retail news in context, analysis with attitude

by Michael Sansolo

Content Guy’s Note: This column is the first of two to be featured on MNB this week that are taken from the new book, The Big Picture: Essential Business Lessons From The Movies, by Kevin coupe & Michael Sansolo. To learn more about the book - which is exclusively available to MNB readers in time for the holidays - click here

There is a phrase that should never be uttered in business. It consists of the seven forbidden words:

“That’s the way we’ve always done it!”

You know you have heard the phrase and it is possible that you have even said it. The cumulative impact of the phrase is a non-stop assault on creativity, innovation, and rule breaking – the very activities virtually every company should encourage.

There is a cure for this unbridled corporate conservatism in the form of the delightful movie Babe. Every time the phrase “That’s the way we’ve always done it!” is uttered, force that person to watch Babe. In fact, watch it yourself. It’s worth it.

On the surface, Babe appears to be a child’s movie. It isn’t, although it is great for children, too. It’s the story of a pig, Babe, who is the runt of the litter destined for the slaughterhouse. Babe is saved from this fate when he is given to a local fair to be handed out as a prize, which is won by taciturn farmer Arthur Hoggett, wonderfully played by James Cromwell.

Once at Hoggett’s farm, Babe does something unusual: he stops behaving like a pig, for the simple reason that he doesn’t know he’s a pig. He consorts with all manner of animals like Ma the old sheep, Ferdinand the duck, and the litter of sheepdogs living in the barn. With his polite manners and naïve ways, Babe becomes a friend to all the animals, many of whom do not get along and clearly do not respect each other. (Hmmm, sounds more like an office with each passing moment.)

Farmer Hoggett begins to notice Babe’s social abilities when Babe divides all the chickens in the yard into groups of similar colors. Soon, Farmer Hoggett gives Babe a chance to show his stuff at the most important animal job on the farm, herding the sheep.

That’s where Babe the pig and Babe the movie shine. By breaking all the rules – “the way things are,” as the animals remind him – Babe becomes an outstanding herder. Although the dogs consider the sheep too dumb to understand anything other than a nasty approach and the sheep consider the dogs too stupid to talk with, Babe bridges the divide with friendship and manners. Slowly but surely, even the most reluctant animals begin to understand the wisdom of Babe.

Babe is a simple story, but it contains an important lesson. Think of how many businesses have stuck to the way things always are and completely missed the opportunity to become something entirely new, bigger, and better. Some have taken those opportunities:

• MTV didn’t invent video or records, but pulled them together into an entirely new cable channel. CBS, in contrast, owned a television network and a record company, but missed the chance.

• Google wasn’t the first company to offer a search engine for the Internet, but its speed and efficiency helped create a cyberspace dynamo that dwarfs AltaVista, Yahoo, or even Microsoft.

MTV and Google all had their Babe moments. They ignored “the way things are always done” and built astounding success by identifying possibilities and filling them with a value proposition that viewers, listeners, and shoppers learned to love.

Babe connects on many levels. The parallel of animal and human behavior has been shown often in the movies, from Charlotte’s Web to Animal Farm. But Babe delivered a winning story told in a creative style and with a lesson that could stand the test of time. In fact, the movie was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture, an uncommon honor for a “children’s” movie.

Be on the lookout for those seven deadly words of business, those seven words that limit your horizons and suck the creativity and spirit out of your people. When someone says, “That’s the way we’ve always done it!” launch a counter-attack with the story of a pig that refused to accept things the way they were.

Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at .
KC's View:
A quick note here, if I may.

The original deadline for orders of The Big Picture to be placed in order to have them delivered by the holidays was November 30...but the overwhelming response has led the publisher to extend it by one week, to December 7. So if you’re interested, click here .