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Business Lessons from "The Shawshank Redemption"

23 years ago, the iconic The Shawshank Redemption movie was released. I don’t have any spoiler alerts in here. If you have yet to see it, stop what you are doing, go and watch it. Every minute of this film is worth it. Trust me.

This is one of the movies that have had a great impact on me, specially with regards to my business and work ethic. I’m glad to share some of the important lessons from the movie that you can use in your professional life:

“Chess. Now there's a game of kings. Civilized...strategic... “

Play Chess Not Checkers in Business. From the moment he arrived in prison, Andy (played by Tim Robbins) did not give up hope. Instead, he kept hope alive by developing a plan... a big audacious plan. Andy had a long term, strategic plan. Despite his predicament, he was laser focused on what he needed to achieve. Andy spent 19 years in prison, but he never altered from his focus despite dozens of setbacks and horrific challenges.

Are you playing chess (long term, strategic planning) or checkers (short term, simplistic & instead of planning, being reactive) in your business? Step back, form a plan & implement! Get your plan out of your head and onto paper and make sure this is front of mind in everything you do.

“I understand you're a man who knows how to get things...”

Businesses need to have a solid great relationship with suppliers and strategic partners. Andy had Red (played by Morgan Freeman). Red was a man who knew how to get things: from rock hammers, posters of Rita Hayworth, to the pieces of rocks to form Andy’s chess pieces, Red somehow supplied it all.

Andy identified Red as critical to his strategic plan and approached him to get him what he needed. Their ongoing relationship turned into a friendship that changed both of their lives. Later in the movie, Andy formed an unlikely alliance with the warden. Andy then realised he needed him to achieve his long term goal.

“If you want to keep that money, all of it, just give it to your wife. See, the IRS allows you a one-time- only gift to your spouse. It's good up to sixty thousand dollars.”

Tax laws, estate planning and asset protection is an expert area. To give yourself the best chance of success in business – it pays to get the right advice. Structuring your affairs to maximise tax efficiency, whilst protecting your assets can save hundreds of thousands of dollars.

In the movie, prison guard Hadley was resigned to losing most of his inheritance in tax, but because of Andy’s advice, he saved himself a hefty amount of cash.

Be pro-active and get the right advice. Get your own estate plan in order so your loved ones benefit in the most tax effective fashion.

“Year after that, they rescheduled the start of the intramural season to coincide with tax season”

After gaining a reputation for doing great tax work for the local prison guards, Andy soon developed a reputation that attracted guards from other prisons around the state. Here, Andy proved that when you do great work in your niche, you will build a following of loyal clients who will refer your business.

“Still, I'd like to try, with your permission. I'll send a letter a week. They can't ignore me forever”

Persistence beats perfection. Andy wrote a letter a week for six years to the State Government requesting funds to build a prison library. Eventually, he received funding to start the project. How many small businesses try something once, get no result and give up? For a small business, it doesn’t have to be letters the government. It could be as simple as targeting key customers, trying out new software to increase efficiency, and delegating tasks to a new team member. Invariably, results are not immediate. Many entrepreneurs give up just before they get a break through, don’t be one of them.

“Thing is, see...I don't read all that good”


“I have no idea to this day what those two Italian ladies were singing about. Truth is, I don’t want to know. Some things are best left unsaid. I like to think they were singing about something so beautiful it can’t be expressed in words and makes your heart ache because of it”

Whilst Andy was focused on his plan, he realised he could make a positive impact. He lived his life with a purpose to help others and lived his life to build something bigger than himself. In the movie, Andy helps a young prisoner, Tommy, to get an education by teaching him to read and obtain his high school education.

This wasn’t the only thing Andy did. He got the prison library built, trained his fellow inmates to assist in the tax paperwork, and even played classical music to the entire prison knowing he would suffer consequences of solitary confinement. Having a sense of purpose and improving the lives of people other than yourself adds meaning to your life and can make running your business so much more rewarding. When you understand your “why”, you will love your work experience ten- fold. Your team will see it and your passion will bring the best out of your team. Conversely, if you are just doing it for the money, you probably aren’t going to be sustainable.

"I remember thinking it would take a man six hundred years to tunnel through the wall with it. Andy did it in less than twenty"

Bill Gates has a famous quote: “Most people overestimate what they can do in one year and underestimate what they can do in ten years.” When you commit to a plan, believe in it and build your business in a deliberate fashion. With this, you can achieve a lot. Andy burrowed out of a prison using a rock hammer combined with a never-ending commitment to the plan. Get clear on your objectives and stay disciplined.

“I guess it comes down to a simple choice, really. Get busy living or get busy dying.”

Thankfully, a small business doesn’t need to be a life sentence. Don’t let your business suffocate you. Most small business owners, despite moving into business for the reasons of freedom and a brighter future, are experiencing the opposite. You can accept the status quo and die, or take action. If you are going to be in small business, get busy Living!

If you’d like help to Play Chess Not Checkers so you can escape your own personal Shawshank Prison, reach out. We can help you to plan your business so you can Get Busy Living!

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