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OWNER'S MANUAL

The 'Spinal Tap' Guide to Business

Entrepreneurial wisdom from a mockumentary? You betcha. Read on for 10 golden nuggets you won't find elsewhere.
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Three times in less than an hour I heard someone say, "I do not think it means what you think it means," yet, surprisingly, people laughed every time.

I knew the line was from "The Princess Bride." What I didn't know was why so many people  were using it, along with lots of others. ("You mock my pain!" was the clear favorite.)

Turns out every month the founder of the company I visited (due to a NDA he must remain anonymous) rents a meeting room at the local public library for a movie night for employees and their significant others. It's a great way to get people together and have a little fun, and it creates a shared experience that has legs, since employees enjoy dropping quotes from the movies into their day-to-day conversations.

That's cool for two reasons: One, recognizable quotes are like verbal shorthand, getting across in one or two sentences what normally takes much longer to explain, and two, it's an implicit reminder of a fun non-work experience they all shared.

Two bonding moments for the price of one!

Don't think something like that can work for your business? Here are, not by accident, 10 (not all SFW) lines from "This is Spinal Tap" that could work in almost any business:

"Hello Cleveland!"

Just because you're leading doesn't mean you actually know where you're going. When a project is off the rails, "Hello Cleveland!" might be the perfect icebreaker to getting it back on track.

"How much more black could this be? The answer is: None."

It's often easier to rationalize a mistake or a misstep into a positive instead of working to fix a real problem. This line is perfect for those moments when, instead of searching for the silver lining, you really need to recognize the cloud is truly black--and then do something about it.

"Too much f-ing perspective."

Different opinions can be helpful. Devil's advocacy can be helpful. But every once in a while, the guy who says, "Wait--remember what happens to Pets.com," just needs to be put in his place.

"I'll rise above it. I'm a professional."

Miniature bread and missing olive pimentos drive Nigel to distraction. So can ever-changing requirements, demanding customers, scope creep, interpersonal challenges... all the stuff that goes into starting and running a small business.

When you're a professional, you can rise above it. Or at least claim you will.

"It's such a fine line between stupid and clever."

Trust me. You'll know when to trot this one out. And you'll get plenty of chances.

 "Do me a favor. Just kick my ass."

The best thing to do when you mess up is own up, take your lumps, and move on.

"I feel my role is to be like lukewarm water."

Some people are fire, some are ice--and some strive to be lukewarm water.

In one sentence you can show you know your role in an organization or on a team and that maybe that role isn't the best use of your talents.

"Listen, we'd love to stand around and chat... but we've got to sit down in the lobby and wait for the limo."

An easy way to show  you've had enough of a meeting, a conversation, a project--as long as your tongue is firmly in your cheek, of course.

"Quite exciting, this computer magic."

Whip this one out after a particularly elegant bit of programming or design.

"These go to eleven."

THE classic Spinal Tap quote. Perfect for showing that your idea, your initiative, your project, or your company is a cut above the rest.

(Quick 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 for a little humor as a waste of your every-second-counts-because-I'm-crushing-the competition time, feel free to move on and re-read your well-thumbed copy of The Wealth of Nations instead. Horses for courses, mate. Horses for courses.)

Last updated: May 23, 2013

JEFF HADEN | Columnist

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.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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