisible power in the universe linking all objects together including space itself.)
Just as Yoda instructs his students, Broader says there are two paths to choose from: the light side, which requires discipline and commitment, but leads to happiness and peace; or the dark side, which leads to staggering problems in every “Star Wars” movie. Of course, the path to the dark side is always easiest.
With that metaphor, Broader teaches that the easy choice is the wrong one. Skills such as guiding people, building business and serving customers all require the ability to make the tough but better choice.
To make her point, Broader echoes Yoda. And she’s not alone in using a compelling story from a famous movie to motivate employees.
This book is about the business lessons found in movies. We hope that by reading our book you will look at movies in a new way. You’ll appreciate that these great and compelling stories contain lessons that can make an important contribution to your business life.
Bill McEwan, the CEO of Sobey’s supermarkets in Canada, once told me he thinks every CEO must be a storyteller. The ability to share the story of success and goals helps us communicate to employees and customers who we are and what makes us special. Without a narrative, executives cannot create the image of goals the company must have.
Joe Gibbs, the Hall of Fame coach of the Washington Redskins and the owner of a successful NASCAR team, preaches a similar message. Gibbs talks about how a head coach needs to tell a story that helps bind all his players to the game plan. It was his way to help a 300-pound lineman understand the importance of spending 60 minutes charging full speed into an equally large man. In NASCAR, the narrative helps the team changing the tires understand the importance of their jobs relative to the more glamorous work of the driver.
Narratives and story telling make things work in far more critical cases. When Robert McNamara died in 2009, one newspaper talked about the importance of a narrative when it comes to war. A nation must understand the story of why it is at war and what the purpose of the bloody venture might be. In short, the paper concluded, McNamara neglected his narrative for the war in Vietnam.
Most of us don’t have all the stories we need or can’t tell them well enough. And that’s where the movies can help. Consider Broader’s story about the dark side. Now Broader is an excellent storyteller, but even she couldn’t paint a picture as vivid as the dark side in Star Wars. With that simple story everyone she talks to will instantly think the same thing — do I really want to be Darth Vader?
A movie can inspire a CEO as well as a company’s employees. A few years back, Doug Rauch, then the president of Trader Joe’s supermarkets, told me about The Wave, a movie about surfing. The Wave, Rauch said, is a wonderful metaphor for business.
To succeed at surfing, the surfer must pick the right wave at the right moment. And just as importantly, you need to know when to get off the wave and move on. Making the choice on either end – getting on or getting off – is anything but easy.
This one short metaphor explained why business success is so fleeting. All it took was a movie, and in this case, a movie that was pretty obscure and that I had never seen.
Many of us use movie examples in our personal lives. We get into situations that require some direction, and we use the movies to help us out with a dramatic speech or a concise example. Meghan O’Brien, an economist from Iowa State University, described the challenge facing the Obama administration in dealing with the Great Recession. Economics may be dry, but movies aren’t. She summoned up the scene from Apollo 13, when the crippled spaceship is returning to earth when the astronauts and the control staff in Houston discuss the difficult maneuver of bringing the ship back to earth. The key is finding just the right trajectory to avoid burning up on re-entry or bouncing off the atmosphere into space. Fixing the economy would require a similar move – and O’Brien explained it with a movie.
The inspiration for this book came from yet another real example, this one very close to home.
One day I received a phone call from my sister, Robin, who sounded very frustrated. Robin is a wonderful middle school math teacher who is also in the leadership of her district’s union. In that role she has to get involved in some nasty personnel battles.
Robin told me she entered one of these meetings on an employee issue thinking she had the evidence on her side. She was sure the union would prevail. Once they got behind closed doors, the school superintendent explained a key fact the teacher in question neglected to share. In one moment, Robin’s watertight arguments were blown to bits.
She said it reminded her of the scene in The Godfather where Michael Corleone meets the family’s archenemy in a restaurant where he plans to kill him. Sonny, Michael’s brother, reminds his henchman that they had better plant a gun in the restaurant’s bathroom for his brother. In colorful language he tells them he wants his brother to have something other than his sexual organ in his hands when he leaves the bathroom. In other words, he’d better be properly armed.
In the middle of her meeting with the superintendent, Robin understood Sonny’s concern.
Robin is possibly the smartest person I know. She’s well educated, well traveled, and very well read. For 30 years, her students have benefited from her decision to dedicate her life to teaching algebra instead of making tons of money in business. More than anyone I know, she’s capable of pulling an example from a wealth of background.
But the scene from The Godfather worked best. It was expressive, concise, and provided an image I could completely understand and appreciate.
That is what this book aims to do. We distill important business lessons from movies we like. As Kevin and I worked through this book, our hardest decision was figuring out what movies to leave out. The more we worked, the more we realized that almost movie, even including a bad one, provides excellent fodder for discussion on business values, strategy, management, and more.
We hope this book will trigger new discussions inside companies using a backdrop that everyone can easily grasp, appreciate, and even add to. Enjoy the examples we provide and keep thinking about how these movies or others you have seen relate to your business.
May the force be with you.