9 Lessons Entrepreneurs Can Learn from "It’s a Wonderful Life"

In this holiday classic George Bailey is the quintessential entrepreneur. And the lessons he learned still ring true for small-business owners today.
Getting Small Businesses Unstuck, Shafran Moltz Group
December 25, 2012

Frank Capra’s holiday movie It’s a Wonderful Life can still teach small-business owners about being successful. George Bailey is the stereotypical entrepreneur. He is a passionate dreamer who works hard to sustain his family’s Building and Loan Company. George also becomes cynical when he experiences many of the same problems small-business owners face today.

The following nine lessons George Bailey learned in this 1946 holiday classic still hold true for entrepreneurs today:

1. Make a difference. When the angel Clarence shows George what the world would have been like without him and his business, it’s a disaster. He realizes that the world is a better place with his company than without it. Making a difference is why most entrepreneurs start a business.

2. Invest in savings. During a difficult time at his bank, George uses his own personal savings to prevent his business from failing during the Depression. Like so many entrepreneurs, he invested his money to keep his business alive. At some point, every entrepreneur makes this difficult decision.

3. Build a triple bottom line. George’s Building and Loan is a business, but profit is not the only bottom line. Instead, his company becomes a symbol of community, as well as independence for people trying to build a better life for themselves. This triple bottom line is very popular with entrepreneurs this year.

4. Set high goals. George says to his future wife, Mary Hatch, “You want the moon? Just say the word and I'll throw a lasso around it and pull it down.” This is exactly the kind of passion and confidence an entrepreneur needs in order to succeed. Entrepreneurs always seem to set impossible goals (and many times achieve them).

5. Focus on local. George never does get out of Bedford Falls, New York, even though he dreams of doing other things. Instead, after his father dies, he takes over his family business. Staying local ultimately leads to a very satisfying life as he focuses staying vested in his community.

6. Find critical mentors. Clarence shows George a different perspective when faced with a business crisis. This is what any good business mentor would do, and demonstrates why they are so critical to the success of every company.

7. Don't rely on the banks. The banker Mr. Potter seems like a character most small-business owners have met in real life. Mr. Potter doesn't lend money to George when his business really needs it.

8. Be an optimist. Mary Hatch displays resourceful wisdom when she says that "the grass isn’t always greener on the other side." She shows small-business owners how to take what they have right now and make the most of it.

9. Remember the ultimate "bailout." George says that “No man is a failure if he has friends." Many entrepreneurs link their feeling of success and failure to the results from their business. George learns that even though he may fail, the support from his friends can get him back to a successful place. At the end of the movie, his friends give him $8,000 for the ultimate “bailout.”

The only thing different these days is that whenever a bell rings for an entrepreneur, it’s not just an angel earning their wings, but more importantly, the cash register making a sale!

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Photo: RKO Radio Picture/Getty Images