What ’80s Films Can Teach Us About Modern Success

By Chris Clews

Ah, the 1980s. A magical time for creativity, invention, individuality, and timeless movies that taught us valuable business lessons. Wait? What was that last one?

When we think ’80s movies, most of us visualize Clark Griswold and his family truckster or the teen angst of a brain, an athlete, a basket case, a princess, and a criminal.  Others may think of a gentle alien or a “banana in a tailpipe”. If you asked my Mom, she would just smile and simply say, “Patrick Swayze.” But just like the artwork hanging on the walls of MOMA and The Louvre, ’80s movies are also ripe for varied interpretation.

You’re probably thinking it’s easy to find 80s movies that taught us business lessons for today’s workplace. After all the decade brought us movies like Wall StreetThe Secret of My Success, and Working Girl, all of which were set in the corporate world. But that would be too obvious, and Gordon Gecko isn’t exactly a model leader.

Often times the information that we retain the longest or has the greatest impact comes from the most unexpected places. When we think of great 80s directors – names like Steven Spielberg and John Hughes – we can be pretty sure they didn’t set out with the intention of providing us with business lessons for a modern workplace but that’s exactly what they did. You just have to dig a little deep, like Indiana Jones archaeologist deep.

So, what is it about the movies from this righteous and totally awesome decade that made them perfect for career, business, and entrepreneurial lessons? It’s character development, plot, and dialogue.

Today, if a movie maker realizes that their cinematic product is lacking one or all of those ingredients, they just overwhelm us with special effects referred to today as CGI (Computer Generated Images) and then we hear the following from our friends, “you have to see this in the theater.”  That wasn’t an option in the 1980s so we were blessed with memorable dialogue, multi-dimensional characters, and stories that connected whether they were silly like Fast Times at Ridgemont High or way ahead of their time dealing with social issues like bullying as in the movie Lucas.

So, what are some of the workplace lessons we learned from the great movies of the ’80s:

E.T. – Two very simple words, “Be good.”

Lesson: Social Responsibility. Be good to your employees. Be good to the planet. Do good in your community.

Ferris Bueller – “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop to look around once in a while, you could miss it.”

Lesson: Find your work-life balance. Take a random day off and more importantly bring your work “Cameron” with you. Chances are, they need it more than you.

Princess Bride – “My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.”

Lesson: Don’t hide your intentions from your target audience. Be honest. Be clear. Be bold.

Mr. Miyagi, Karate Kid: “Don’t forget to breathe. Very important.”

Lesson: During high-stress times take a moment to relax and reset.

The Outsiders – “Stay gold, Ponyboy, stay gold.”

Lesson: Even during tough times and challenges, great leaders and businesses never lose sight of their ethical and moral compass. They continue to “stay gold.”

Planes, Trains, and Automobiles: “I didn’t introduce myself. Del Griffith. American Light and Fixture, sales director, shower curtain ring division.”

Lesson: To be successful, every company no matter the size needs a great salesperson.

Breakfast Club: “We’re all pretty bizarre. Some of us are just better at hiding it, that’s all.”

Lesson: Great businesses and leaders foster accepting and creative environments by encouraging employees to be themselves.

And one more just for fun although it could be a lesson in being aware of your surroundings:

Mr. Hand, Fast Times at Ridgemont High: “Mr. Spicoli has been kind enough to bring us a snack. Be my guest. Help yourselves. Get a good one.”

Lesson: When buying lunch at the office, make sure to order enough for everyone.

There is a plethora of workplace lessons we can learn from 80s movies and I’ve learned a valuable one as I’ve reinvented myself over the past year. As Ponyboy said in The Outsiders, “You have a lot of time to make yourself be what you want,” so go create you and tell the world. I know I am.

Along with being an author and keynote speaker, Chris Clews is currently the head of marketing for DHL Resilience360 and resides in Deerfield Beach, Florida. More information on Chris and how to book him for your event or conference can be found at ChrisClews.com.

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