Harvey Mackay

Sound Life Lessons From the Movies

I am a movie fanatic and love to hit the cineplex whenever I get a chance. It doesn’t hurt that I have a son who is a film director in Hollywood. Plus, I had the pleasure of serving on Robert Redford’s Sundance Institute Board for 14 years.

I’ve observed that we can learn a lot from the movies. For example, lighting a single match in a dark room will provide sufficient light to see everything. Ventilation ducts are roomy enough to allow anyone to wiggle through them. The Eiffel Tower can be seen from any Paris hotel room. And, all police departments make sure to pair partners who are exact opposites. OK, so those examples might require a little artistic license.

Seriously, I have learned many lessons from the movies, such as the oft-repeated Michael Corleone line, “Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer.” When I first saw “The Godfather Part II,” I thought that line was brilliant. I viewed my enemies as my competitors. That’s why I now have a speech lesson called “Know Thy Competitor.”

“The Intern” offered many lessons, including working with different generations and their contrasting styles, communications and language, problem-solving and leadership. It’s important to get everyone’s participation and perspective.

“The Bucket List” taught me the valuable lesson to live my life to the fullest. As I get older, I’m doing my best to fulfill some specific dreams. I had the good fortune to attend games six and seven of this year’s World Series with my son, and recently returned from golfing at Ireland’s greatest courses.

“The Founder,” the story of McDonald’s founder Ray Kroc, was like deja vu for me. It brought back a lot of memories of experiences in building my envelope manufacturing company. When you are an entrepreneur, you need to sell your vision, think big, be an innovator, hire well, select good partners, be able to handle rejection and frustration, negotiate with the best of them, and above all, never give up. As the boss, you need to work harder than anyone else.

The importance of teamwork is a message that comes through loud and clear in “Ocean’s 11.” Danny Ocean and Rusty Ryan spent a lot of time recruiting a team with unique skills to pull off the heist of the century. Yes, they were thieves, but they were master planners!

I took away a couple business lessons from “Legally Blonde.” The first is to never judge a book by its cover. People can surprise you. The second is that no matter what other people think, you control your own destiny. If you are willing to work hard, you can achieve most anything you put your mind to.

Chief among the many lessons from the movie “Moneyball,” the true story of Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane, were bucking the system and tackling problems in an unorthodox way. The small-market team with a limited budget used analytics and statistical probabilities to build the roster, going against coaches and scouts.

Yoda, the little green Jedi master in the “Star Wars” movies had a number of great lines, but two in particular stood out to me. In “The Empire Strikes Back,” he said, “Do. Or do not. There is no try.” In “The Phantom Menace,” he uttered, “Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.”

Some movies serve as warnings, like “Wall Street.” We live in an instant-gratification world, and this movie provides a good example. Gordon Gekko has everything and always wants more, constantly looking for quick riches through any means necessary. Bud Fox is similar, but the two characters are at different stages in their careers. Still, both are looking for shortcuts to give them the results they want. And as we all know, there are few shortcuts in real life.

Another character who eschews his conscience for a quick profit is Rick Blaine in “Casablanca.” He’s an opportunist running a bar and casino, but fortunately his good sense and virtue make him do the right thing in the end. Quality rather than opportunity allows you to not only survive the unexpected, but thrive because of it.

One of the best holiday movies of all time, “It’s a Wonderful Life,” shows the principles of leadership. George Bailey put his customers, employees and family first by taking responsibility. It’s the way many great American businesses were built. George’s angel, Clarence, uttered an unforgettable line: “... no man is a failure who has friends.”

Mackay’s Moral: When you write your life script, include some life lessons.

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