The Princess Bride is one of the most beloved movies of a generation. If you read Michael Marcon Tweets from February 5 (“I Believe”), then you know that movie fits all of my priorities for a good movie – good guys beat the bad guys, true love triumphs, catch phrases galore, and, of course, hidden business lessons abound.
The Man in Black We learn that “the man in black” (TMIB) is actually the hero. In life and in business, things are never as black and white as they appear. It was only once he was unmasked that we realize TMIB was the hero, not the villain. One of the most important lessons I learned from my Mom was when she said, “You never know what goes on behind someone else’s closed door.” You make assumptions about people at your peril. Better to look behind the mask.
“We are men of action. Lies do not become us.” Of all the great quotes of this movie, this is the one that always stuck with me. I remember hearing it the first time and thinking, “Yes. I want to be a “man of action.” Since then, I have thought of it often as I would reflect, “what is the alternative, inaction? Who can live like that?”
“Lies do not become us” is one of the most fundamental premises in life and business. I love how the movie underscores the fact that, to be a hero, you need to be above reproach. Lies, in fact, do not become you.
“Inconceivable!” Just like Vizzini’s best laid plans, things never work out quite the way you think they will. Viewers tend to focus on Vizzini’s cluelessness. What astute business leaders should focus on is the fact that each time his plan was foiled, Vizzini did not give up. He formulated a new plan. And, each time, he was convinced he had solved his problem. The only way to truly “capture your princess” is to keep trying different plans until you find the one that works. Of course, it also helps to make sure you never, ever, “match wits with a Sicilian when death is on the line!”
The inconceivable scenes also highlight another important point in business – just because you sound smart and spout your various technical jargon, it does not mean you are. Ultimately, you will be judged on your performance. At Equity Risk, we had a colleague who was constantly using the current business buzzwords and phrases. But, he never seemed to use them in the right situations. Instead of impressing people, he highlighted his ignorance and insecurity. After one unfortunately poor use of a business buzzword, a colleague leaned over to me and whispered, “He keeps using that phrase. I do not think it means what he thinks it means.”
“Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.” With the possible exception of “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn” or “Say hello to my lil friend”, this may be the most quoted line in movie history. It demonstrates that in order to achieve a goal, you need to have a single- minded devotion to that goal. Inigo devoted himself to studying fencing and consistently prepared himself for the moment when he would face his nemesis. As we have learned in business, we never know when our opportunity will present itself. We have to prepare every day. As we learned in life, God has told us that we know not the hour of our reckoning. We have to prepare every day.
“Have fun stormin’ da’ castle!” In business and in life, you need a great quest. No matter the odds, life is not worth living and business is not worth doing if you do not have a great quest. The author of the phenomenal best seller, Good to Great, Jim Collins refers to them as “BHAGs” – “Big, Hairy, Audacious, Goals”. The most difficult aspect of my post-Equity Risk life is finding the next castle to storm.
“There’s not a lot of money in revenge.” As Inigo says to TMIB, “I just work for Vizzini to pay the bills.” In business, there is no money in revenge. You will be wronged. You will be cheated. You will get screwed. Focus on the quest. Just like in the movies, the bad guys – ultimately – never get away with it. Don’t waste your time chasing them. And, boy, have I wasted my time. Hopefully, I can, in my best Grandpa/Peter Falk voice, tell you a good story and keep you from making the same mistake.
“I want my father back, you son of a bitch!” No business lesson here. I just do.
True Love The Princess Bride serves as a wonderful reminder that the single greatest power for good is true love. In business, you have to love what you are doing. You cannot succeed completely if you are focused on money or power or title or office size. The only way to perform at a consistently high level over a long period of time is if you truly love what you do. In life, true love defines our entire existence. From Mary to the boys to Laura to Penelope, true love sustains my every waking moment. I am consumed by my desire to protect them, provide for them, and watch them achieve their own great quests.
If you have not watched The Princess Bride, I encourage you to do it – with your family. It will reinforce your faith in humanity (and who does not need that these days). If you have watched it, I encourage you to watch it again and, as I do, try to incorporate the lessons into your everyday life.
And, if you like what you have read and you would like me to keep posting these thoughts, all I can say is…
As You Wish.
Michael C. Marcon is the founder and Managing Member of M3K Holdings, Chairman of The Marcon Foundation, founder and former CEO of Equity Risk Partners and former chairman of the Ursinus College board of trustees. He tweets from @mcm7464. Tweet him any of your questions about business, leadership or life.