What the Movie Noah Teaches us About Managing Expectations in Business

NoahLast weekend, I found myself in a small movie theatre in Pinehurst, North Carolina, attending the new movie “Noah” with my oldest son, Trevor. We were back there playing in the National Golf Scramble Finals sponsored by Liberty Mutual. It was a fantastic event. Our 4-person scramble team was a rather unique one in that it consisted of myself and three of my children. (For results, read to the bottom of the post.)

On Friday evening after our round, Trevor and I took a break and drove to the local cinema.   Overall, I was very impressed by the movie and was caught up in its epic nature. Looking back, I recall the determination of Noah – his desire to do the right thing driven and influenced in the end by two powerful and strong women – his wife and daughter-in-law. The film has it all: the battle between good and evil; action scenes; family conflict; romance; and even alien creatures.

As I was enjoying the compelling end to the movie and the credits began to roll, I was really quite surprised to hear some people yelling at the movie screen. They had obviously been offended by the movie. One of them yelled at the screen – “Read the Book – Get the real Story!” Another yelled “Horrible!” They were obviously disappointed that the Hollywood version of Noah did not map identically to the one that is told in the Bible. I think because of their unrealistic expectations they missed some powerful lessons the movie can teach us, if we allow it to do so.

Darren Aronofsky and his co-writer Ari Handel “went off” the Biblical script in dramatic fashion. But note – they never intended to faithfully follow the Biblical account. It was “inspired” by the story of Noah – not meant to be the actual story.

Hollywood productions like this are all about selling tickets. This is how Hollywood makes its money. I am sure the Producers of this film, rather than being bothered by any Evangelical backlash, were overjoyed by the controversy that was created. Over that weekend, Noah grossed over $43 Million in revenue at the box office, nearly doubling the #2 film, Divergent.

The point is that in life and in business, when we enter into a transaction or build a business or go to a new movie with unrealistic expectations, we are due for real disappointment.

So how can we apply this message to our businesses? 

In my line of business, I see a deal a day in some way, shape, or form, and I consistently see business leaders and CEOs with unrealistic expectations of how big their company is going to become and how soon that will happen. We hear all the time about the incredible success stories of Instagram, Facebook, Groupon, etc., but the truth is that for every one of those companies there are 999,999 that will not see the same success.

The answer? Be Realistic. Put yourself in the shoes of an outside, independent analyst and ask yourself these questions:

Is my business truly solving a pain point in the market for which someone will write a check to my company for my product or service in order to solve that pain?

Have I found and sold my product or service to a marquee customer- one that can then become a reference point for future sales and marketing?

Are the people I have surrounded myself with equally passionate about my business?  Have I hired the best people I can realistically afford and are each of them waking up every morning with a new idea or concept on how to move the business forward?

Do I have the Capital necessary to truly move this forward or am I operating my business on a whim and fancy? Is there more money in my account at the end of every month than the previous month?  (That’s probably not going to happen early in your business cycle but this is what you should be striving for).

Is my business in a fast growing market where there is true demand for our products? Who is our competition and what are they doing to address the market? How do we REALLY stack up to them? (There is no such thing as NO competition. If you think there is no competition, it is likely that you are in the wrong market.)

I once read that watching cartoons as a kid gave me unrealistic expectations of how often pianos fall out of the sky onto people. By the same token, listening incessantly to success stories like Google and LinkedIn, we are seduced into believing that it will automatically happen to us. I hate to tell you this, but it won’t succeed unless you can answer the five questions above in a meaningful way.

The Good News is this: Even if your business does not have a realistic chance to succeed today, if you have the perseverance and creativity to morph your business to do the following, you still have a real shot:

A. Address REAL market needs, not just a perceived ones

B. Surround yourself with smart, passionate people

C. Gain access to some capital

D. Acquire some marquee customers

E. Find ways to better the competition

Entrepreneurs – be realistic in thinking through where you are in your business. Avoid the disappointment that inevitably arises when you approach your business (or any endeavor) with unrealistic expectations.

So what do you think? How else can we manage unrealistic expectations in business? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below.

Golf results: By the way, our foursome finished in 7th place (out of 60 teams) in the Nation in the Golf scramble finals at Pinehurst. Perhaps our goal of winning it all was a bit unrealistic but we did finish just three shots out of second. In the end, part of the joy of life is truly in the journey.


Posted in Posted in Entrepreneurship, What I Learned From  |  6 Comments

6 thoughts on “What the Movie Noah Teaches us About Managing Expectations in Business”

  1. David, I am consistently impressed by your optimistic (Glass is half full) behavior to life’s experiences. I felt the same about the movie Noah. Though there might have been some creative liberties that Hollywood will always take, I did learn from the movie. Investing or starting a business is a risk at best. Your insight, if followed, assist in managing the risk to a level that is reasonable. I agree that realistic valuations as well as forecast will manifest itself rather quickly when trying to raise capital. Thanks again for beating a drum that is an easy beat to follow!! Much Success, Laman

  2. My wife had high expectations for the movie Noah. Me, less so. It isn’t often that I am impressed with the tone and message of Hollywood’s interpretation of the spiritual. And, for those attempting to create a “true” account of the biblical scriptures, the art tends to be lacking, Ben Hur not withstanding! One of the business lessons to be learned from Noah, is don’t assume that the other guy believes the same things you believe. In business, you may be an ethical, moral capitalist, but the other guy may have no such compass to follow and may be dedicated to a win-lose proposition. In the case of Noah, going to a “biblical” movie, directed by an atheist, and based not on the Bible account of Noah but on Gnosticism and Kabbalah (see, http://drbrianmattson.com/journal/2014/3/31/sympathy-for-the-devil ) is a perfect example of setting incorrect expectations. The problem is, in business one is more inclined to do due diligence in these matters, in movie going… let’s face it, we’re there for an escape, buttered popcorn, and a diet coke… The most redeeming moment of the movie was Emma Watson’s character (who is clearly smarter than Noah) who lectured Noah that his “failure” was exactly who God knew him to be, one who would not take the innocent lives of babies. Oh, I did quite like the depiction of the Ark… seemed pretty sound to me. Other than that, it wasn’t that good of a movie. Domestic box office was great the first week, and then word of mouth probably brought it down. This is a movie that has been “redeemed” financially by its international release… the all-star cast certainly gave it legs overseas.

  3. David, have not seen the movie yet (based on comments probably wait for it on Redbox). I do however want to agree completely with your realistic approach to the business of entrepreneurship. Too many people want to short cut the process of building real businesses and believe if you can’t build a business to a billion dollar market cap in 12 months it’s not worth doing. Great post coming from a guy who has done this multiple times. Great golf score as well. Jeff

  4. Jeff- thanks for your comments about our golf score. You are right. Far too many entrepreneurs are unrealistic in their approach. Bruce – great comments. One of these years you will have to come out to Pinehurst with us. Great synopsis of the movie. Thanks!! You speak about movies as if you might have someone related her stars in movies herself. Congrats on the great successes of your children. Laman – nice hearing from you as well. Thanks for your kind words. Best to all – David

  5. David, we have been colleagues and friends for decades, yet,I can’t disagree more with your assessment of Noah and the correlation you made to business lessons gleaned from it–except what not to do. As you well know, it is easier to call the shape of your golf shot after you hit it than before. That’s what Aronofsky and Handel did. Instead of telling their customer’s the real truth, they led with false trailers to lure people into theaters so they could get their money by false pretenses. And, if as you suggest, that we the public should understand that it’s all a question of economics, then Kevin Mark Trudeau’s recent conviction should be over-turned. Like Aronofsky, Trudeau was just trying to make a buck with his books and infomercials in true Hollywood fashion. The only difference between Trudeau and Aronofsky, as you clearly point out, is that Aronofsky made $43M at the box for his deceit, while Trudeau was ordered to pay the public coffers $37.5M and serve 10 years in prison for his deceit. Do you really give Hollywood a free pass because their motive is “all about selling tickets . . . [instead of] being bothered by any Evangelical backlash.” And then you justify it by stating that “Noah grossed over $43 Million in revenue at the box office, nearly doubling the #2 film, Divergent.” Maybe I missed the “moral lesson” taught by the movie because my 14 year old insisted that we leave before the end of the show. She could no longer watch a prophet of God portrayed as an moron when the trailers suggested otherwise. The “Watchers” could have been developed into a really neat sub-plot, instead of portraying them as rock transformers. Where was that in the trailers? And as to the premise that one who enters into business with “unrealistic expectations” is also a moron, I again disagree. When you mislead your venture capitalist or customer or employee or friend in the name of making a buck, then you forever lose that venture capitalist, customer, employee or friend for the next venture. Why? Because the trust has been violated. And who defines what is an unrealistic expectations before the shot is take. Sure, it’s easy to call it afterwards. In fact, most people go into business with unrealistic expectations, which is often the reason they succeed. David, I doubt that you or I would be defined as Evangelicals, but frankly, I would have stood proudly with those red-neck brothers and sisters in crying foul. You can bet that Aronofsky won’t be getting another one of my dollars. Now, that’s a business lesson we can learn from Hollywood. Congrats on placing 7th, but my money would have been on you and the team to win it all. Alan

  6. Alan – thanks for your impassioned comments on my recent blogpost on Noah. Well thought out. I thought the ending helped save the movie as Noah did the right thing in the end.

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