Best business movie of the year: Kinky Boots

This is without a doubt the best business movie of the year for its content. And it is probably one of my favourite movies of the year for its film quality as well.  This movie is BRILLIANT.

It is the true story of a men’s brogue shoe factory in Northamptonshire, England that in order to survive, stopped making men’s brogues, the market for which had been swamped by cheap Eastern European knock-offs, and found their “niche market” – kinky boots for drag queens and transvestites.

It is: a story of commtment; advice on how to be open and flexible to changes in your business environment; a treatise on finding opportunities  in the strangest of places;  a tale about how to be true to oneself; a lesson on respecting others even if they are different than you; and finally a lesson on leadership.

The other thing that I love about this movie is that it has a strong story, a lot of heart, it used fantastic venues (a one hundred year old factory), and it employed a bunch of the shoe factory employees in the movie. The writing was great, the scenes that were awkward and tense were intentionally written that way and it was not played up for laughs. There are a lot of moments in the film that you really want to end because they’re uncomfortable. But that’s the magic. Those uncomfortable moments are there in life!

Go rent this movie.  And if you are a business school leader, show this to your class. Here are some great lessons that I found. Which ones will you find?

  • A company is a collection of individuals who have committed their time and energy to the enterprise. Respect them and respect their commitment. Show them your loyalty – they deserve it.
  • If disaster strikes and you have to lay people off, don’t make excuses. Do it quickly and cleanly. It will suck and that’s life.
  • Before you lay them off though, ask them for their ideas. They are close to the work. They will surprise you and may even save the company.
  • Look at your business environment for big changes. When they come, change your business, change your product, change your service. Adapt or die.
  • Look for new opportunities every where you go. Do this by finding somebody who is in pain from an unfulfilled need. Don’t try to create a market – find one that is underserved or not at all served.
  • If you and your life partner don’t want the same things, you’ll never really reconcile it. You’re better to move on and live out your lives apart.
  • Also, if your life partner can’t support your 100% commitment to your business, your partnership will fail. It’s hard enough to run a business. It’s impossible to do it when your partner isn’t there to support you, or worse, is acting against your effort.
  • Work with your customer to build rapid prototypes and get rapid feedback. If they tell you it’s wrong, then go back and do it again.
  • Forget your old business so that you can learn your new business. The old assumptions and beliefs and goals are probably not true. (In this case, the factory went from selling “life-long comfort” to selling “Two and a half feet of tubular delicious SEX!”)
  • You can push your people hard but only if they know that it’s for them and not for you.
  • Sometimes the tide of attitude can shift away from you or towards you on the suggestion of just one person in your team who holds a lot of sway. Earn that person’s respect and you have earned the respect of the group.
  • Aim high. Choose big hairy scary goals that are way beyond your comfort zone. (I disagree with the “S.M.A.R.T.” goals approach in life.)
  • You can run from your childhood but you can’t hide. You don’t need to “deal with it” all first, unless it’s getting in the way of your life. In which case, go figure it out and then get on with things.
  • Life, relationships, business, sex, gender, psychology – they’re all messy and uncomfortable. And that’s the way they’re supposed to be.
  • Find something you want to do. Pursue it with all your heart. And share that adventure with people you care about.

(2) Comments

  1. I loved this movie.
    I didnt disect it for it’s components as I watched it, but it left me feeling inspired. Now I know why.
    After reading this I wish I had disected it a little more. Venturing into the unknown is always a challenge. this movie did really tell so many great stories – get to know your customer’s can be a drag, but has high heeled rewards.
    I watched it on a plane, so I’m looking forward to the DVD’s
    Got to love some Brit humor!

  2. Lessons Learned:

    * Clarity is important in all things–especially your motives for starting and running an enterprise

    * Employees have years of knowledge–they are in the trenches and may save your ass. Ex. the craftsman who brightly suggested a steel shank!

    * Although the “best 40 under 40” and similar awards perpetuate the myth of the heroic entrepreneur as the solitary protagonist in a business, there are NO entrepreneur heroes…there is always someone with a vision, but that someone often doesn’t have the skills to make the whole thing go. S/he needs a TEAM. There is an opportunity here for an awards program for “Best Entrepreneurial Team of the Year.”

    * Accept change, Do or Die but don’t screw people as you are doing it.

    * Your personal morality and your customers’ are two different kettles of fish. So, mind your own business. AND if you do have an issue with how your customer lives, get over it or go do business for another market entirely.

    * Ask the customer what they want, and get it in their hands (or on their feet). You don’t know anything until the customer is truly satisfied with what you’ve offered. Unless your business is a legislatively protected monopoly (ex. like the bus services between Van and Whistler protected by the Transportation Board).

    * The show must go on! If you own the business, make it happen when no one shows. Price did by going on the catwalk when no one else showed. Wow! THAT is a real owner/entrepreneur!

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