Mom, great lessons I learnt from the movies

Vani Kola
Vani Kola
Mar 4, 2016 · 6 min read

Access to English movies was rare in the pre-internet era of 1970s and 1980s in India. Like most traditional Indian families, mine too did not believe that kids could learn anything by watching movies. In fact, it was considered a waste of precious time that should be best spent on academics. I was rarely allowed to watch movies and oh, I was also never allowed to read magazines. For some reason, my mom was certain these would be corrupting influences on my young impressionable mind!

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I watched very few movies in the first two decades of my life. As a result, I obsessed about each of the early movies I got to watch.

The memories of my languid childhood are more indelibly marked than the constant stimulation of today. I want to share some ideas from my memory lane from three movies I saw before turning twenty.

Not many would have heard about this movie, the first Hollywood movie I ever watched. The movie remained one of the highest international grossing Hollywood movies until blockbusters like Jurassic park and Titanic came along, many years later.

This movie made me think for the first time, very early in life about the essence of ‘risk vs reward’.

Importance of assessing the risk-reward potential of an opportunity:

In the movie, an old legend tells of a fortune of gold hidden in the “Cañon del Oro” guarded by the Apache spirits. The protagonist, Marshal MacKenna comes in possession of a map that shows the way to the fortune. He doesn’t know if it is true or rantings of a mad man. He possesses an eidetic memory so he memorizes the directions, burns the map and then tries to lead himself to the treasure — much like an entrepreneur who does the same. Their idea offers a tenuous path to the gold fortune. It is important to assess whether the risk is worth taking, the only way you can move is forward.

Protecting your IP amidst stronger competition

While MacKenna decides to venture towards the treasure, Mexican outlaw John Colorado and his gang are in search of the treasure. When he learns of MacKenna, he forces him to join them in hunting for the treasure. Mackenna knows this is dangerous company, but he too needs access to their resources. As an entrepreneur, when you convince yourself about an idea (map), you will also find others moving towards it (competitors). In the entrepreneurial journey you might meet people who you are not on your side. Perhaps entrepreneurs feel this way about venture capitalists. You might have to form uneasy alliances to keep moving to accelerate the chances of your success.

Is it worth taking the ultimate risk?

Every party including MacKenna, Colorado and the others that join the quest for the treasure along the way, know that the longer they prolong their quest, the more the danger to their lives. However, once they reach the treasure, most are overcome by greed and linger too long or have sacks that slow them down, perishing in an earthquake in the canyon. Mackenna survives riding out the horse in the nick of time, with sufficient gold in the saddle bags, enough but not so heavy to compromise his escape. A good ending!

People often take the ultimate risk and rarely win. Greed takes over and core values are forgotten. Entrepreneurship itself means that a lot is at stake (both professionally and personally) so you have to think of the extent to which you are willing to sacrifice in the quest. Treasure here is only a metaphor, money, fame, power, impact are all forms of treasure. As an entrepreneur, you should have a fair gauge on when to dilute and at what valuation, who should you ally with, when to sell the business, when to empower others, and when to share leadership — like a movie script wherein the writer can control the ending, are you in control of the startup script.

Cleopatra is another movie I saw in the 1980’s, released or rerun to popular demand in India years after its original release. The second English movie of my life; almost a decade after the first! Cleopatra did, unintentionally, give me a lesson or two in gracefully accepting defeat and living life on my terms. Cleopatra’s conduct was a powerful lesson in marketing and personal branding.

Making great connects, impact of presenting well

To win Caesar’s support, Cleopatra hides herself in a rug, which Apollodorus, her servant, presents to Caesar. He is immediately infatuated and declares Cleopatra as Egypt’s ruler.

When you need to meet someone, there is always a creative way to leave a lasting impression!

Vision beyond the horizon

By aligning with Caesar, Cleopatra gained control over the Egyptian kingdom.

There are many entrepreneurs whose vision and aspiration for world dominance is comparable to that of Cleopatra. And they might do well like her to be thoughtful about the best allies to help accelerate the probability of their success. (Cleopatra with Julius Caesar and then with Mark Antony).

The most important takeaway here is to ensure that you create a great first impression and your outreach should match the aspirations you have.

Accepting failure with grace

The unexpected happens to disrupt the most perfect plans! After Caesar’s assassination, the entire scenario changes for Cleopatra. Cleopatra allies with Antony and marries him but he is overthrown by Octavian. She knows Octavian’s words cannot be trusted. She is said to have died of self-inflicted poison, perhaps the bite of an asp, a venomous snake.

Cleopatra leaves a valuable lesson on being graceful in defeat. She also gives a powerful message on how to be in control despite losing everything and how to decide your fate yourself. While death is a metaphor, companies and ideas don’t always achieve the vision for market dominance. While great endings are perfectly plausible, if fate so decides, we may fail to create defining companies despite a lot of effort. If it is to be, accept failure gracefully and be in control of the situation at all times.

This wonderful musical is all about self-transformation.

The power of transformation if you have adept mentors

Professor Higgins, a scholar of phonetics, believes that the accent and tone of one’s voice determines a person’s prospects in society. The plot revolves around how Professor Higgins transforms Eliza from a flower seller to someone who could qualify as a duchess.

The story of Eliza teaches us that you needn’t be born with a pedigree. Entrepreneurs are a constant proof of this, transforming themselves from an ‘unknown’ to a ‘ brand name CEO’. Is there a Professor Higgins who can mentor and guide them? Perhaps, it is not one individual who looms large but mentors can definitely aid along the path to success.

Hard work and perseverance creates winners:

Eliza goes through many forms of speech training, such as speaking with marbles in her mouth. She makes little progress but she perseveres and trains hard. Just when she is about to give up, she finally gets it right and starts speaking with an impeccable upper class accent.

Do not give up, use every resource at your disposal.

Treat occasional failures as minor setback and keep trying:

As a test, Higgins takes Eliza to Ascot Racecourse, where she makes a good impression initially, only to shock everyone by a sudden lapse into vulgar Cockney accent. Despite this setback, Eliza poses as a mysterious lady at an embassy ball and even dances with a foreign prince.

Every entrepreneur will face tough days. There will be times when you seem to do it all wrong, the world laughs at you or rejects your idea. It is important to keep working towards your goal and have courage of conviction.

While my world has evolved since the time I watched these movies, I must admit that it has been fun to go down the memory lane and apply it to my world today. Do you have movies that left an early impression on you? Love to hear from others on this topic.

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