The Monty Python Guide to Running a Business
BY Jeff Haden
Because a little humor never hurts: 10 Monty Python quotes every business owner should know... and use!
MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL: Eric Idle, Michael Palin, center from left: John Cleese, Terry Jones (helmet), Graham Chapman as King Arthur (front), 1975
I was setting up to take the classic "jumping bridal party" photo (I'm a wedding photographer on the side) and said,"Okay, when I count to three, everyone jump."
"Wait," said a groomsman. "Do we jump on three, or is it one-two-three and then jump?"
Most of them had an opinion on the right way to do it--that's how it goes at weddings--and they argued for a while. "Jump on three," I finally declared.
As they moved into position I said, kind of offhandedly, "Three shall be the number thou shall count..." and almost all of them laughed. (This is why; skip to the 1:30 mark.)
Recognizable quotes are like verbal shorthand, getting across in one or two sentences what normally takes much longer to explain.
Plus, dropping in an appropriate reference can instantly create common ground with others, like when you mention the ratio of people to cake is too big at an over-attended, under-catered event.
And if nothing else, muttering a line to yourself can be a great way to gain a little perspective when you're frustrated or upset.
(Note: This post is in no way intended as serious business advice. If you're an on-point, quota-eclipsing, goal-achieving master of the business universe and see pausing, however briefly, for a little humor is a waste of every-second-counts-because-I'm-crushing-the competition time, feel free to give this post a miss and re-read your well-thumbed copy of The Wealth of Nations instead. No need to berate me in the comments. I know I'm being frivolous.)
Here are 10 quotes from those seminal business thinkers, the Pythons:
"What have the Romans ever done for us?"
Big customers make demands. They like to be treated special. Many demand to be treated special.
You sometimes get tired of it. Your employees often get tired of it.
You shouldn't--especially if those customers generate the bulk of your revenue.
"Then you must cut down the mightiest tree in the forest... with... a herring!"
But that doesn't mean you can't make jokes about customer demands--especially the unreasonable ones.
"If she weighs the same as a duck... she's made of wood... (and therefore) a witch!"
Data is great. Reason is essential. Objective thinking is critical to business success. But occasionally a blizzard of facts and figures can lead to conclusions that are anything but reasonable.
The next time you hear a proposal that seems more sorcery than sense, maybe it's a witch. (2:45)
"This parrot is no more."
The equipment you purchased doesn't work. The product you purchased is defective. The delivery was late.
But when you talk to the vendor your complaint falls on deaf ears.
You can't control your vendors, but you can control yourself and your employees. Instead of wasting time getting defensive, focus on correcting the problem. (2:20)
"I feel happy!"
Running any business is tough. Setbacks are inevitable. Bad often goes to worse.
Optimism, even irrational optimism, can be your best asset.
After all, no one wants to go on the cart. (1:15)
"Well, that's cast rather a gloom over the evening, hasn't it?"
Unfortunately there are times when the largest dose of irrational optimism can't cure bad news. I was with a client and his management team when they learned the union at one of their plants had voted to go on strike.
The CEO said, "Well, that's cast rather a gloom over the evening, hasn't it?" Everyone chuckled, nodded their heads... and started figuring out what to do.
When things go wrong a little laughter can sometimes go the longest way. (4:05)
"Throw him to the floor."
For all the times you wish you could take stronger disciplinary action... but can't.
"We lease it back from the company we sold it to and that way it comes under the monthly current budget and not the capital account."
I sincerely apologize to any financial wizard offended by the implications of the scene depicted.
Not really. (3:00)
(By the way: Love the 2:10 mark when the expecting mother asks the obstetrician, "What do I do?" and he says, "Nothing, dear. You're not qualified.")
"A tiger... in Africa?"
Often the obvious answer, no matter how simple and therefore unlikely, really is the right answer. (1:40)
"I always wanted to be... a lumberjack!"
Yes you did.
And now you are.
While running your own business can be incredibly difficult, it beats the alternative--because you didn't choose to be an entrepreneur.
JEFF HADEN learned much of what he knows about business and technology as he worked his way up in the manufacturing industry. Everything else he picks up from ghostwriting books for some of the smartest leaders he knows in business. @jeff_haden