Building a business strategy, while parallel processing with Shawshank, Wall-E, and Apocalypse Now.
A colleague once assigned this moniker to me. While I knew it was a jab, I felt nothing but pleased. It meant I was doing my job. It came at the end of a week-long executive strategy session where each functional leader presented their three-year plan. As the head of product for a $1 billion global business, ensuring alignment between product direction, marketing, and sales plans required constant communication, context setting, and collaboration.
Developing sound strategic business plans, both protecting and catapulting a beloved brand forward was necessary but, at times tedious in the presentation stage due to the prescribed, powerpoint format. While I am a fan of an astute 2x2 matrix, uninspired SWOT analyses are the shoulder pads of strategy- filling in for the real thing; humility and courage.
The very concept of a *brand* provides essential emotional architecture across divergent business and team priorities when creating a long-range plan. A hedge against unplanned stops, strategic plans are the GPS equivalent to annually recalculating the journey. Tools, templates, frameworks, and models are heralded for high-efficiency output across organizations. Companies cultivate cultural norms for their preferred methodology in business and strategic plans. Whether informed by leadership preferences, the hottest bestseller, or a well-compensated consulting group hired by the executive strategy team, organizational angst often arises when completing plans.
Powerpoint decks unspool; the job somehow gets done in rushed late night laptop cram sessions like a final exam. However, the prescribed approach becomes institutionalized, rote and resented. Leaders are besieged finishing *the deck* while also running the current business. Energy left over for deep reflection, divergent thinking and philosophical consideration of outside ideas withers. Pent up zeal for exploration sits down, weary in the last gum-smeared chair at the departure gate, waiting to board a flight anywhere hibiscus drenched with big ideas.
However, this capacity for charting the new never finds liftoff. Who has time? Who has the political capital to invest in fighting the internal template gods? Challenging people whose very existence is incentivized to ensure everyone follows a corporate claustrophobia template that may or may not best tell the story of a brand, the business, and its relevant parts and profit drivers may steer toward mediocrity.
If you seek a break from whatever your prescribed business framework may be or merely want a creative outside path alongside the traditional steps, below is a 6 step business framework capturing the fundamentals.
Each stage includes inspiration from a film amplifying its point in the process. This approach could use books, art, cities- any creative parallel universe stimulating outside thinking.
For our best leadership, we must bring our highest thinking. For our best thinking, we must first go outside for heightened context to return inside. Context setting creates discordant, disparate and frequent magical connections fueling reconciliation aiding the eventual quantification.
After all, what else is a business plan if not the ultimate quantification of the qualitative possibilities held onto in the certainly unwieldy future, where all true shareholders reside.
6 Step Business Plan Framework with Film as Inspiration
Step 1- Frame the Debate
Purpose: understand the landscape (consumers, channels, competition, countries, constituents).
Movie Inspiration: Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse.
The 1991 documentary showcases the wrenching experience of making the 1979 Francis Ford Coppola Vietnam War epic Apocalypse Now.
How does it inspire Step 1?
The documentary illustrates across the entire filmmaking process how people, product and profitability matter. Actors’ health issues, weather challenges, military exploits while filming and studio political pressures all threaten the completion of Apocalypse Now, considered one of the greatest films of all time by many critics. The inspired analysis shows a rich understanding of the hero’s journey across the landscape. The Directors’ explore the why, the how and the what like a blood-sodden, forensic exam. A loving and honest dissection of the hero’s journey creates the perfect canvas for how comprehensive one must evaluate a landscape and all it’s potential clues to the path forward, the next time.
Unifying Quote: “There were too many of us, we had access to too much equipment, too much money, and little by little we went insane.”- Francis Ford Coppola
Step 2- Interpret
Purpose: determine and declare your point of view about the landscape
Movie Inspiration: Wall-E.
In the 2008 animated Pixar/Disney film a trash compactor lives on a deserted Earth cleaning up garbage, eventually visited by a probe sent by a starship, whom he falls in love with and joins across the galaxy.
How does it inspire Step 2?
Wall-E infuses a point of view by criticizing consumerism, corporatism, waste management, human environmental impact, obesity and the potential for global catastrophe. Step two demands a synthesis of Step 1 into a courageous point of view, demanding a stand be taken.
Unifying Quote: “I don’t want to survive! I want to live!”- Captain of the Axiom
Step 3- Commit
Purpose: decide and establish a vision, create critical strategies for driving revenue growth/EBIT
Movie inspiration: Man on Wire
The 2008 documentary explores Phillippe Petit’s 1974 high-wire walk between the World Trade Center twin towers in New York City.
How does it inspire Step 3?
While watching Petit’s harrowing 1-hour tight rope performance between the two towers 104 floors up demonstrates commitment, it’s his dedication to a dogged strategy that shines the most. Driven, detailed and determined to bring his vision to life Petit allocates resources for maximum impact, much like in a business plan. Only, instead of SEO optimization strategy, it’s wind sway mitigation strategy.
Unifying Quote: “It’s impossible, that’s sure. So let’s start working.”- Philippe Petit
Step 4- Lead
Purpose: create momentum toward achieving the vision; within the team and the organization
Movie Inspiration: Black Stallion
This 1979 adaptation of a 1941 children’s novel shows a boy and horse becoming stranded on an island, befriending each other. After rescue from the island, the boy begins racing the horse.
How does it inspire Step 4?
Gorgeously shot with long swaths of no speaking, the cinematography, score, and narrative show a nuanced and quiet leadership. The boy and the horse are a metaphor — the boy a stand-in for a future humble, insightful, ambitious leader. The horse conceptually represents the broader organization or *workhorse*. The boy must break down big decisions of survival into micro choices to succeed across different environments and in racing competition. The boy’s youth symbolizes how planning remains imperfection; stoking continuous learning, fueling growth.
Unifying Quote: “He had fire in his eyes, smoke coming out of his nose!” - Alec’s father
Step 5- Inspire
Purpose: make people care. Turn the strategy into a story that becomes a legend.
Movie inspiration: Cinema Paradiso
A Wide-eyed, toddler type transparency and sweet audacity imbue the characters across this Italian film about the love of cinema.
How does it inspire Step 5?
It is inspiring for its sheer story strength. Shining with reliability, centering on human frailties and truths as Sicilian Salvatore tells the story of falling in love with movies. Inspired storytelling encourages using a universal theme (love) while also creating ways for people to individually attach (identifying with a character in a film to the broad theme).
Unifying Quote: “Now that I’m blind, I see better.”- Alfredo, the old man
Step 6- Execute
Purpose: Implement plans and tactics with excellence
Movie Inspiration: Shawshank Redemption
Two inmates at the Shawshank State Penitentiary form a deep friendship with one quietly plotting his escape over 20 years, funded by money laundering.
How does it inspire Step 6?
Andy Dufresne ( Tim Robbins in one of the lead roles) perhaps invented the SMART (smart, measurable, agreed upon, realistic time-based) approach to goal setting when envisioning his escape from prison. Thematically broad but highly detailed he never lost sight of his goal while also enlisting support for his cause from those around him whether they knew it or not. He remained egoless and relentlessly focused on the end game; escape.
Unifying Quote: “Get busy living, or get busy dying.”- Andy Dufresne