Published on: December 2, 2009by Kevin Coupe
Content Guy’s Note: This column is the second of two to be featured on MNB this week that are taken from our new book, The Big Picture: Essential Business Lessons From The Movies. To learn more about the book - which is exclusively available to MNB readers in time for the holidays - click here
Jawsis one of the best thrillers ever made, but it also serves up an example of business behavior that is egregiously bad and almost inevitably fatal: denial.
“I don’t think either one of you are aware of our problems,” Mayor Vaughn (Murray Hamilton) says to Chief of Police Martin Brody (Roy Scheider) and Matt Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss) at one point in the movie. “I’m only trying to say that Amity is a summer town. We need summer dollars. Now, if the people can't swim here, they'll be glad to swim at the beaches of Cape Cod, the Hamptons, Long Island...”
Sure, Amity needed summer dollars. But what Vaughn ignored was the fact that the town also needed tourists that weren't worried about being torn limb from limb.
Vaughn’s reluctance to close the beach is an example of the type of short-term thinking that should be avoided in the business world. Vaughn is working under the premise that if the town of Amity closes the beaches because of concerns about shark attacks, it will scare away the tourists on which the town depends. Which is true. But Vaughn ignores the cold reality that if tourists find out that there is a shark in the water and the town allowed people to go swimming, not only will they stay away in droves, they’ll also lose trust in the town’s management and never come back.
Businesses have to engender trust in their customers. Violate that sense of trust by ignoring the obvious facts – or even just the likely trends – and the repercussions can be both serious and long lasting.
Mayor Vaughn obviously never learned from the management at Johnson & Johnson, who, when faced with evidence that Tylenol had been tampered with in 1982, immediately pulled the product off the shelves. The Tylenol executives figured that they could survive the short-term hit, but would never survive the backlash if they denied the seriousness of the problem. When a new tamper-proof version of Tylenol came back to store shelves, there remained a sense of trust on the part of the consumers because Johnson & Johnson played it straight.
To be fair, although Mayor Vaughn generally is painted as the bad guy in Jaws because he ignores the sharp-toothed reality swimming just off shore, almost everybody is in some sort of denial. While this denial drives the plot forward, it also offers a primer on how to not deal with serious or even not-so-serious business situations.
Think about it. Quint, the great shark hunter played to crusty perfection by Robert Shaw, continues to chase the enormous great white shark with a small boat and just two crewmen. That’s world-class denial.
Hooper, the oceanic expert with a passion for sharks, shows a sense of denial several times when he gets into the water with the shark. Sure, he’s getting into an anti-shark cage, but the evidence is pretty strong that it isn’t going to be nearly “anti” enough.
About the only main character who doesn’t seem to be in denial is Chief Brody, and even he has a moment of self-delusion when he’s asked why, if he is scared of the water, he lives on an island. “It’s only an island when you look at it from the water,” he says.
But it also is Brody who has the movie’s primal moment of clarity. It’s when he’s shoveling bait into the water and gets his first close-up look at the shark’s massive body, black eyes, and very, very sharp teeth.
“I think we’re going to need a bigger boat,” he says.
Truer words never have been spoken.
In business, as in Jaws, denial can get you eaten for lunch.
- KC's View:
- As noted here yesterday, 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 .