10 great movies and the business lessons they teach us

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Lucie Mitchell
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As part of BusinessZone Movie Week, Lucie Mitchell spoke to entrepreneurs to find out what business lessons they have learnt from their favourite movies. Here's what they said.

The Social Network (2010)
"What struck me about this film was that the creation of a business all boils down to one simple need," says Laurence Coen, founder of Glorious Day. "If you as a consumer have a need and pursue it hard enough, but still can't find a solution, you know you have an opportunity on your hands."
 
Gareth Jones, co-founder at the Welsh Innovation Centre for Enterprise, adds that the film taught him that the best ideas are unstoppable no matter what your background.
 
"If you can find a way to turn the fervent belief many people have in their own ideas into the focus required to make them a success, you can achieve anything if the concept your drive is based on have been properly thought out in the first place."
 
Glengarry Glen Ross (1992)

Jon Teckman, a tutor at Ashridge Business School and previous chief executive of the British Film Institute, says that a particular scene in the film stands out as a good example of the dark side of leadership.

"[In the scene] Alec Baldwin attempts to motivate a stellar cast of failing salesmen to sell more parcels of land by offering them these incentives: 'First prize in this month's sales competition is a Cadillac Eldorado; second prize is a set of steak knives; third prize – you're fired!' Not the way we would encourage managers to motivate their teams nowadays but a great piece of cinema."
 
The Insider (1999)

"This was a salutatory tale of complicitness and how it can be broken with courage," says Stephen Archer, director at Spring Partnerships.

"It is based on truth and there have been other real life whistle blower stories since but Russell Crowe's honesty and bravery in the face of corporate dishonesty was memorable and instructive."
 
Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room (2005)

"This film made me think about what happens when you have a room full of highly egotistical, supremely clever people,” says Coen.

"What happens if you only employ leaders?  If there's no 'followship' - and there's no-one to actually 'do' - that's not going to help your business.
 
"If you only have people that like to talk rather than listen, then who will get to grips with the real challenges?  It's not enough to recruit clever people - you need to channel that talent in a positive way for the business or risk the downsides."
 
Moneyball (2011)

Teckman believes this film, which stars Brad Pitt as a baseball team manager who challenges the usual assumptions about how to build a winning team, sends out a positive message about good business practice.

"Aided by a geeky young economics major, he rejects the usual method of signing up expensive star names for his roster and, instead, looks for the best value players based on a series of statistical analyses. 
 
"Based on a true story, it is a very good illustration of how organisations that are looking to gain a competitive advantage in their industry often need to challenge the old assumptions of how to go about their business and seek 'clear blue water' away from the rest of the industry."
 
The Pursuit of Happyness (2006) 

This film is a brilliant example of what it means to need a job and to win employment, says Stephen Bentley, CEO and owner of Granby Marketing Services

"The scene that struck a chord for me is when the intern (Will Smith) has reached the end of his assignment, and is asked to go into a meeting room with the directors. The point where he realises he has passed his internship and now has a real paid job after living on the streets is heart breaking.
 
"The scene captures exactly what that job means to him – his life has changed. I wish every person with the task of recruiting someone would see this film, and next time they are appointing somebody, actually take time to see what it means to them."
 
Stefan Boyle, founder at Print Republic, adds: "It shows that if you are determined to push forward relentlessly, no matter what obstacles get in your way, you can achieve anything you want."
 
The Godfather (1972)
Xenios Thrasyvoulou, founder and CEO of PeoplePerHour, believes that a particular scene from the first Godfather film can teach us to get our priorities straight.
"From the scene 'Leave the gun, take the cannoli', it's imperative to have a clear aim at your goal - without one, it is very difficult to get the job done,” he says. "To succeed, you will need to figure out what you want and how to get there."
 
In The Godfather: Part II (1974), Charlie Mullins, MD of Pimlico Plumbers, highlights a scene featuring the quote 'keep your friends close, but your enemies closer'. 
"Apart from the killing that goes on, I think gangster movies make pretty good analogies to the business world,” he remarks. "You need your friends close in business, no matter how big and successful you get.
 
"Your enemies – you need to watch them like a hawk," he continues. "They are out to get you, take your customers, make money at your expense. Like I said, this concept works exactly the same if you’re a plumber or a gangster, since either way nobody wants to end up sleeping with the fishes!"
 
David Crawford, managing director of Branded3, says that we can learn lessons from all three of the Godfather films. "The original Godfather built his business based on a reputation for being fair, respectful and true to his personal beliefs – not least as he was a totally self-made man. Importantly, he didn't command respect from others, he earned it.  And he earned if from being fair.
 
"As he grew older and his children got more involved and took more control of 'the business' they lacked their father's perspective on what was important, how to treat people and the importance of respect and basic values – as Michael (Al Pacino) took more and more control he wrongly thought fear was respect and this, coupled with power and money, completely destroyed him as a person."
 
12 Angry Men (1957) 
Arnab Dutt, MD and owner of Texane, says that this film is a splendid lesson in the art of persuasion and consensus building, which is vital for any business leader.
 
"Henry Fonda takes the lead in this 1950s court room drama as a juror at a murder trial. Fonda succeeds in getting each individual juror to examine their prejudices and objectively evaluate the veracity of the evidence put before them.
 
"Having initially found the defendant guilty, one by one the jurors change their minds as they are persuaded to understand the prosecution evidence before them is fundamentally flawed. For anyone carrying out any type of negotiation this film is a must."
 
Archer adds: "It provided a wonderful lesson in leadership and clear thinking; one that needs to be re-visited time and time again."
 
Jerry Maguire (1996) 
Sarah Lafferty, director and co-founder of Round Earth Consulting, says that this film was a masterpiece.
 
"It is certainly an inspiration for anyone like me who represents other people, who wakes up one day and realises that many large agencies require you to sell out by giving advice that benefits the agency at the direct expense of the client.
 
"Jerry's 'mission statement' involved retaining fewer clients and provided a much more personal, beneficial service - an idea which of course he was sacked for. When he decided to follow his own heart and start a company in line with his own values, he was rewarded in every area of his life."
 
Casablanca (1942) 
This film truly captures the strength of character that is needed in business, says David Sturges, chief operating officer at WorkPlaceLive.
 
"Humphrey Bogart's character Rick Blaine is portrayed as an opportunist and a womaniser running a bar and casino, who has suppressed his notion of right and wrong for a quick profit," he says. "Yet when 'push comes to shove', his innate sense of justice and virtue makes him do the right thing.
 
"The business lesson learnt here is that quality rather than mere opportunism will provide an entrepreneur with the strength of character not only to survive the unexpected but thrive because of it."
 
To share your lessons from the movies, comment below or tweet with #MovieWeek.

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