On July 5, 1994, just 21 years ago, the movie Forrest Gump opened in theaters. The movie was based on a book by Winston Groom and became an instant classic. While Forrest was not considered a businessman, there are some business lessons we can learn from the movie.
1. Repetition is a great way to catch people’s attention
Throughout the movie, a scene would begin with a shot of the present day Forrest narrating something. It would then shift to the past and his exact narration would then play out word for word. This clever use of repetition makes lines like “Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you are going to get” memorable and witty. The repetition was a great way to enhance the characterization of Forrest, but it also endeared the viewer to the film. After so many times of this occurring, the viewer came to expect it and was delighted when their expectations were fulfilled. This kind of repetition works well in advertising too, but requires a delicate balance. As the movie catches up to the present moment the storytelling device is dropped and the viewer’s is ready for change, for something unexpected. This is the same in business marketing. While it is important to capture the viewer with a pattern they can identify with, you must also carefully use variation and change to throw them off and keep them interested.
2. When something is holding you back, break free
Often times when businesses are first getting started there are safety nets put in place. As the company grows, things need to change and adapt. Sometimes it is tempting to keep things the way they were before. Maybe you don’t want to surrender your credit card to a purchasing department, or maybe you are hesitant to spend the money on a more experienced sales lead. In the end though, letting go of the things that once held you in place will lead to growth and prosperity. This happens in the movie when Forrest finally breaks out of his leg braces and takes off running at record speed. As a child, he needed those braces to help guide his growth and make him strong. At a certain point though, he no longer needed them and rather than helping him, they became inhibiting. When he finally had the strength to break free, he went on to accomplish many incredible things.
3. Be able to recognize the false fulfillment of goals
When Forrest goes to see Jenny perform, he believes that she has finally achieved her goal. He sees her alone on a stage, with her guitar, singing to an audience. As he checks off all of these attributes of the performance, we assume that she has indeed achieved her ultimate goal. Yet, in reality she is an act in a stripper show and sits on stage nude while nasty men grab at her. They aren’t listening to her music and are simply focused on her body. In reality, she is very far from her dream. Sometimes in business, numbers, grapths, or reports can present misleading achievements. It is important to understand how the numbers are generated and to ensure that reports are not unintentionally inflated. In order to have true success, you must truly reach your goal. You cannot just paint the picture of achievement and expect to feel fulfilled. Be patient and work towards your real goals and they will come.
4. Make the best of every situation
This is one of the themes of the movie. No matter what happens, Forrest always finds a way to make the best of the situation. One of the clearest examples of this in the movie is Forrest’s attitude while in the hospital. Rather than feeling sorry for himself he simply enjoys the ice cream and tries to keep others’ spirits up by amusing them with his Ping-Pong talent. Obviously there are times that he gets discouraged or down, but rather than doing nothing and just wallowing in self-pity, Forrest keeps going; he is always doing something. Even when his heart seems forever broken by Jenny, rather than moping he runs cross-country for three years. In business things go wrong. There is always time for feeling discouraged and downtrodden. But, rather than wasting time and letting these emotions render you helpless, keep moving, keep trying. See the good and do your best to let your frustration push you on in a positive direction.
5. Don’t let your past challenges define you
One of the most tragic parts of this movie is the story of Jenny’s life. It is very clear that the sexual abuse she endured as a child has greatly impacted her choices as an adult. Forrest, while enduring different but similarly trying challenges, rises above his situation and lives a full life. While it is evident that child abuse and some of the other challenges presented in the movie are serious problems that require healing and help to overcome, there is a way out. You can overcome the things that have held you down or hindered your progress. You have the power to choose and that is all you need. Business ventures are full of failures, and challenges. Sometimes it seems impossible to get back on your feet and try again. Sometimes you feel chained to the mistakes of the past and are unable to move forward. Don’t dwell on the past; just learn from it. Take what you can that is positive and productive and leave the rest behind.