This is Part Two in a series taking a look at the entrepreneurial lessons you can glean from your favorite movies and TV shows. (See Part One, Iron Man).
Millions of people tuned into the season finale of Glee last night to see whether Rachel Berry (Lea Michele) and the rest of the William McKinley High School show choir team, the New Directions, would win at regionals. Between the great one-liners from McKinley’s cheerleading coach Sue Sylvester (Jane Lynch), Fox’s musical-comedy-drama has a lot of lessons to offer entrepreneurs:
- Popularity and success aren’t always the same thing. The Glee kids aren’t popular and have had countless slushies thrown in their faces to prove it. But they’re still successful. Or as Kurt says to the football bullies, “Some day you will all work for me.” Like in high school, many business owners aspire to star quarterback-style popularity, forgetting that it can be dangerous to define a market too broadly and devote too many resources to selling to disinterested customers. Find your niche – the right customers – like the Glee kids did. Do you know the long term value of your customer? Is your customer attractive?
- Ethical guardrails are important. Terri’s unwillingness to admit her hysterical pregnancy leads to one lie after another, resulting in divorce. April Rhodes (Kristin Chenoweth) encourages Mercedes and Tina to shoplift. Sue Sylvester does whatever it takes to get her way: “I am going to create an environment so toxic no one will want to be part of that club. Like the time I sold my house to a nice young couple and salted the earth in the backyard so that nothing could grow there for 100 years. Know why I did that? Because they tried to get me to pay their closing costs.” Set boundaries so you don’t find yourself sliding down the slippery slope with the teachers and students of McKinley High. When in doubt, ask: “How would I want my actions reported on the front page of the newspaper?”
- You’ll probably fail at some point. That’s ok. The New Directions might not have won at regionals, but they’ll be back. Most entrepreneurs fail at some point. In order to be successful, you must take risks, and risks come with the possibility of failing. Try to temper your stance – avoid Coach Sylvester’s disdain for failure and OCD guidance counselor Emma’s fear of risks. Are you tying your self-identity to your performance like they are? Sue Sylvester’s failure-is-not-an-option approach is impractical, but her advice can still serve as motivation: “There’s not much difference between a stadium full of cheering fans and an angry crowd screaming abuse at you. They’re both just making a lot of noise. How you take it is up to you. Convince yourself they’re cheering for you. You do that, and someday they will.”
- Find your calling and don’t sell out. As the director of the glee club, Mr. Schuester wrestles with the decision to quit and become an accountant so he can make more money. Emma asks, “But provide what exactly? The understanding that money is the most important thing? Or the idea that the only life worth living is one you’re truly passionate about.” Bryan Ryan (Neil Patrick Harris) quits show business to become a used Hummer dealer, only to rediscover his love for theater when he auditions for Les Miserables. On the other hand, Rachel has known what her “star” is since she was four. Her boyfriend Jesse St. James notes, “That’s not a dream. You singing ‘Don’t Cry For Me, Argentina’ isn’t a fantasy. It’s an inevitability.” Make your dream more of an inevitability: find a way to make money doing what you love. What’s your calling (work that aligns your strengths and passion with a need in the world)? What skills are you mastering that will help you reach your star?
- Defy gravity. Kurt sings “Defying Gravity” from Wicked: “I am defying gravity/And you won’t bring me down!/I’m through accepting limits/‘cause someone says they’re so/Some things I cannot change/But til I try, I’ll never know!” At Acton, we believe that you can follow your calling and change the world in a profound way. You’ll have to be proactive – if you want change, you’ll have to make it happen, even when others tell you you’re crazy. So what’s holding you back? When are you most likely to betray your calling and why?
- Remember, you don’t need truckloads of venture capital. The New Directions don’t have the same kind of booster club support that their rivals, Vocal Adrenaline, do. The McKinley kids don’t all have matching Land Rovers. Nor do they have the Cheerios’ budget, which pays for the cheerleaders to skydive onto the football field. But through hard work and by tackling one obstacle at a time, they make it work. They’re also not beholden to the demands of their investors. Conversely, Sue Sylvester must spend precious time and energy making sure the Cheerios’ image conforms to what her sponsors want, axing her [pregnant] head cheerleader as a result: “At Cheerios practice, disaster. It was unmistakable. It was like spotting the first spark on the Hindenburg. A quiver. That quiver will lose us Nationals. Without a championship, I’ll lose my endorsements, and without those endorsements, I won’t be able to buy my hovercraft.” What kind of entrepreneur are you?
Stay tuned as we scour more pop culture sources for entrepreneurial lessons. Sex and the City and the Karate Kid are next!
Photo courtesy of Fox.
Tags: Pop Culture
Posted in News & Current Events
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