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Business lessons from film and television

Movies and TV shows hold many words of wisdom that can help your business deliver an Oscar-winning performance, day-in, day-out. We asked small business owners to share their favourites (and added a few of our own).

Squid Game: Don’t underestimate the power of experience

In the Squid Game tug-of-war scene, the eldest participant Oh Il Nam (player number one) managed to guide his team to victory with the advice ‘all you need is a good strategy combined with good teamwork’.

A good lesson in itself, right? But of course, sources of knowledge are far more valuable than knowledge on its own. Oh Il Nam had played tug of war a lot as a kid and knew it wasn’t so much a game of strength, but a game of strategy.

“As someone who runs an online business, I have benefited a great deal by hiring a few employees from an older generation,” says Elice Max, Co-owner of EMUCoupon. “These employees bring insights that are extremely valuable for our business.” 

Moneyball: To compete against big players, you need to think differently

Moneyball is based on the true story of the Oakland Athletic baseball team, which had one of the smallest player salary budgets in its league. It couldn’t compete on salary, so had to try to get an upper hand in a different way.

The team’s management devised a data-led approach to identify particular players by a certain metric – how often a player got on base – ignoring the more stereotypical attributes of ‘successful’ baseball players.

By thinking differently, ignoring traditional ways of doing things and using innovative data analysis methods, the team was able to outperform much bigger rivals. 

“When we first launched we were up against businesses that had taken on seven-figure investments – we’ve never taken any funding,” says Basil Vlachou, Co-founder of AllTheDresses.com.au. “They had a staff of 50-plus, while for us it was just my co-founder and me, working on the business as a side-hustle. 

“We did things differently and offered customers and rental partners something new. We also used data analytics to gain a competitive advantage in several areas, just like they did in Moneyball. 

“We’re now one of the biggest players in the space and we still haven’t taken on funding – the business funds itself. By continuing to innovate and optimise, we’re confident we’ll continue to grow and we’ll hold or improve our standing among our competition.” 

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The Office: Your business doesn’t have to be a unicorn

There’s not much less interesting than plain white copy paper – before the advent of the paperless office, it was perhaps necessary, but now it’s neither needed nor interesting.

Try telling that to Steve Carrell’s Michael Scott, though. The third-season episode ‘Business School’ captures Michael’s passion for paper, when he presents to an employee’s business-school class and refuses to accept that the future of a paper company might not be bright. 

“The lesson for me is that it doesn’t have to be glamorous and it doesn’t have to be a unicorn,” says Bec Slack, Managing Director, CleverStuff.com.au. “As long as you have the passion, a slow and steady approach can be just as great.”

And with Michael eventually funnelling his passion and the paper knowledge gained over a long career into starting his own company and selling it back to Dunder Mifflin, we couldn’t agree more.

The Breakfast Club: Understanding you can’t just be ‘one thing’

Having been through a confrontational and transformational experience, the main characters in The Breakfast Club learn to appreciate their complexity, and the traits and experiences that make them unique. 

“This is also the experience of small business owners. To successfully run and grow our own business we must persevere through the challenges by being deep generalists with expertise across the whole enterprise,” says business adviser, speaker and author Jacob Aldridge.

“We may be known as the specialist lawyer, plumber, or copywriter, but each of us is also a strategist, a marketer, an accountant – and probably also a basket case, a princess and a criminal!” 

Margin Call: The importance of being first

“There’s a quote in Margin Call: ‘Be first, be smarter or cheat’,” says Dean Salakas, Chief Party Dude at The Party People.

Cheating is not a good idea – for example, black hat SEO catches up on you eventually and you get punished. Being smarter is hard, particularly for small businesses.”

The lesson then – be first. Take advantage of the fact that a small business can operate without many of the cumbersome processes of a large one.

“As a small business, we can be agile and nimble and beat the big players by making quick decisions when opportunity knocks,” Dean says.

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The information in this post is provided for general information only and does not take into account your personal situation. Nothing contained in this post constitutes advice or an endorsement or recommendation of any kind by Prospa. Any links to third party websites are strictly for informational purposes only. You should consider whether the information is appropriate to your needs, and where appropriate, seek professional advice from financial, legal and taxation advisors. Although every effort has been made to verify the accuracy of the information as at the date of publication, Prospa, its officers, employees and agents disclaim all liability (except for any liability which by law cannot be excluded), for any error, inaccuracy, or omission from the information for any reason, including due to the passage of time, or any loss or damage suffered by any person directly or indirectly through relying on this information.

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