There are two movies that I have watched on average about 100 times each and I am still enraptured by every second and frame of each film: the epic classic The Godfather and the cult classic, Scarface.
Both star the genius Al Pacino and feature subject matter that isn’t exactly family friendly. And yes, I think these brilliant, albeit uber-violent gangster films can teach us all a few lessons about being an entrepreneur. Here are my top four insights:
BIG PICTURE THINKING
To run your own business you have to have vision. You must see ‘end game’ before anyone else. You must see the kinds of customers you want, the product you want, and even the company culture you want — everything. You must solve problems today, but understand what impact those decisions can have on the future.
This big picture thinking is no better exemplified than the scene in which Michael Corleone listens intently to his brother Sonny and consigliere brother Tom Hagen arguing about how best to retaliate against Sollozzo, who tried to kill the Don. Seeing four moves ahead of anyone else, Michael realizes the drastic measures required and takes responsibility for it himself. In the end, it is Michael who deals with the crooked Police Captain McCluskey and Sollozzo at that intimate little dinner in the Bronx where he kills them both before fleeing to Sicily. By seeing the big picture, his plan works.
GO WITH YOUR GUT
What I love best about Michael Corleone is that his entire DNA is present in his decision-making process. He is methodical, shrewd and supremely clever of course, however he also benefits from an acute gut instinct that works in his favor.
Most successful entrepreneurs also rely upon a highly developed sense of gut feel when it comes to navigating murky territory. This is something we learn to trust more and more over the years. Sometimes you “feel” your way through a situation as much as you think through it.
Michael’s gut was none more accurate than when he believed his brother in-law Carlo to have a hand in killing Santino on the causeway. With no factual information, just a keen gut feel, Michael gets Carlo to admit that he indeed was approached by mob family Barzini to kill Sonny. Michael’s cool, calm (professional?) demeanor in the face of this confession is chilling. With the facts now in hand, Michael is now free to take decisive action. (He makes his sister Connie a widow and sticks Clemenza with replacing the windshield on the car.)
Entrepreneurism is synonymous with risk but also with freedom. It is your credibility, your salesmanship and your drive that will steer and guide your ambition and realize your enterprise. No one else will do it for you. Success comes to those who take a gamble – the bigger the risk, the bigger the gain — or the loss. And the hungrier you are, the greater risk you will be willing to take.
Tony Montana was starving from the start. His biggest risk-taking venture was dealing with the dashing Bolivian drug lord Sosa, to secure an ongoing commitment to supply him with Yeyo bound for the US on a monthly basis. Tony understood the danger and the magnitude of this partnership, but saw that this was a good deal for all. Tony handled Sosa brilliantly, negotiating price, payment terms and even shipping and handling agreements from which both parties would benefit. His boss, Lopez, was short-sighted and didn’t want to enter a venture of this scale. Tony took a tremendous risk with Sosa, but the pay-off afforded him a sunken bathtub and a palace dripping of red crushed velvet.
If you have a business goal, it should be simply stated, easy for everyone involved to follow, and attainable. Starting an entrepreneurial enterprise requires stated goals and an action plan to get there.
Montana’s goals were crystal clear: “First you get the money, then you get the power, then you get the women.” In his view, it didn’t take a degree in quantum physics to understand what victory looked like! And yet, these were high gain goals. For dirt poor Tony, the reach of these goals was almost delusional. But determination, ambition and just “making the right moves” worked in his favor. He had laser focus, unwavering purpose and he put the right army of people in place to achieve success. In the end, of course, he gets it all — the money, the power and even Elvira, the bosses’ lady. But unfortunately, too much Yeyo destroys his ability to hold onto it.
Next blog post: How to keep success from destroying your entrepreneurial spirit.