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Firm Management

Lessons I Learned from “The Greatest Showman”

The critics complain that the storyline isn’t true to fact, that the movie is “square” because people don’t like musicals any more, that the presentation of “human oddities” like a bearded lady, Tom Thumb, and others, is exploitive and inappropriate.

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I have to admit, I’m obsessed with the movie, “The Greatest Showman.” I’m not going to tell you how many times I’ve seen it because that number will be history by the time this magazine is in print. Suffice it to say that the movie has made my personal list of best movies of all time.

I’m trying to wrap my head around why I connected with this movie when most of the movie critics and those who vote for movie awards disagree vehemently. It’s not just me – the country of movie-goers as a whole has embraced the movie – evidenced by the fact that the movie is still showing at first run theatres four months after it was released. The movie is about to be released on DVD, and people are still watching it in the theatres, going back multiple times, bringing their friends and other family members, and even attending sing-a-long versions.

To put this in terms accountants will appreciate, a movie is released and typically stays in theatres about four to five weeks. The ticket sales start to drop and the theatre manager or booking agent knows it’s time to pull the movie and replace it with something else in order to keep people in the seats at the theatre. As of this writing, “The Greatest Showman” has been in first run theatres for sixteen weeks. Revenues have started to drop measurably so the run is about to end.

The critics complain that the storyline isn’t true to fact, that the movie is “square” because people don’t like musicals any more, that the presentation of “human oddities” like a bearded lady, Tom Thumb, and others, is exploitive and inappropriate. Critics say the characters aren’t fully developed, the story is melodramatic and shallow and it’s not true to the facts. I could go on and on and on because the bad reviews are endless. And they all miss the point.

So what is the point that the critics are missing? The obvious point is that a grandiose musical based loosely on the life of P.T. Barnum was not ever meant to be a factual biopic – it is a crowd pleasing musical splendor that you can enjoy with children and grandparents, and the songs are infectious. But I wanted to dig a bit deeper and see if there are lessons to be learned here that we can use in our lives. [These might seem like a stretch, but I wanted to get some mileage out of the movie in addition to my incredible joy at each viewing.]

1. The audience will decide what it likes. The critics lambasted the movie, but the crowds decided on their own what they liked. You can tout your accounting services and your education and your experience and your skills and the state-of-the-art software that you use, but at the end of the day, your clients have to like you. And if they do like you, they will stay with you. They will keep coming back. They will tell their friends and colleagues about you because they will want to share what they like with others. So your very first job is to make sure you take the time to connect with your clients and be the person they want to work with.

2. You can be the bridge to help people who don’t understand. People are often afraid of what they don’t understand. One of the elements of the movie was a collection of misfits, called “oddities” – people who had unusual physical traits – that became the centerpiece of the circus shows, and a theme of the movie was that these people were not accepted in society, but Barnum gave them a venue and created a safe space where all members of society could be together. (Okay, I know, his personal goal was to exploit them and make money, but in the movie portrayal, the result was this safe place where the misfits felt like they had a family.) As accountants who are introducing financial planning techniques and new software services to your clients, you are that bridge, you are the person making it okay for the clients who don’t understand to make the connection with the tools they need to operate their businesses more effectively.

3. We learn as we go. Life is messy and obstacles come from unexpected directions. Bad press, building burns down, great ideas fail, you lose everything you thought you had. The true success stories are the ones of perseverance and friendship.

And so, the haters will hate, but I loved the movie and will see it again. And again.

See inside April 2018

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