The popular TV series Breaking Bad could be seen as a crash course for entrepreneurs. Skeptical? Take a look at the lessons businesses can learn from the story of Walter White, a terminally-ill chemistry teacher turned meth mastermind. If Mr White had spent his high-school chemistry lessons staring out of the windows (as many of us no doubt did), he would never have gained the knowledge he eventually needed to become a first-class crystal meth producer, a process requiring hugely complex and dangerous chemical procedures.
1) Solve problems by thinking creatively.
Walt’s initial problem was to find money to pay for his treatment and to keep his loved ones cared for after he was gone. He came up with an incredibly creative solution by analyzing the facts and items at his disposal and the life knowledge he gained. If you can find creative solutions for your “client’s” problems or issues, they will find you faster and use your service or product more often.
2) Work with professionals.
Walter found working with his first distributor far too risky and stressful. So he set out to find a more professional distribution set up. If you are working with unprofessional clients, they will make you look unprofessional by association, so make sure you focus on high quality people and relationships. In short, remove as much risk as possible from your service, make sure you can define your product and sell it accordingly and that you offer something that sets you apart from your competition.
3) Something not working? Reinvent yourself!
Mild-mannered Walter bore little resemblance to the terrifying Heisenberg who later emerged. And, essentially, this persona was created with a pork-pie hat and a mean beard. These two attributes might translate poorly into a business scenario, but there’s no doubt that a smart and professional visual identity will take you far. Dress smartly, always look well presented and cultivate a sense of style. Extend your personal brand across everything that you do, from your clean and attractive business card to your professional phone greeting and that all-important first handshake.
4) Follow your path.
Walter learned how to pursue ‘his bliss’. His decisions were increasingly questionable on a moral scale, but the transformation of his character from weak and unhappy ‘nobody’ to someone with power, decisiveness and bold approach was fascinating to watch. The executives of AMC followed a similarly bold path when commissioning this ground-breaking show, and the gamble paid off, with many believing it to be one of the finest dramas ever aired. Bear this in mind as you progress your career, and stay true to your dreams.
5) Build a better mousetrap.
All great business minds know that if you offer a superior product with a clearly defined advantage, the world will come calling. Whether you are peddling meth or looking to win new clients in Walter can’t help but bristle. He tells Hank that Gael’s work was derivative and that the real mastermind was probably still at large. Walt’s pride sparked further investigation and led to his downfall. If only he had kept quiet…
6) Find your area of specialty.
By becoming meth producers supreme, Walter and Jesse carved out a highly profitable niche for themselves in a high-value growth market. This lesson definitely translates for entrepreneurs. By becoming a specialist in a niche or high-growth area, an entrepreneur can position him or herself perfectly for a successful career trajectory. The trick is to become extremely competent and well regarded in that particular discipline so that people automatically go to you by default, allowing you to build up your business profitably and sustainably.
7) Your family.
Even when Walt truly loses the way, he keeps his family central. In a sense, Jesse becomes part of his extended family, proving that people don’t need to be related to us to have a central role in our lives. As entrepreneurs we need something more than money to work for. Whether that is family, friends, colleagues or community or all of these, have a bigger purpose and be accountable to more people than just yourself, your investors and your bank balance. Your life will be richer for it.
8) Imitate Walter imitating Apple and take control of distribution.
If you sell a product or service and if at all possible, wholesale or retail your wares yourself, avoiding a costly and possibly perilous “channel.”
9) Don’t always trust partners or employees if they have substance issues or if they party too much.
Regardless of how little an issue, it always comes down to the same thing, dissipation undermines success.
10) Recognize that you have a lot in common with your enemies and competitors.
Don’t fight your competition, learn from them and understand their goal, then reach that goal before your competition does.
11) Figure out what your real industry is.
Walter said, “Jesse, you asked me if I was in the meth business or the money business. Neither. I’m in the empire business.” Don’t sell yourself or your company short in it’s capabilities, and always look at what lies behind the mountain. Snap chat did.
12) Take a back seat when necessary.
At one point in the series a young chemist named Gael is murdered, and Hank refers to him as the genius behind the infamous blue meth. By staying humble and giving credit to who merits it you will build a team that will stand behind you. We have seen many executives in companies who try to rewrite history and paste themselves into its course, it always ends up with employees and investors hating you.
13) Plumb your true motivation.
Walt repeatedly told his wife that he was selling drugs only to support his family. In the final episode we learn that he actually enjoyed the feeling of accomplishment. If he had recognized this sooner, he would have changed his plans accordingly.
14) Finish what you start:
A crucial lesson of Breaking Bad is that Walt never leaves loose ends untied. This running theme meant that the show was consistently good, and the finale exceptional. Jesse also learns this attribute increasingly over time. Their ability to deliver means that they get the job done and never leave their customer, or their distributor, Gus, short. Whether or not you share similar characteristics to Gus, commit to being the person who always delivers for your clients, your investors and your wider stakeholders.
Of course, we recognize that Walt’s enterprise was vile and illegal. Nonetheless, lessons from this popular TV series can help you “breaking good” in business.