What The Shawshank Redemption Taught Me About Business

March 11, 2007

Posted in Small Business.

One of my favorite films of all time, I’ve probably seen The Shawshank Redemption over 50 times. Like any enduring movie, I continue to experience something new each time I watch it. But what can it teach us about business?

Sometimes You’re Guilty Even When You’re Innocent

“I killed her, Red. I didn’t pull the trigger. But I drove her away. That’s why she died. Because of me, the way I am.”

Andy comes to the realization that his time in jail isn’t just, but he’s not entirely without guilt. If you find yourself defending a decision, even when it was the correct decision to make, you’re probably fighting a losing battle. Arguing with customers can be dangerous. That isn’t to say you should plead guilty: it’s to cop a deal.

Send a letter a day

In building the library, Andy writes a letter to the state seeking funds for new books. When they send a few boxes of books, he increases his efforts to two letters a day. It pays off with a check to fund the new library.

The value of perseverance is underrated. People give up too easily. When relationships are non-existent, sometimes the nagging persistent guy wins out. It’s why the screaming kid gets the candy. Some clients are worth pursuing, but it’s very important not to annoy.

Find a new way

If you follow the rules, you’ll only ever achieve what the rules allow. Andy escapes through perseverance and patience, winning out by tunneling through the wall. Your business isn’t confined to walls of a prison, yet so many companies start by defining the parameters of their business by the businesses around them. You have to create a new path. A little different slant on “think outside the box.”

Don’t Become Institutionalized

After spending decades in prison, Brooks is receives parole and is a free man. Unable to cope with the changes of the outside world, he hangs himself from his new apartment.

Many large companies are referred to as “institutions.” But startups have the advantage of agility. Small companies with little history can adjust to the markets practically overnight. And yet the tendency is to “stay the course.” The first taste of success is a sweet one, but it should never distract you from the opportunities your business presents.

If you are in a large business—an institution—it can be hard to be agile. But it’s not impossible. In fact, it’s contagious. One department after another will recognize a good thing for what it is—and success will follow.

Dream of Zihuatenejo

Over the years, Andy tells Red about a town in Mexico called Zihuatenejo. It’s part of what keeps him going, year after year. When he escapes, Red meets up with him in Zihuatenejo where Andy is living his dream.

Your business needs a dream. Your founders need a dream (hopefully a shared one). It’s critical that you envision a future for your business. As you build your company, remember that dream and work toward it. That dream is what you have to communicate to potential investors, what your employees will buy into, and what will keep you going strong even when the business isn’t. It’s alright to let the dream evolve—as long as you have one.

1 Comment

  1. John Nunemaker — March 11, 2007

    Great title Chas.