Last week I stumbled upon the old Tom Hanks movie Big, about a 13-year-old kid (Josh Baskins) who wishes he was big, and is transformed over night into a 30-year-old guy (who still has the maturity and interests of a 13-year-old).
In order to buy time to figure out how to go back to being a 13-year-old, he moves to the city and finds a job at a toy company. Initially he is a data input clerk (stop laughing -- they did exist), but then he serendipitously meets the CEO of the company and is asked to evaluate, and then develop, new toys.
This is the part of the movie that I have thought about for years and was reminded of last week. There are some very cool business lessons in this storyline.
Be Fearless. Kids have little fear, and one product of that is honesty. When Josh is asked what he thinks of various toy products, he answers frankly, without taking into account other executives’ feelings or stature in the company. In terms of product feedback, they get the raw thoughts of a 13-year-old. The product and the company wins--nothing else matters. Don’t you wish you could find that type of feedback on your products?
Be Inquisitive. During a number of executive interactions, Josh asks lots of questions. Each one probes a little deeper. (This reminds me of the Five Whys from Eric Reis’s Lean Startup.) As a kid with none of the baggage that comes from too many years as a professional, Josh asks questions that most of us assume don’t need to be asked.
Be Positive. Josh is the proverbial kid in a candy store. He plays with products with other kids in focus groups. He goofs around at FAO Schwartz (where he meets the CEO, who is there to watch what people like). He rigs an apartment with a trampoline, video games, and a bunk bed. And he brings that positive approach to his interactions with his secretary, his new girlfriend, and the CEO. I strive to be the positive energy officer every day. Good things come from it.
Be Yourself. As the third act of the film kicks in, Josh begins to conform to the role and responsibility that comes from being a 30-year-old executive. He begins to dress in a suit. He starts to blow off the buddy who is helping him. He goes on dates (a dinner party no less). And he is unhappy. All that he wished for (to be big) comes into question. This is one of my favorite lessons. Be true to yourself. Good things come from being free to create or accept good things.
Ask great questions without fear. Get unfiltered or no-agenda feedback. Bring great energy to your team. Be true to yourself, the product and the company. Go Big.
CHRIS HEIVLY: is a managing director at The Startup Factory, a seed-level investment fund making 10 to 14 new investments per year. In addition to TSF, Chris is the founder of the Big Top Job Fair and a national writer and speaker about start-ups and start-up communities. @chrisheivly