The Artist, one of this year’s Academy Award nominees for Best Picture, tells the story of silent movie star George Valentin and rising young dancer Peppy Miller, whose star is rising just as Valentin’s is about to fade.
I didn’t know what to expect from this movie, but I sure didn’t expect to get a business lesson. However, while watching this silent movie, set in 1927, I couldn't help noticing many parallels with the business world of 2012.
In The Artist, we meet silent film star George Valentin at the top of his game as his latest movie premieres. He and starlet Peppy Miller “meet cute,” and soon, Miller’s star is on the rise…but as talkies take the nation by storm, Valentin’s star begins to wane. (Yes, the movie is reminiscent of the Gene Kelly classic Singin’ in the Rain.) Any business owner struggling to keep up with changing technology and economic turmoil will relate to what happens next. I won’t spoil the plot, but here are the lessons I took away from it.
1. Know when to pay attention. When the studio head shows Valentin a talking movie, telling him, “This is the future,” Valentin brushes it off: “If that’s the future, you can have it!,” he replies. Are you still ignoring social media or thinking your business has no need for tablet computers? Have you optimized your site for mobile viewing? You don’t have to embrace every new business trend—but you do have to learn enough about each to make a sound decision.
2. Know when to listen. Despite the urging of everyone around him, Valentin staunchly refuses to be a part of talking films. Are you ignoring customer complaints, your board of directors’ advice or criticism from your closest colleagues? If you hear the same advice from different sources, that’s a pretty clear signal to pay attention.
3. Know when you can’t do it all. Determined to prove that silent films still have a future after the studio dumps him, Valentin pours all his efforts into making his own silent movie. He doesn’t realize quite what he’s in for as writer, financier, director, producer, editor and, eventually, marketer in addition to actor. This felt all too familiar. It’s hard to wear those proverbial many hats of an entrepreneur, so make sure you ask for help and delegate whatever tasks you can.
4. Know the risks. Sometimes, business success is about timing and luck—which are ultimately beyond our control. There’s no sure thing, and hard work doesn’t always pay off. But you’ll never reap the rewards of business ownership if you don’t (or can’t) accept the risks.
5. Know when to swallow your pride. Sometimes business owners feel compelled to keep up a front about their success. While the saying “Fake it till you make it” is good advice up to a point, don’t hide the truth from those who need to know—whether that’s your investors, significant other or employees.
6. Know when to change. Sometimes, we’ve got to dig deep and call on skills we never thought we’d need again. Will Valentin ever become a movie star again? Without giving away the ending, I will say that in any business, a willingness to learn new tricks—or tweak our old tricks—can mean the difference between success and failure.
And the biggest lesson I took away from The Artist: Don’t give up on yourself and your dreams. No matter how defeated you’re feeling, if you look at your situation with a fresh perspective, there’s always a way to end up on top of the world again.
Photo credit: The Weinstein Company