In the ten years since I co-founded a brand agency, I've often been asked, "Who or what is your greatest professional influence?" And while I'd love to say something intellectual or provocative like "Steve Jobs," "David Ogilvy" or "my father," the truth is, much of the wisdom I refer to on a daily basis comes from the comedic films of the 1980s.
Yup. Believe it.
Call me what you want -- guy with a Peter Pan syndrome, John Hughes junkie, whatever -- but for me, these films spewed a kind of rare wisdom that no amount of "T&A" could diminish. And I try to manage my company and my staff with that same respect for the fundamentals that these films all had -- because in order to create a forum where good ideas can flourish, you need to have a good foundation. Okay, so maybe Belushi didn't always represent that in Animal House, but a lot of the characters in my favorite 80s films -- movies like Spring Break, Revenge of the Nerds and the film Tim Robbins never acknowledges on his resume, Fraternity Vacation -- had a disarming sweetness about them that I think is incredibly effective in the branding world.
So, skinny ties and big hair aside, here are five quotes from 80s movies that I refer to on a weekly basis when making management decisions.
Caddyshack: "Let's pretend like we're real human beings."
Chevy Chase's Ty Webb in Caddyshack is one of my favorite characters ever; he utters this line while trying to bed Lacey Underall (don't get me started). And this quote has total relevance in my day-to-day, as I often try to remind my staff that at the end of the day, we're all just real people. If we can simply cut out the bullshit that stops us from connecting, we have an amazing opportunity to do great things. Whether or not that work is as important as bedding Lacey Underall...well, that's for you to decide.
Risky Business: "Sometimes you gotta say, 'What the f&8ck.'"
Before cute, relatively unknown tom cruise was the scary Scientology mega-star Tom Cruise, he made what many consider the greatest coming-of-age movie since The Graduate. The naiveté of his Joel Goodsen character in Risky Business is precisely why he was a keen businessman, and ultimately a prime candidate for Princeton (he utters this line to the admissions officer, though it is his friend Miles -- who other 80s movie fans will remember as Booger in Revenge of the Nerds -- who initially imparts this wisdom to Joel). And in my day-to-day, I definitely encourage my team to say, "What the f&8ck," in order to take risks and produce work that's not only distinctive, but often game-changing. In fact, the longer version of that quote has this at the end: "Saying 'What the Fuck' brings freedom. Freedom brings opportunity, opportunity makes your future." Precisely.
Back to the Future Part I: "Roads? Where we're going, we don't need roads."
"Doc" Brown, one of my favorite film characters ever, utters this legendary line at the very end of the first Back to the Future movie (I don't even acknowledge the sequel), right before he and Marty McFly jet off in their DeLorean time machine to 1988 -- "the future." And the notion that you really can't predict what's coming down the line, no matter how hard you try, is so integral to the kind of work we do every day. We always need to focus on the task at hand, and not pretend like we know what's going to happen the day after tomorrow. At the same time, it's important to create work that stands the test of time, and which will still be around if and when you do go Back to the Future.
The Breakfast Club: "You see us as you want to see us, in the simplest terms, in the most convenient definitions. But what we found out, is that each one of us is a brain, and an athlete, and a basket case, a princess and a criminal."
This quotecomes from the letter that The Breakfast Club writes to Principal Vernon at the end of the detention day. Quite literally, it speaks to the fact that nobody -- including the misfits in the film -- is as they seem. And as far as organizational structure goes, it also speaks to the fact that everybody in our company has value, based on who they are and the experience they bring. While each has an area of expertise, the melting pot of perspectives and the open environment in which to express them provides a grounding to our work -- we are different, but we are the same.
Stripes: Winger: C'mon, it's Czechoslovakia. We zip in, we pick 'em up, we zip right out again. We're not going to Moscow. It's Czechoslovakia. It's like we're going into Wisconsin. Russell: Well, I got the shit kicked out of me in Wisconsin once.
What can I say about a movie whose tagline was, "The story of a man who wanted to keep the world safe for democracy...and meet girls"? Well, a lot actually. This quote is so fitting to what we do every day, because having realistic expectations for any given project is key to getting the job done, and done well. You can never really predict how things will turn out, but going into a job knowing what could happen helps mentally prepare you for possible pitfalls along the way.
Okay, so I know what you're thinking: This grown man (me) has based his whole management style on those dirty, ridiculous movies from a decade that most people mock? Well, I'm here to tell you there's a helluva lot more than just silly banter in these films; if you look deeply enough, you can find the meaning of life. Or at least, enough wisdom to keep a company going for 10 years, keep employees feeling inspired about their day-to-day, and keep me laughing my butt off in good times and bad. "Razzle, Dazzle...and that's the fact, Jack."