There’s a great quote in the 1991 movie Grand Canyon, when Steve Martin declares, “All of life’s riddles are answered in the movies.” Though the accuracy of this is debatable, there are many lessons that can be learned and inspiration gained from films.
Hollywood’s big night returns Sunday with the Academy Awards. Here’s a look at several nominated films and performers, and how their success stories can translate to small business owners.
La La Land (nominated for 14 Academy Awards)
Feel-good musicals are a bit of a rarity these days, but the Emma Stone-Ryan Gosling film has been the big winner of the awards season. There’s an exuberance to La La Land, which the The Verge described as “a glorious feast for the eyes and the soul.” As Tasha Robinson notes, “Its complete lack of restraint, cynicism, or self-consciousness invites viewers to drop their own reservations and just feel the big, broad emotions as they’re played out on-screen, through memorable songs and elaborate fantasy sequences.”
Small business lesson: Enthusiasm for the business matters a great deal. Colleen DeBaise explores this for The Wall Street Journal, acknowledging that enthusiasm can be affected by the stress associated with a start-up phase.
“You will find yourself questioning whether you’ve made the right decision, especially when the hours are long and the initial profits (if any) are lean,” she writes. “As the business owner, you’re also chief salesperson for your company. Your enthusiasm for your product or service — whether it’s hand-knit sweaters or top-notch tax preparation — is often the difference that hooks customers, lands deals and attracts investors. It’s unwise to start down the path of entrepreneurship unless you’ve got a zeal that will get you through rough patches and keep you interested long after the initial enthusiasm has faded.”
Jeff Bridges (nominated for Hell or High Water)
The veteran actor has been turning heads since The Last Picture Show in 1970. But his later career work has been some of his most satisfying. Starting with his epic role as “The Dude” in 1998’s The Big Lebowski, and continuing through his Oscar nominated turn in The Contender and his Oscar win for Crazy Heart in 2010, Bridges seems at the top of his game all these years later.
Small business lesson: Entrepreneurs get better with age, as the headline to this Harvard Business Review story suggests. The story’s author, Whitney Johnson, uses research by psychologist Erik Erikson to illustrate how “as we grow older, hunger for meaning animates us, making us more alive.”
“His theory explains that each healthy human passes through eight stages of development from infancy to adulthood,” Johnson writes. “The seventh stage of development typically takes place between the ages 40-64 and centers around generativity, a period not of stagnation, but of productivity and creativity, including a strong commitment to mentoring and shoring up the next generation. Individuals in this developmental stage are supremely motivated to generate value, not just for themselves, but for others, asking the question: What can I do to make my life really count?”
Zootopia (nominated for best animated feature)
The Disney film chronicles the adventures of Judy, a bunny who wants to make the world a better place by growing up to be a police officer (an unlikely career choice in the bunny community). Her worried parents declare her goal to be impossible, even saying, “If you don’t try anything new, you’ll never fail.”
Small business lesson: Ignore bad advice — from pessimistic varmints and others — and follow your dreams. Those who ignore their dreams may live to regret it, and miss an opportunity for success and happiness. Alan Hall writes about this for Forbes.
“You should know there has never been a better time to follow your dream and turn it into a reality,” he explains. “Having a dream is the key. Sadly, I have seen scores of individuals who have had a terrific idea, a great concept, but for one reason or another were unable to follow their dream to start and grow a new enterprise — whatever the case, they never left the couch and the dream died, never to be followed. Over the years, great companies have been built by innovators who saw an opportunity and had an inspired thought on how they might meet customer needs.”
Denzel Washington (nominated for Fences, in acting and directing)
The two-time Oscar winner has long been one of Hollywood’s greatest talents. He’s also a powerful speaker, and there are numerous examples online. A speech he made to young performers is a particularly good one. “Dreams without goals remain dreams, just dreams, and ultimately fuel disappointment,” he said. “… Goals on the road to achievement cannot be achieved without discipline and consistency.”
Small business lesson: Clear goals are essential. The small business owner that doesn’t define specific goals can encounter trouble in establishing a path to success. Alyssa Gregory writes about this for The Balance.
“… Goal setting can play an important role in many different parts of your business, from starting a business, to marketing, to sales, to succession planning. Goals provide direction, motivation and a clear way to measure your forward-moving progress. Without goals, and a process for tracking your goals, you may have difficulty seeing the big picture and staying focused.”
Meryl Streep (nominated for Florence Foster Jenkins)
The acting great now has a whopping 20 Academy Award nominations. That easily outpaces the rest of the competition (Katharine Hepburn and Jack Nicholson received 12 nominations), and Streep has three Oscar wins as well. Streep spoke of her work ethic in a 2010 speech in Austin. “I’m not really a religious person, but I believe in the work that I’ve chosen. That’s my church,” she said in a story by Robert Faires in the Austin Chronicle. “I always try really hard to do stuff right. I make myself work. When I get lazy, I think: ‘You’re in church. Straighten up and fly right.'”
Small business lesson: Hard work is the cornerstone to any long-lasting career. Gautam Gupta examines this in a story for Entrepreneur: “Anyone can start a business but it’s infinitely harder to grow and sustain it. When a company faces challenges and falls on hard times (and it always does), it’s your passion and commitment that ultimately get the business through to the other side. If you don’t have a true passion for your business, everyone can sense it: your customers, team, advisors and investors.”
Moana (nominated for best animated feature)
The Disney hit features the titular character as a young leader on a quest. Many animated flicks could be described that way, but as this review by Sojo.net points out, Moana “stands out from the ranks of Disney princesses.”
“She’s a capable character, whose strength is supported by her family,” Abby Olcese writes. “The fact that she’s about to take over as her people’s chief is always a given — it’s never questioned, nor is she expected to find a husband to help her rule. As a future leader, Moana is required to be able to do all the things her subjects do, including farming, hunting, and fishing.”
Small business lesson: The boss that shows he or she is willing to get in the trenches and do the work that all employees do can earn respect. Here’s how Michel Koopman describes it for CEO.com: “If you want to direct an orchestra, you have to learn at least the basics of every kind of instrument. You can’t tell the string musicians how to make a sound you want if you don’t have a firm understanding of how they play their instruments. It’s the same in business. You need to know the ins and outs of each department so you can direct them. Understanding what makes a sales professional successful allows a business leader to better mentor those in sales who need help.”