We managed to find five tickets for Les Miserables tonight at the ArcLight in Pasadena…not an easy thing for a very popular film on Christmas Day. As you know, we love to compare great films to the business world around us, so why should this one be any different?
Les Miserables is a very well-known story. How does one go about putting together a story that everyone already knows in a way that can delight an audience? The same way we go about making exceptional careers with exceptional companies. The parallels were as clear as our recent viewing of Skyfall. Here’s our take:
1. What goes around comes around
We can never outrun the way we conduct our business. Every day of our careers is about laying the groundwork of relationships and good will that will be immeasurable later. Jean Valjean builds a life from the disaster of his imprisonment. Given a first opportunity to change direction, he steals from the church that mercifully takes him in, but from that mistake onward, he invests in the people around him in ways that literally save his life later.
By the end of the movie, he has a ‘bank’ of goodwill that defeats his enemies and saves his legacy. Not surprising: Relationships in business are the key to every success story we know.
2. Driven by a belief
If there ever was a man driven by belief, it would have to be Russell Crowe’s Javert. But more importantly, Jean Valjean is the one who’s drive to do the right thing ends up being his salvation. He doesn’t denounce or kill Javert when he has the chance. He doesn’t flee Paris when the moment seems right. He doesn’t let the ‘fake’ Jean Valjean go to prison as the wrong man.
Instead, Hugh Jackman’s Jean Valjean sticks to his principles regardless of the consequences. That nagging part of our brain tells us what we should do but only the best of us follow it through.
3. Take a risk
By putting an enormous budget into Les Miserables, Director Tom Hooper (famous for The King’s Speech) took a story that has been one of the most popular modern musicals and a couple of very successful movies and took a significant risk. He had to coax performances out of a cast that wasn’t known for singing (the entire film is sung, in play fashion). Balancing famous stars with not-so-famous voices in an over-the-top story is the essence of putting it on the line.
Hooper’s risks pay off as the film manages to pull it off. Those we know who’ve done exceptionally well in business always took a significant risk…and the idea doesn’t have to be original.
4. Dare to dream
The story of Les Miserables is not an overly happy one. Every character goes through a very dark period (even Javert, as he admits, but none more than “Prisoner 24601″) and even the setting, a very gritty, poor France of the early 19th Century, is the stuff of dream killing. And this wasn’t a light read when it came out in 1862: Les Miserables is a 1500-page novel.
More than anything, Les Miserables is a story of daring to do remarkable things. There will always be a credit crunch, weak currencies, economic downturns, unstable economic times and sometimes, even revolutions. There will always be things standing in the way of success for those who are easily defeated. But for those who dare to dream regardless of circumstances, there are remarkable payoffs.
Les Miserables makes it work. There were plenty of misty eyes as the film ended and there will be grand speeches come Oscar time (calling it now).