What "Cars" Taught Me About Business
One benefit of working from a home office is that you can spend an obscene amount of time with your family, and lately that means spending every morning watching Cars with my two year old son, Jude, who is obsessed with Lightning McQueen and his pursuit of the Piston Cup.
Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve seen Cars at least 20 times. I can recite every line and still find myself on the edge of the seat waiting to see if McQueen will pull it off on the final lap and be the first rookie ever to win the Piston Cup and land the deal with Dinoco!
Lately, I’ve become quite fond of our morning movie dates and learn something new each time we see Cars. I originally thought Cars was nothing more than a cartoon made up of talking metal, but lately have been taking some valuable business and ethical lessons away that have had a positive influence on our business and relationships.
Here are three of my favorite lessons from the movie and how I’ve fit them in with our business:
1) We don’t always need to be first.
Arguably, the overall theme of the movie is to just slow down. McQueen is chasing the race to be number one, the champion, the fastest in the world. When he lands in the sleepy town of Radiator Springs, which he destroys with his speed, he ends up taking a drive with Sally and learns how she found and eventually stayed in Radiator Springs.
Sally takes us back in time and mentions how cars used to just drive, enjoy the scenery, meet other cars and see what’s happening around them. Then, the interstate came and the winding drive down Route 66 through Radiator Springs was bypassed just so that drivers could save ten minutes.
The interstate that carries traffic right past Radiator Springs is a metaphor for our internet. We look for ways to just drive by, cut the corners so that we too can save ten minutes with some new magical app or template for success. Our customers and our community become data rather than relationships, and in our fanatical race to be number one we drive right past the substance and scenery that drives our company’s cultures and relationships with our partners and clients.
2) Make listening a conscious routine.
This is another one of McQueen’s hard lessons. Throughout the movie, he is purely focused on what his goals are and not straying from the linear (oval in his case) route to get there. He refuses to take time to listen to others as they offer advice and thoughts of encouragement, ultimately delaying his own success. Like many of us, his ignorance is his nemesis.
As the movie develops and McQueen begins to listen and become more engaged in his surroundings, things start to move in a positive direction for him. He begins to pay attention and then continues with curiosity and questions. In the early parts of the movie, conversations with McQueen were all about him, however, as the plot evolves, McQueen begins to make a conscious effort to absorb what others are saying.
When we turn listening into a conscious activity we evolve our conversations from hearing to understanding. We learn things about others that they wouldn’t have revealed before, simply because we weren’t listening for them. Being conscious means being prepared to challenge our own thoughts and explore viewpoints we perhaps wouldn’t have considered before.
3) The Piston Cup is just an empty cup
This is my favorite quote in the movie and the lesson I hope Jude, most kids, and their parents come away with. Throughout the film, McQueen is focused on winning the Piston Cup and landing his big deal with Dinoco. His journey, however, through slowing down, listening, and engaging others allows him to learn what is truly important and how he can achieve success and happiness.
The mayor of the town, Doc Hudson, a three time Piston Cup winner himself, slowly becomes McQueen’s mentor and, rather than show McQueen how to win the championship, he teaches him the values of doing things for the right reason and acknowledging those who helped him achieve.
In the end, McQueen loses the final race and his chance at the Piston Cup, instead he opts to do the right thing and help others through the finish line. McQueen is in a position to help and does so without being asked.
Now, I may be looking a bit too into this cartoon business, or I may just need a day of adult time, but as important as these lessons are for kids they may be more important for us when we are growing our businesses.
Is it really that important to be number one? Do we have to be the fastest or the first to reach the finish line? There is nothing wrong with winning, but I’m just not sure what we’re actually competing for?
Every genuine partnership we have developed has been fostered over time and in an antiquated analog fashion. In short, we listen and we learn rather than blindly connect. Instead of data, we’re looking for relationships. We take the side roads so that we can see what’s around us and understand the world outside of our own.
Our group is focused on how we develop relationships, how we see opportunities, and how we interact with our stakeholders, in that order. Revenue isn’t our focus, but cash continues to find its way to our bank and we continue to grow. Like McQueen, our focus has evolved from the what to the how. I just wish more businesses and their owners would take the same approach.
Justin Knechtel is the Founder and Managing Director of the Northwest Freelancers Association, an independent non-profit group dedicated to promoting, cultivating, and representing the freelance community of the Pacific Northwest. You can connect with him on Twiter or About.me.
Here are more posts by Justin: