Some of today’s best television shows offer lessons in business

Don Draper (Jon Hamm) is our kind of professor.

Why go into debt with student loans when you can earn your TVMBA, boasting a 64-hour course load that can be absorbed in a half-daze while reclining on the couch?  If you’re going to spend four hours a day staring at a screen, you might as well earn an advanced degree in the process.

Risk Management

Syllabus: ‘Breaking Bad’ (all five seasons)
“Breaking Bad” leading man Walter White (Bryan Crans-ton) isn’t exactly a sterling example of an entrepreneur who minimizes risk. Still, as he went from a struggling science teacher in the first season to a successful meth manufacturer, then to a drug kingpin by Season 5, White grew his business by going for broke. Hopefully you’ll maintain a lower body count than Mr. White. Lesson: Just because your brother-in-law works for the DEA doesn’t mean you can’t deal drugs.

Microeconomics

Syllabus: ‘The Price is Right’ (any three episodes)
The study of how supply and demand affects the price and quantity of goods is on full display in this long-running game show. Pricing games, from Plinko to Cliff Hangers, may be frivolous fun, but having a handle on the costs of goods is the first step to managing a budget.  Pricing knowledge can also pay off big if you ever find yourself in the show’s studio audience and get the call to “come on down” to contestants row.  Lesson: When shopping, knowing the price is half the battle.

Entrepreneurship
Syllabus: ‘Weeds’ (all eight seasons)
Nancy Botwin, everybody’s favorite pot-dealing mom, is a shrewd self-starter who knows how to move product.  The entire Botwin clan is nothing if not resilient, surviving a litany of predatory competitors and operational restructurings during their tumultuous adventures in the bud trade. Middle son Shane’s street smarts extend well beyond the family biz. On a recent episode, the police academy cadet gets caught writing two of his classmates’ essays for them.  When his instructor asks him to fork over the cash he was paid, rather then succumb to authority, Shane senses an angle. “Can’t we work something out? This isn’t the last assignment you’re going to give, is it?” he asks. “Well, you’re going to do just fine in the NYPD, aren’t you?” the instructor responds conspiratorially. Lesson: Lurking behind every problem is an opportunity. 

Advertising

Syllabus: Season 1 of ‘Mad Men’
AMC’s award-winning series may take place in the 1960s, but the golden age of Madison Avenue’s mass-persuasion trade can still illuminate, and the show’s debut season was packed with nuggets. In “The Wheel,” Don Draper (Jon Hamm)?pitches Kodak by flipping through his own family photos on their slide projector. “This is not a spaceship, it’s a time machine,” he explains. “It goes backwards and forwards, and it takes us to a place where we ache to go again.  It’s not called ‘The Wheel. … It’s called ‘The Carousel.’ It lets us travel around and around and back home again.” Welling up with emotion, his colleague has to leave the room. Lesson: The best way to sell is by telling a great story.

Organizational Behavior
Syllabus: ‘The Office,’ Seasons 1-7
Organizational behavior boils down to getting the most out of your employees. A subset of that is keeping them happy and motivated.  The two are meant to go hand-in-hand, but during Michael Scott’s reign as Dunder Mifflin’s regional manager, he focused solely on the latter — often at the expense of the former. Despite his innumerable ineptitudes as a boss, Scott sincerely cares for the welfare of his team members. As a result, when push comes to shove, they will often rally behind him. Lesson:  Effective leadership can come from a very defective leader.


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