One of my fraternity brothers and my mother recommended that I watch the AMC show Mad Men, so I bought the DVDs and I watch it when I have free time.
The show is set in New York on Madison Avenue which became famous for producing America’s best advertising firms during that period. The show features an advertising firm that portrays the life of the men and women within the firm, and their relationships with their families outside of the firm. From a scale of a 1 to 10, I give the show a 6.5, because it isn’t very captivating (the only show I would ever give a 10 is HBO’s the Wire). However, the acting is excellent, and more importantly Mad Men is a true work of historical art as it accurately portrays what life was like in America during the 1960’s.
A few lessons I have taken away from the show so far
#1 – I have blogged about the importance in business of gaining exposure to new things. A lot of people think entrepreneurialism is about sitting in your office for 18 hours everyday looking at your computer screen. Sometimes being an entrepreneur is about looking at your computer screen for 36 hours straight. But I learned that just as important as working hard is to make sure you expose yourself to new things. The important thing is to be able to start thinking like an entrepreneur and relate every experience that you encounter back to business. Business is a part of your life, so its very natural and healthy to relate everything you do and experience back to business. I of course watch Mad Men for its entertainment value, but I also try to relate it to business. Here are three ways I have been able to relate it back to business:
#1 – Sometimes I look at some of the crazy and ridiculous things that go on in China, and I think the projections of them being an economic powerhouse that surpasses the USA are not realistic. Some aspects of China are completely and utterly dysfunctional. Then I watch Mad Men, and I realize how quickly a culture can change and transform within 50 years. The characters openly get drunk in the office, the women are openly objectified and its acceptable, and basically everyone smokes cigarettes everywhere.
It’s hard to imagine that this was the United States, and 50 years wasn’t too long ago, considering that I was born in 1980, which means that this stuff was taking place just 20 years before I was born. The point is that people, societies and cultures can rapidly change. It gives me more confidence that everything in China will change considerably in the next 20, 30 and 50 years, and really this has already happened.
#2 – It’s important to create a working environment where people can feel creative, have fun, rise through the ranks quickly, and have the opportunity to be “rebels”. The people in the office work long hours, but they accept it, because they have the opportunity of working in a glamorous industry where if they perform they can receive rapid advancement. I have not been able to completely do this in my company, but you can truly create a great working culture when your staff feels that they have creative freedom, they are working on something that pits the company against the world, and they have a chance of rapid advancement based on performance.
The modern day equivalent of Madison Avenue marketing is Silicone Valley Internet startup’s. If you can properly create this enthusiastic environment you can get more out of your staff. The question I pose to myself, is how can I create this culture in my company The/Studio?
#3 – I was watching the behind the scenes of Mad Men, and it was truly amazing at what great detail their staff went into researching the 60’s. The staff interviewed their grandparents, watched old TV shows, read old magazines, etc… They completely immersed themselves into the culture of the 60’s, which is why my Mother and Grandparents all agreed that they perfectly captured the period. They paid attention to every little detail, how people were dressed during that period, how people spoke, how offices and homes interior were decorated, etc… The truth is that the producers of the show could have saved money by paying less attention to details that 98% of their viewers would not have noticed.
However, despite this they did it because so much of business is still an art form. If it was from a purely monetary standpoint there is a good chance that the producers would have spent less time going through the trouble of researching and making sure that the show matched reality. However, I believe that the people making the show were motivated by passion just as much as they were motivated by money, so they went out of their way to make the show as historically accurate as possible.
In the short term perhaps they could have made more money by taking short cuts, but in the long run they earn more money by investing in the show because of the intangible benefits they receive. Perhaps my Mother would not have so strongly suggested the show if it did not so closely represent the period, or perhaps the show would not have received so much praise from critics, and probably most importantly the staff working on the show knew that the producers were interested in creating a piece of historical artwork, which attracted great staff to work on the show, and I’m sure motivated them to work harder. If the producers had only been focused on profits, everyone from the staff to the viewer would know that they are fakes, which completely demotivates your team, and good talent won’t even work for you.
It was just a reminder to me that you really have to strive to make your product or service perfect for it to succeed. This is one thing that American business culture I believe understands to a much greater level than company’s from other countries. This is why, the US still creates the greatest corporations on earth. Well at least for now, as we learned today, a lot can change in 20 years and 50 years.