It was a lazy Saturday afternoon, and there I was, digging through my Netflix queue. Orange Is the New Black. Next thing I knew, I was binge-watching the entire first season, getting to know Piper Chapman and her twisted foray into prison life.
Like many others, I’m unashamedly anxious for the premier of Season 2 of this hit Netflix show, which is coming June 6. To tide us over until then, how about a deep dive into how prison dynamics can help you run a better business? Yes, Sunshine, let’s do just that.
Would you know the drill if you were suddenly told to report to a federal prison? Yeah, Piper didn’t either. Dreams of doing posh time quickly faded, and Piper realizes that there are no favors, upgrades or givens with her new life. She’s humbled—and fast (and her re-humbling is a pervasive theme throughout the entire first season).
Reality Check: How’s your humility? When we’ve been in the game for a while, it’s easy to let humility slip by the wayside. We can start making certain assumptions about our employees, our customers and our vendors, thinking that we know best. Why not give your humility a tune-up by asking more questions than you answer and creating an open line of communication between your team, your customers and your office? It’s amazing how many business-changing ideas we can find if we’d just listen and stop assuming we’re the old pros and have every answer. Your customers might not have the teeny tiny bottles of hotel shampoo that Piper coveted, but odds are, they have something better. You just have to listen.
There Will Always Be a Jerk
The guards in Piper’s new world have a way about them. It’s usually not a very kind way, though. Hey, someone has to be the villain in a TV show about a bunch of vilified women, right? From Healy’s about-face from advocate to terrorizer to the sheer unrelenting "Ewwww" that coats every action and word that oozes from Mendez, we’re reminded that there’s always going to be a jerk in our lives—in prison, in your workplace, among your customers. Always.
Reality Check: How much power are you giving the jerks in your business? I’m betting it’s way too much. Instead of being surprised when the jerks come along, take a note from the Orange Is the New Black team of ladies when it comes to dealing with them. Many meet their own demise (and we watch with bated breath as it happens). Others simply fade away or otherwise make an exit. And some, well, some just need something, and their jerkitude is their (not-so-eloquent) way of asking. There’s no need to retaliate or give every jerk his or her day—your business will improve if you pick your battles. Otherwise, every day’s going to be a battle, and if you’re committed to this business thing, you might as well treat it like the ladies in Piper’s world treat the prison: like a system worth understanding because it’s a matter of life and death.
Word Gets Around
Boy, does word ever get around (and fast) in the Orange Is the New Black world. When Crazy Eyes catches wind of Piper’s less-than-flattering words about her professed love, there’s a rather direct and obvious mess left for Piper to clean up. If something’s being smuggled inside, Mendez wants his cut. Healy hears everything (and makes up the rest, regardless of the truth), and his wrath is like no other when he makes up his mind about what he’s heard.
Reality Check: No matter what business you’re in, that community is smaller and tighter than you might think. And word gets around just as fast, if not faster, than it does in Piper’s ecosystem. Assume that everything you say about a competitor, a vendor or even a customer will get back to them. And that’s not to say you’re not supposed to feel frustrated or lose your mind a little bit every now and then. It’s just to say that if you’re going to put more energy into talking trash than fixing and/or taking out the trash, you might get what you deserve when someone hears the trash you’ve been talking.
There's More to the Story Than You
The world artfully crafted by show creator Jenji Kohan in Orange Is the New Black proves that the individual is the least important part of a story. With every wicked, unexpected and stomach-turning storyline, we wouldn’t get from the beginning to the end of an episode without the interwoven stories of the entire cast of characters. Would we have cared about Tricia (and her means to her own end) without knowing that others cared for her? Could we have come to love and loathe Red as we have without seeing her reach out (privately) to other inmates and looking out for their well-being in the only way she knows how? Should we give a flip about Piper Chapman unless we see her struggle as she bumps into other inmates’ stories and finds herself becoming part of them?
Reality Check: There’s always more to the story than you. Your business can’t run without an artful combination of symbiotic characters, just as Orange Is the New Black couldn’t have us waiting on a case of Chardonnay and bendy straws for the Season 2 premiere without its handcrafted collection of folks for us to adore and abhor. Sometimes we fall into a rut that tell us lies, like the one that we don’t need anyone, or that no one can do things as well as we can, and dang it, I’ll just do it myself.
Lies, lies and more darn lies. Business thrives when we take the time to assemble our ideal ensemble cast. And just as we’ve seen with Orange Is the New Black, characters will come and go. It’s up to us, however, to invest in finding and nurturing the best people to play the roles that are crucial to our success. In the end, that frees us up to play the role we yearn to play in business—instead of the role that we feel obligated to play because pride gets in the way.
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