Because I’m Jewish, I love a good Christmas movie. Just like I love Christmas songs, which were largely written by Jewish artists! They are great on a relaxing Saturday afternoon as a pleasant diversion from the craziness of the holiday season. Many Christmas movies are light on plot and heavy on sentimentality. Others have a strong moral message, or maybe remind the kids to be good, because Santa Claus IS watching. I enjoy them all, because they’re invariably about appreciating the good in your life, even when it’s hard to recognize. It’s a wonderful reminder any time of year.
It won’t surprise you that my favorite Christmas movies are the ones that surprise you with the wise business lessons hidden at their core. If you’re partial to the Hallmark variety of Christmas movies, you’ve no doubt witnessed their unending variety of charming small town shops, seasonal bakeries, and craft competitions.
Fair warning: I won’t be taking a public position on the great “Is Die Hard a Christmas movie?” debate. But here are some holiday classics and the business wisdom they share:
1. Money isn’t everything - but it does help.
This is a classic Christmastime business reminder: there is a lot more to life than money. In “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation,” the boss’s decision to eliminate holiday bonuses nearly sends Clark Griswold off the proverbial cliff. In an effort to save a few bucks, Mr. Shirley nearly ruined the holiday season and maybe even the year for his employees. At the movie’s climax, Clark describes what a rotten move it was, explaining to Mr. Shirley how employees depend on it as a portion of their income. Mr. Shirley learns that alienating his employees is no way to run a business or make a profit, and Clark learns that he doesn’t need an extravagant backyard pool. A similar business lesson appears in the Holiday classic, “A Christmas Carol.” The hardworking but chronically underpaid Kermit the Frog - I mean Bob Cratchit - embodies the ideal that money isn’t everything. He and his family are a loving group that appreciate what they have, but most importantly appreciate each other. Their generous and loving spirit convinces Michael Cain-;I mean Scrooge-;that his miserly ways are not sustainable for his business or his life.
2. Be Yourself
In “Elf,” Will Ferrell’s Buddy is different from the elves on the North Pole, with hands that are too big to make the intricate toys. Buddy’s enthusiasm and Christmas spirit, however, are boundless, and it turns out that he is a fabulous storyteller. Interestingly, famous author Miles Finch is the only other gifted author, and he, too, is physically different from those around him. Even the combined efforts of all the generic businessmen in suits cannot match what Buddy and Miles are able to accomplish. Buddy is also an inspiration to those around him, unafraid to spread joy by decorating elaborately and “singing loud for all to hear.” What makes Buddy different is what makes him great. This is the most important thing you can give your customers. Don’t try to be like everyone else. Your unique value proposition is why they want to do business with you.
3. There’s bad karma in ruining others.
If you are looking for an end-of-the-year boost in sales and productivity, just about the worst thing a boss can do is to negatively influence the personal lives of their employees. This type of upheaval carries directly over into the workplace, and is almost certain to negatively impact your company. In “Trading Spaces,” the Duke brothers use Winthorpe and Valentine as guinea pigs in a twisted social experiment. When Winthorpe and Valentine realize how they have been abused, they rain down karmic fire on the brothers. Ultimately, the Duke brothers lose everything over a $1 bet. When doing business, conduct yourself with honor. People do business with people they like, so it’s a profitable strategy. Plus, what goes around comes around, and you don’t need to sew any bad seeds.
4. Dream Big
Throughout most of “A Christmas Story,” Ralphie Parker strategizes how to convince the adults in his life that he is mature enough for a Red Ryder Carbine Action 200-Shot Range Model Air Rifle. He tries to make lawyerly arguments to his mother, is cooperative when asked to help his little brother, and is (almost) tolerant when forced to wear a humiliating costume made by an aunt. Ralphie puts forth considerable effort paying his dues to prove he is mature enough for the rifle. Even though on Christmas morning it appears that his dream will not come true, Ralphie is content with his Christmas, and has come to appreciate his family more than ever before. When it is revealed that he is, in fact, receiving the rifle, the victory is all the sweeter from the effort he put into achieving it. You should dream big in business, too, no matter how unachievable it seems.