7 Essential Business Lessons Learned From Watching Classic 80s Movies

Growing up in the 80s was an incredible experience.  Like many children from that decade, my parents were divorced and both worked.  As result, I spent countless hours watching movies on HBO and the VCR.  These movies became the foundation for who I am and the choices I made throughout my life.  I recently had the chance to reflect on these movies and how fundamental they were in preparing me for my business career.  Here are seven business lessons I learned from 80s classics while I rocked acid wash jeans, a coca-cola rugby, and a swatch watch.

1.       Ferris Buellers Day Off – Don’t take yourself too seriously

Ferris Bueller is one of my favorite movies of all times.  It is about a high school student that decides to take the day off and have some fun with his friends.  His day off includes driving a classic Ferrari, visiting the Chicago Museum of Art, taking in a cubs game, visiting the board of trade, and taking part in a parade.  Along the way, Ferris never lets anything get in his way of having a good time.  He does not stress as the principal threatens expel him, he masterly gains access to an exclusive French restaurant, and he helps his friends have one of the best days of their life.  The lesson from Ferris Bueller is to have fun, not take yourself too seriously, and always act like you are supposed to be where you are.  Life moves pretty fast - if you don’t stop and look around every once in a while, you could miss it.

2.       Secret of My Success – Make Friends and take advantage of opportunity

Michael J Fox stars in this classic about a farm boy from Kansas that comes to New York to make is mark in business.  He takes an entry level job in the mail room, but when an executive is laid off, he takes over his office and assumes a position that does not exist.  Along the way he makes friends at all levels of the company – some as a mail boy and some as an executive.  In the end, these relationships help him to take over the company and assume his role at the helm.  There are two lessons to be found in this movie: 1. Take advantage of opportunity as it is presented and 2. Friendships are the basis of business and can help you build companies, careers, and more.

3.       Smokey and the Bandit – Have a goal and make sure your team has defined roles

In the early 80s every boy wanted a Trans Am, cowboy hat, and a moustache.  Smokey and the Bandit follow the antics of Burt Reynolds as he attempts to do something that no one has done before – smuggle a truckload of Coors beer across the Mississippi river.   Burt was helped by Mel Tillis who played Snowman, the driver of the 18-wheeler.  The pair had a specific goal and created a strategy to accomplish.  One individual was the interceptor and drew the attention of the police, while the other focused on getting the truck from point a to b.  Their success was tied to the fact that each was very clear on their mission and how their individual roles contributed to its achievement.

4.       Top Gun – Recognize that sometimes you just have to buzz the tower

US Navy enlistment increase significantly in the 80s due to this film about a naval aviator who was determined to be the best.  After enrolling in a class for the Navy’s pilots, the main character (Maverick) proceed to win his first combat simulation against one of the executive officers.  In celebration, even though he was denied clearance, Maverick decided to buzz the tower.  He completed his high-speed fly by and became the topic of discussion for his peers (was he really the best) and for the executive officers (should we end his career).  The lesson demonstrated in Top Gun is that to be the best people need to think you are the best.  Make some noise and let them know you are there.  Just a little bit of public relations can change people’s perception and make your company an overnight success.

5.       Real Genius – Starting over might be the best way to solve a problem

The lesson here is easy, smart people are in such demand that employers will overlook the bear slippers and toxic waste t-shirts in the interview and give you an offer regardless.  Ok, theat might be one lesson, but not the main one.  This movie follows the antics of Chris Knight, a student a Pacific Tech and one of the top minds in the world regarding partial physics and lasers.  He is eccentric intelligent and leads a team that is developing a 5-Kilowatt laser.  During the film, a competing student sabotages his laser and it destroys itself beyond compare.  Under duress from his professor, Mr. Knight has a revelation and builds a new laser that uses a different technology and is significantly stronger than its predecessor.  The lesson from Real Genius is that abandoning your current plan and starting from scratch can potentially produce exponential results.

6.       Moneyball – Turn big data into small data to achieve results

Ok, I know this is not an 80s movie.  I just think the premise of this movie is so strong that I must include it.  The movie is about the 2002 Oakland Athletics and their use of big data to develop a team that had the longest winning streak in major league baseball.  Analytics and Big Data are part of Stonehill’s service offering and I am constantly asked about how to use big data to run an organization.  I always say that the secret to big data is turning it into small data.  That is exactly what Billy Beane did in this movie.  Using Sabermetrics, his management team determined that a player should not evaluated on his ability to hit home runs, run a 4 second 40, or throw a ball at Mach one.  They figured out that the secret to baseball is simply getting on base.  They poured through the figures looking at one metric – getting on base and built a winning team.

7.       Wall Street – Don’t do anything illegal or you will go to jail

Greed is good, except when it gets you thrown in jail.  This movie focused on the high-flying field of finance and Gordon Gekko’s determination to control companies, drive markets, and make money.  In order to accomplish his goal, he took advantage of young upstart brokers and illegally obtained insider information on companies he actively traded.  Mr. Gekko was considered a successful businessman, but at the end his methods became known and he thrown in the federal penitentiary.  The lesson here is easy, everything you do will eventually catch up to you.  Don’t do anything illegal or you will go to jail.